Blues rock revivalists The Black Keys have come a long way from their humble beginnings in Akron, Ohio. Starting around the time garage rock bands were coming out en masse in the early 2000s, the Midwestern duo rose to arena rock pros.
On rock radio’s 42nd birthday for abberist Patrick Carney, we pick the 10 best songs by The Black Keys, one of today’s hardest-working music bands.
Set you free
You know the story: Chico falls in love with a girl who is in a relationship with a jerk and won’t leave him, despite knowing that she can do better. The Black Keys sum it up perfectly in this poppy garage rock tune. “Let go, walk out your door / And come to me / I’ll set you free,” Auerbach coaxes. If “Set You Free” sounds familiar, it may be because it was featured in the Jack Black movie “School of Rock.” Carney gets explosive at the end with a flurry of drum beats, and “Set You Free” earns its spot on The Black Keys’ top 10 songs.
The Black Keys managed to take all the frustrations of waiting for love and turn it into a three-minute hit. Quirky keys infuse some fun into “Lonely Boy” despite the depressing theme: “Well, I’m so over you / And it’s plain to see / But I came to love you anyway,” the singer confesses. “So you ripped my heart out / And I don’t mind bleeding / You always keep me waiting.” The best part of “Lonely Boy” is the music video, which features a unique shot of actor Derrick T. Tuggle dancing and lip-syncing to the song.
you are the one
The Black Keys’ song “You’re The One” is a tune you’d slow dance to with someone special while drinking in your backyard. The laid back track keeps it simple and forgoes any fancy guitar work or drum beats. Auerbach channels the Sam Cooke within him, singing heartfelt lyrics like, “Will you be true/Til life ends? / Be the one I adore, oh / You’re the one I adore” on the track.
howling for you
‘Howlin’ for You’ was the second single from ‘Brothers’, the Black Keys album that finally started to take the group to another level. Carney’s bouncy drums and infectious applause provide the basis for Auerbach’s attempt to woo the object of her desire. “I must admit / I can’t explain / None of these thoughts / Running through my brain / It’s true / Baby, I’m howling for you,” he confesses. The music video for ‘Howlin’ for You’ is an excellent spoof of a sexual exploitation movie trailer, featuring Black Keys and hatted killers.
it just has to be
2007’s “Magic Potion” marked the moment The Black Keys were first signed to their current record label, Nonesuch Records. Despite their new association, the band did not deviate from their blues rock approach on record. Second single “Just Got to Be” has a smoky bar arrangement that’s raw and tough, just the way a Black Keys song should be.
The Black Keys scored a major milestone with “Tighten Up,” the lead single from their 2010 album “Brothers.” The hissing intro is a hook in itself, transitioning into sparse guitars and Carney’s deliberately paced drums. “Somebody said true love was dead / But I’m destined to fall in love with you,” declares Auerbach. His fictional sons in the ‘Tighten Up’ music video seem to feel the same way when they fight over a girl on the playground. It’s not long before Auerbach and Carney do the same.
The Black Keys up the aggressive factor with “Strange Times,” the first single from 2008’s appropriately titled “Attack and Release.” Carney thumps drums with frenetic precision as Auerbach’s guitar work cuts through the sonic attack. The creepy keys during the chorus add to the layered atmosphere.
gold on the ceiling
The Black Keys perfected the art of combining soulful blues rock and catchy hooks into their songs with “Gold on the Ceiling.” Pulsing organ keys and well-timed claps give the track a retro decor. Gospel harmonies and spastic guitar work put the finishing touches on “Gold on the Ceiling” and show just how far the Black Keys and Danger Mouse partnership has grown.
10 AM Automatic
“10 AM Automatic” is part of The Black Keys’ 2004 album “Rubber Factory”. Patrick Carney seems to have a skip in his step as he plays drums, and Auerbach poignantly breaks up with a girl. ’10 am Automatic’ ends in a tornado of guitars from which you have no chance of escaping.
The first single released from “Turn Blue”, “Fever” is, as its title suggests, simply infectious. It’s not a complex song; maybe that’s why it’s such a catchy tune. Regardless of the reasons, it’s hard to talk about any list of The Black Keys’ best songs without mentioning “Fever.”