In 2001, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney teamed up to form Black Keys. For the first few years of the band’s life, they recorded lo-fi, scrappy little punk-blues numbers from basements, bedrooms, and empty warehouses. The production was risible, the vocals were grizzled, and if anyone says they understand a single word Auerbach sings on the first four albums, they’re lying. But it worked. After scoring a major label deal, they teamed up with Danger Mouse in 2008 to produce the critically acclaimed “Attack & Release.” Since then, they’ve become one of the most popular garage rock bands around. Their sound has evolved over the years, but they’ve never lost that quintessential blues-iness that made them such a breath of fresh air in the first place. Here, we count down the 10 best Black Keys songs of all time.
10. Your Touch
Kicking off our list of the 10 best Black Keys songs of all time is “Your Touch.” Dan Auerbach’s funky, fuzzy guitar riffs sound straight out of a garage rock band circa 1964 – as, for that matter, does the rest of this swaggering piece of rock and roll greatness. As azcentral.com says, if the Mummies had written “Seven Nation Army,” it would sound like this.
9. I’ll Be Your Man
The year was 2002, and the world was just about to meet the Black Keys. The introduction came via “The Big Come Up.” Recorded using an 8-track tape recorder in Patrick Carney’s basement, the album features a mix of cover songs and original material, all of which bear the duo’s trademark raw, attitude-laden style. “I’ll Be Your Man” is a highlight, with Auerbach doing his best impression of a grizzly bear as he rasps his way through lyrics that tackle that holy trinity of love, women, and relationships.
8. Gold On The Ceiling
As longafterdark.net says, “Gold on the Ceiling” was everywhere in 2012. Unless you spent the year living under a rock, you’ll remember it blasting from every radio station, every commercial, and every movie you tuned into. Fortunately, it managed to survive the exposure intact, and still sounds as fresh and catchy today as it did back then.
As Paste Magazine says, there’s a reason why the Black Keys opened their live sets with “Thickfreakness” for years: from the first guitar chord to the last, it’s pure perfection. The vocals are insane (not in the sense of “insanely good,” more in the sense that no one can tell what Auerbach is saying), but it doesn’t matter anyway – the lyrics are secondary, the vocals are neither here nor there… this is a song that’s simply intended to rock harder and louder than anything else on your playlist. It succeeds.
6. Too Afraid To Love You
At the start of their career, the Black Keys didn’t really know how to record vocals. By 2010, they had no such worries. Dan Auerbach’s plaintive rasp transforms “Too Afraid To Love You” from a slightly odd song with some even odder instrumental choices (whoever thought of adding a harpsichord was either a misunderstood genius or a straight-up lunatic) into a thing of beauty. When he sings “I just do not know what to do / I’m too afraid to love you,” it’s almost heartbreaking.
5. Strange Times
The Black Keys were four albums into their career before they decided it was time to stop recording albums in basements and add a bit of spit and polish to their sound. On “Attack & Release,” they not only moved into a professional studio, but they handed over production duties to Danger Mouse. It was a wise move. The album is exceptional, with “Strange Times” standing out as one of its highlights. The band’s signature face-melting guitar riffs and clashing symbols are still there, but Danger Mouse adds just the right amount of polish to smooth off the ragged edges as a rock band.
4. Little Black Submarines
The Black Keys don’t do showstopping guitar solos that often, but they do on “Little Black Submarines,” and it’s immense. So too are Dan Auerbach’s vocals (which, as a rare treat, we actually get to hear) and Patrick Carney’s superbly passionate drumming. Things start off gently enough, but midway through, the acoustics get kicked out in favor of some classic, foot-stamping, chest-beating garage rock. Led Zeppelin would be proud.
3. Everlasting Light
The Black Keys aren’t, never have been, and probably never will be a pop band. But on “Everlasting Light” from 2011’s “Brothers,” they sure as heck sound like it. Sure, it’s not the kind of pop most of us would recognize, and if you play it expecting sunny vocals and mood-enhancing beats, you’re going to be disappointed. But the tone, the mood, and the groove are all rooted in pop. It’s not what you’d expect of them, but it works spectacularly well.
2. Tighten Up
“Brothers” ranks among the band’s best albums, and “Tighten Up,” its lead single, is among their best ever songs. With Danger Mouse on production duties and Auerbach and Carney at their bluesiest, ballsiest best, it’s pure dynamite from start to finish. Fans clearly agreed, lapping up enough copies to take it to Number 87 on the Billboard Hot 100 – the Black Keys’ first-ever entry on the chart.
1. I Got Mine
If the band had flirted with different genres before “Attack & Release,” this was the album that saw them embrace them full on. But in amongst the folk and the psychedelia, there’s enough blues-rock classics to keep the purists happy. Of those, “I Got Mine” is the highlight. With its explosive riffs and lo-fi sound, it distills everything good and great about the band into 4 minutes of pure sonic pleasure. Over 13 years after its original release, it’s still a firm fixture at live performances. If you want to find out why, give it a listen.