By Mike Mehalick, Special Guest SIMGE Columnist & Contributing Writer to Spinner.com
Much has been made of the fact, during the recent media blitz surrounding the release of their latest LP El Camino, that The Black Keys have managed to outlive Blues-Rock revivalist legends The White Stripes. Seemingly, even more unlikely is the mainstream breakthrough success of the Akron, Ohio duo.
Said drummer Patrick Carney in a recent Pitchfork interview, “It wasn’t that we didn’t want to be successful, but after putting out records for so long, we assumed that we found our niche and were staying in it. I was a bit stressed having to process the idea of more people paying attention to the band.”
After the release of the Grammy winning Brothers, The Keys hit the pavement with their usual road warrior mentality, playing almost every festival on the map. Thus, more and more of the ironic NBA jersey wearing jet set were introduced to the band’s FM friendly garage-rock sound.
The Black Keys are set to headline their first show at Madison Square Garden later in March putting a huge bow on their 10th year as a band. With the band moving up to arena sized venues we’d like to help initiate the uninitiated who may be curious after seeing guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and Carney rip up SNL this past weekend. Or for your friend in the office who can’t stop talking about El Camino and wants you to go with him to a Keys show. You get the idea. So allow us to lead you through a tour of the best Black Keys songs that even the mildly interested can air guitar to.
“I’ll Be Your Man” – 2002
After putting out their first full length The Big Come Up, The Black Keys set down what would be the geo-centric basis for all of their future output. They would also set forth on their first major tour, seen here playing what would later become the theme song of a show about male prostitution. Probably didn’t know that one was coming back in 2003.
“The Breaks” – 2002
An early classic, and a fan favorite, “The Breaks” features the band’s first recorded taste of experimentation, while still remaining true to the song’s base progression. You could slap the tag “underrated” on this toe tapping ass shaker, but that’s mostly because a lot of so called Black Keys fans aren’t particularly familiar. Take this video full of awkwardly swaying, corporate types from a recent show as evidence.
Continue reading for more by Mehalick and The Black Keys…
“Hard Row” – 2003
Fresh off of their debut, The Keys answered quickly with their sophomore slump buster Thickfreakness. The single “Hard Row”, recorded in Carney’s basement on a 1980 8-track recorder, was the first to chart in the UK for the group. Developing their workman like mentality The Black Keys began to cultivate a hard-core fan base after dealing out sweat drenched, white boy, blues explosions on nightly basis and exampled here. That probably sounded weird didn’t it?
“Girl Is On My Mind” – 2004
Three years, three albums. Taking to an abandoned coal burning power plant, The Black Keys recorded Rubber Factory in their hometown of Akron, Ohio. Trading the fuzz and chaos of their first two efforts for a cleaner, more concise sound, the band began to gain more and more popularity with prominent festival slots and commercial licenses. “Girl Is On My Mind” may be the quintessential middle ground between early Keys and the heightened production of their latest works. We dare you to listen and not imagine yourself putting on sunglasses in slow motion.
“Your Touch” – 2006
Taking a whole year off to do whatever it is The Black Keys do when they’re not recording (we’re not really sure either) the band returned in 2006 with Magic Potion. Featuring one of the more signature opening riffs Auerbach has ever put to tape, “Your Touch” is very much in the same vein as “Girl Is On My Mind,” with a much dirtier, more aggressive composition. Cooler still is the music video for the single featuring gunshots, ghosts, and Faberge’ eggs.
“Strange Times” – 2008
What happens when Danger Mouse gets behind the control panel of a Black Keys session? The ambitious 2009 record Attack & Release that includes possibly their biggest pre-Brothers hit, “Strange Times”. Reaching the number 40 spot on the US Modern Rock Radio Airplay charts, this stand out single takes the classic Keys sound gas pedal and slams it firmly to the floor.
“I Got Mine” – 2008
A Black Keys set-list staple since its release, “I Got Mine” is the best song your friend’s garage band will never write. Taking a classic loud, soft, loud approach, the track usually serves as the focal point of Carney’s vicious percussive attack in more recent live shows. After taking in a number of Keys shows over the least year or so the most whispered sentiment heard from the rookies in the crowd was something along the lines of, “Holy hell! He hits those drums like a motherfucker!” Here’s “I Got Mine” from the fantastic Live At Abbey Road series.
“Tighten Up” – 2010
The first single off of their sixth full length, Brothers, “Tighten Up” is the video that played on MTV, made video game soundtracks, and gave The Black Keys their first charting song in the United States. And to think, it was so close to never being made. The story goes, according to Auerbach, “That was the last song we did for the record. We had a couple of days off and so did Brian (Danger Mouse) and since we are friends and like hanging out with each other we thought it would be fun to go into the studio and see if we could come up with a tune. We always have a blast when the three of us get together.” Equally as fun is the video for the hit single that showcases a series of playground brawls and the Keys’ always prevailing sense of humor.
“Next Girl” – 2010
After “Tighten Up” you have your choice of Brothers tracks worthy of a mention on this list. “Everlasting Light”, “Howlin’ For You”, and “Ten Cent Pistol” are likely to be featured in Black Keys shows for years to come. That being said the sexiest diss track in the Keys’ library is represented by the thundering funk bomb that is “Next Girl.” As the band moved up in prominence and show size they also saw fit to bring in additional touring members to do their new super sized sound justice.
“Gold on the Ceiling” – 2011
Less of a departure from their career spanning sound than El Camino lead single “Lonely Boy”, “Gold on the Ceiling” appropriately serves as the latter bookend on this list. Taking the bouncing blues tone of “Howlin’ For You” and adding the Danger Mouse production touches missing from Brothers, you are left with a culmination of where The Black Keys have been and where they seem to be going all in one track.
What do you think? Did we miss anything? Sound off in the comments below.