The songs that generally sell the most and stand the test of time are the songs about relationships, whether it be about endless love or the parting forever, the biggest selling song of the 21st century is about the latter.
Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, as she was born, first came to prominence in 2006 when she supported Jack Penate. That led to an appearance on Later With Jools Holland alongside Bjork and Paul McCartney. That, in turn, led to a contract with XL Recordings and Chasing Pavements, her debut single, zoomed up to number two in the UK chart. Her next two singles, Cold Shoulder and Hometown Glory both just crept into the top 20, but a cover of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love put her back in the Top five. All these tracks featured on her debut album, 19 – her age when she recorded it – which went to number one had so far notched up 130 weeks and counting.
Too many acts spend months, if not years, working on a debut album because they’ve usually had time to do so, then it becomes massively successful and the record company are pestering them for a follow-up, that’s sometimes when the trail can run dry. To make a successful follow-up you need mammoth inspiration, Adele had it.
Two years had passed since 19 and Adele came back with 21. She had just split up from her boyfriend and that was enough for her to write more or less a whole album. The debut single, Rolling in the Deep was her letting rip into him. She stated in an interview with Q magazine, “It’s me making a bit of a statement, people will hear it and go, Wow, she ain’t mucking around.” It was her kiss-off to her unfaithful lover, “Get the f_ _ K out of my house instead of me begging him to come back. It’s my reaction to being told my life was going be boring and lonely and rubbish, and that I was a weak person if I didn’t stay in a relationship. I wrote it as a sort of ‘F_ _k you.”
Her next single, Someone Like You, resonated with so many people when she show cased it at the Brits in 2011 that it was an instant smash all around the world. She sat on the end of her bed one day and began pouring her heart out, but not in the aggressive way she did in Rolling in the Deep. It was on producer Rick Rubin’s suggestion that she got together with singer / songwriter Dan Wilson, the former leader of 90s band Semisonic. Dan explained what happened on their first meeting in the studio, “Adele came to the session with lyrics and melody for the first half of the verse at least – there was a real vibe and idea already. She told me she wanted to write a song about her heartbreak, that was how she put it. She told me a little bit about the guy who broke up with her, and I think maybe part of my contribution was to help keep the song really simple and direct. After we listened to a bunch of Wanda Jackson songs on YouTube, we went to the main room of the studio where the piano is. There Adele showed me the idea for the verse. She was playing it on the guitar, and she taught me the part, but when I switched to piano, she lit up. “That’s way more inspiring!” she said. So I played piano for the rest of the session. Adele knew exactly what she wanted to say, and my role was much more in composing the music and creating chord changes for the various sections. Once we decided on the melody, she very quickly came up with that amazing line, ‘I hate to turn up out of the blue, uninvited.’ Once you have a line that great, the rest of the section is easy to finish.” Dan remembered what happened on the second day of recording, “Her voice had a rougher, more ragged edge than the day before, and I suggested we go back and re-record the last chorus so it would sound more emotional. And it did. It was heartbreaking.”
Adele was pleased with the end result, “It’s simple – just letting go. It makes me really upset. It’s my most articulate song. It’s just to the point, it’s not trying to be clever, I think that’s why I like it so much, because it’s just so honest, no glitter on it.” she added. She explained her thought on making the album in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, “The experience of writing this record was quite exhausting, because I would go from being a bitch to being completely on my knees, it was like the stages of my recovery. I was trying to explain to myself why the relationship broke down, to the point that I actually forgot about people hearing it. When I did ‘Someone Like You’ live on Jools Holland, I got so upset wondering and hoping and wishing that my ex would be watching it, I went back to my dressing room and sobbed. Making a record is like standing in the middle of Trafalgar Square naked, you let everyone see your good bits and bad bits. I don’t know what possesses me to do that, but I’m not good at anything else.”
Although Adele has never publicly revealed who her ex is, she feels he may not know he was the inspiration, “I have no idea if he’s heard the record, or is kind of clever enough to link it to think it’s him. I’m not saying he’s dim it’s just that toward the end I don’t think he felt like I loved him enough to write a record about him. But I did.”
When the single topped the UK singles chart on 20 February, she matched a record set by The Beatles in 1964. With Rolling in the Deep at number four, she became only the second living act (and only female) to have two songs in the top five of the singles and album chart at the same time. In the U.S a stunning performance at the MTV Music Awards in August saw the song leap to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and stay there for five weeks. It was also only the second U.S chart topper to feature voice and piano since Elton John’s 1997 version of Candle In The Wind.
In just seven months, Adele broke another record when 21 sold over three million copies in the UK alone which supersedes the likes of Sgt Pepper, Dark Side of the Moon and Thriller. In March 2012, Adele won a Grammy for album of the Year with 21 which has since topped the album chart in 28 countries, become the biggest selling download album in the UK and is the seventh best-selling album of all time in UK history. Not bad for a lass from Tottenham who still has her feet firmly on the ground.