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Feature: The Essential Black Keys

By ; May 29, 2013 at 11:43 AM 

5: “Girl Is On My Mind” – Rubber Factory

Auerbach pens another million-dollar guitar riff and unleashes a classic double-tracked solo, but it’s Carney’s momentum that drives the track, filling in every possible gap with relentless filling. The song hits a canonical theme; girls are always on Auerbach’s mind and practically half of the band’s catalogue deals with women. The song ends with another trick from the Keys’ playbook as the two play the same notes at much lower decibels until reaching a placid ending. It’s simple, punchy, catchy, and everything that made the Black Keys great.

4: “Lonely Boy” – El Camino

With an earworm organ riff, rockabilly drumming, and an irresistible chorus, The Black Keys surged into a new area of popularity that vaulted them into sold-out arenas nationwide. Their viral music video had everybody doing the Tuggle and brought the band into the home of Ellen fanatics, spoon-playing Aussies, and millions more. Lyrically, the song is more of the same—the Keys have never had a good history with women. Musically, however, this is fresh terrain for the band with dive bomb guitar, a rollicking shuffle on drums, and a loud female choir. Unfortunately with the newfound popularity come people who unjustifiably treat the band as if they are a one-hit-wonder.

3: “Thickfreakness” – Thickfreakness

Feedback and fuzz shouldn’t be a surprise on any Black Keys track and on the band’s most aptly named song, Auerbach runs away with the two. Auerbach sings in a soulful, yet incomprehensible and muffled, voice that sounds as if it were swallowed in his thick beard. Raspy and bluesy, it fits perfectly with the band’s earlier musical aspirations. Even today “Thickfreakness” gets one of the loudest ovations during a live set.

2: “Tighten Up” – Brothers

Before “Lonely Boy” revealed the Black Keys to an even broader demographic, “Tighten Up” brought the band out of the garage and placed them firmly in the modern rock scene.

The Danger Mouse-produced track has crisp production, a smooth whistle intro, shimmering organ, and—of course—a memorable riff that combine to make it the most accessible Keys track yet. Auerbach’s voice is uncharacteristically clear as Carney tempers the volume of his drumming—but not the frequency of his many fills. The song melts into an off-tempo outro that harkens back to the bands earlier days. It’s not a drastic change but it is tighter and cleaner than anything before it, appeasing the garage rockers, indie kids, and MTV watchers alike.

1: “10 A.M. Automatic” – Rubber Factory

“10 A.M. Automatic” is a microcosm of the Black Keys sound as Auerbach plays an irresistibly catchy riff on a thunderous and fuzzed-out guitar while Carney pounds on the drums. Lyrically, it’s just another of their many songs about women troubles but lyrics are never the highlight of any Keys track.

Garnished with meaty hammer-ons. the track is sloppier and less produced than anything the band releases nowadays but it exhibits the band at their best: as a raucous duo completely in sync with each other, simply needing drums and guitar to create a captivating sound.

“10 A.M. Automatic” is the Black Keys sonic formula packaged neatly in a 3-minute number.

Disagree with our list or think we missed an essential? Let us know in the comments below.

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