The 10 Best Black Keys Songs

Music Lists The Black Keys
The 10 Best Black Keys Songs

The Black Keys have taken many a turn since their early days as scuzzy garage rock rascals. They’ve bounced from the blues to psychedelia to classic, good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, and so many of their most interesting tunes bring all those elements together. That’s why many of the songs on this list are those that stray from whatever you consider the ordinary Black Keys formula to be: Patrick Carney thrashing on the kit, Dan Auerbach shredding away on guitar. Throughout their near-20-year career, which has transformed them from indie nobodies to one of the biggest rock bands working, Carney and Auerbach have worn many hats, including producer on their new album Let’s Rock, a no-frills rack of pure, searing rock. To celebrate the release, here are our 10 favorite songs by the band.

10. “Little Black Submarines”

Beginning like any other acoustic ballad, “Little Black Submarines” builds to one of The Black Keys’ most ambitious songs ever. The El Camino track splices two of the four or five different recorded demos of the song together and explodes with arguably one of the best guitar breakdowns this decade. Opening with Auerbach’s heartbroken singing and slowly morphing into a raucous blend of Carney’s smashing and fiery riffs, the track is a true rock tour-de-force. The song ends with an earth-shattering guitar solo from Auerbach, and finds The Black Keys stepping into Led Zeppelin-like territory. —Molly Schramm

9. The Lengths

Their second Fat Possum release and third in all, Rubber Factory is The Black Keys at the peak of their southern garage rock phase. “The Lengths” is this record’s swampy, slowed-down center. The pedal steel unravels like ribbon of melted caramel and Auerbach unravels like an abandoned puppy, singing, “No more talk could take me from this pain I’m in.” It’s one of the softer songs in their catalogue, which makes it all the more unexpectedly pleasant to sink into. —Ellen Johnson

8. “Things Ain’t Like They Used To Be”

This Attack & Release track is noticeably more atmospheric and experimental than much of the Black Keys’ discography. It pleasantly drags and drones like a choppy blues song that was flattened out with a rolling pin. Auerbach doesn’t hide behind a mic pedal or any fuzzy production—he just sings a sad, sad song. —Ellen Johnson

7. “Your Touch”

Dan Auerbach’s solos typically include some extreme dexterity, showing off both his ear for a guitar melody and his quick-moving fingers that play some insane guitar freakout to blow all of our minds. On “Your Touch,” a song that features one of The Black Keys’ catchiest main riffs, Auerbach fakes us all out on the solo, opting for momentary distortion instead of the bluesy lines we all love him for. “Your Touch,” one of the group’s best pre-megafame jams, is also one of their most clever, subverting our expectations to produce something just as awesome. —Steven Edelstone

6. “These Days”

The closing track on Brothers, “These Days” sees The Black Keys at one of their most blues-infused moments, and at their best: stripped back and emotionally raw. Auerbach smoothly sings of regret and days gone by as subdued guitar and Carney’s booming drum beat guide us through the track. “Would I change my ways? / Wasted time and broken dreams / violent colors so obscene / It’s all I see these days,” Auerback croons. Though it’s a melancholic way to end an album, one can’t help but appreciate The Black Keys wearing their influences on their sleeves and giving us a blues ballad for the masses. —Molly Schramm

5. “Thickfreakness”

There’s a reason why The Black Keys opened their live sets with “Thickfreakness” for years: From the second the opening guitar chord that’s freakishly akin to starting up a motorcycle hits, you know things are about to get crazy. That roaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrr immediately gives way to the duo’s hardest hitting guitar riff of the earliest part of their career, a completely fuzzed out moment of blues-rock bliss that extends through the song’s almost four-minute run time. The song comes from an era in the band’s history when they didn’t 100% know how to record vocals—without looking at a lyric site, I’d have no idea what Auerbach is saying—but it’s totally fine: It also comes from a period when they only cared about melting people’s faces off with some of the most kickass garage rock around. And that’s exactly what they do here. —Steven Edelstone

4. “Too Afraid To Love You”

The harpsichord on this Brothers track sounds rather suspicious, as does the song as a whole. What you may have once considered a cheesy sound effect is suddenly sensual and rugged as Dan Auerbach desperately sings, “I just do not know what to do / I’m too afraid to love you.” I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in Muscle Shoals circa 2009 when someone in the studio said, “You know what’d be really dope right here? Some HARPSICHORD.” Their idea paid off. —Ellen Johnson

3. “Tighten Up”

Whistling in rock/pop songs can either be incredibly annoying or cleverly appropriate. I can only think of a few instances of the latter, but this is one of them. When I hear those first few notes, I’m ready to belt, “I wanted love, I needed love” at the top of my lungs and groove along to Auerbach’s signature guitar ooze. —Ellen Johnson

2. “Everlasting Light”

“Everlasting Light” may be the closest thing The Black Keys have to a pop song. It doesn’t bear any conventional pop tones—no cherry-kissed electronica or gushy lyrics but plenty of guitar sludge and grimy production—but the mood of the song is grandiose, loud and groovy. What better way to open Brothers, arguably the most multifaceted Black Keys album? —Ellen Johnson

1. “I Got Mine”

Attack & Release saw The Black Keys experimenting with new genres, dabbling in psychedelia and folk music in ways they never had before. Against that backdrop, it’s pretty amazing that their best blues-rock track comes from that record. “I Got Mine” takes everything that made the duo’s music so lovable in their early days, throws it in a blender and creates the most fun lo-fi blues rock humanly possible. The song explodes right out of the gate with their biggest-sounding riff to date and even later slows things to a crawl just so Auerbach can rip things open one final time. Even after becoming one of the biggest rock bands on the planet in the 2010s, there’s a reason why The Black Keys still play “I Got Mine” in every setlist: It’s the best distillation of their bluesy garage roots and the melodic radio rock that’d come next. —Steven Edelstone

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