The best song from every Black Keys album

That The black keys has delivered many incendiary tracks in a career spanning more than two decades.

Singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney emerged from Akron, Ohio shortly after the turn of the millennium, proudly wearing their influence on their sleeves.

By mixing classic rock, garage rock and blues, the Black Keys created their very own distinctive style. The duo originally worked in the lo-fi DIY world, recording in basements, abandoned factories and anywhere else they could find. After paying their dues, however, the Black Keys achieved mainstream success. Grammy awards, platinum albums and sold-out tours would follow, but their raw, blue-collar ethos remained.

Below we have selected the best song from each of their albums.

‘The Big Come Up’ (2002): “The Breaks”
Debut albums tend to be raw, especially self-produced, home-studio-recorded releases like The Big Come Up. Of course, a lo-fi, do-it-yourself style was perfect for the Black Keys’ brand of bluesy rock. The material on The Big Come Up was sparse, lacking the lush instrumental layers of the group’s later work. From day one, however, the elements for success were there: namely Auerbach’s soulful, wailing voice, blistering guitar riffs and Carney’s powerful backbeat. “The Breaks” offered a glimpse of things to come, with a catchy bluesy guitar line that alternated between cool swagger and emphatic noise.

‘Thickfreakness’ (2003): “Hard Row”
A simple but effective guitar progression powered “Hard Row,” the standout track from the Black Keys’ second LP. You could hear the duo becoming more comfortable in their musical skin Thickness: The vocals were sharper, the guitar bolder, the drums louder, yet without losing the unfiltered energy of their debut effort. “Hard Row” exemplified the evolution that somehow evoked vibes of Nirvana and ZZ Top at the same time.

‘Rubber Factory’ (2004): “Girl Is on My Mind”
This tune begins with a wailing bluesy guitar line before drums and vocals kick in. Like many of the Black Keys’ best tracks, “Girl Is on My Mind” feels like it could have been released 40 years before it was recorded. There the essence of Jimi Hendrix within its riffs, while the song’s tone – along with Auerbach’s vocals – harmonizes with early works from Doors.

‘Magic Potion’ (2006): “Strange Desire”
“Strange Desire” starts with an otherworldly guitar wail before rocking into the rhythmic thud of its opening verse. Auerbach’s vocals on the track are strong, but his guitar work actually steals the show. The riffs echo, twist and turn throughout. At times they carefully go through humble courses; in others, they explode with frenetic energy.

‘Attack & Release’ (2008): “I Got Mine”
This was a transitional album for the Black Keys, a turning point where they began to graduate from a lovable indie band to a potent rock force. So it’s fitting that a song about growing up is the strongest track on Attack and release. “I was a moving man in my younger days / But I’ve outgrown my paths,” Auerbach sings on the song’s opening lines, his vocals showing the ruggedness of a rock veteran. With its earworm chorus and emphatic guitar, “I Got Mine” foreshadowed the massive mainstream success that was just around the corner.

‘Blakroc’ (2009): “Hard Times”
Agitate if you want about whether Blackjack belongs in the Black Keys official discography. The album was a collaboration between the band and Roc-a-Fella co-founder Damon Dash. Special guests included a wide variety of hip-hop heavyweights such as Mos Def, Q-Tip, Ludacris and members of Wu-Tang Clan. The result was a cool mix of genres, and on some tracks the experiment worked far better than others. The crown jewel was “Hard Times”, featuring NOE. The Baltimore rapper belted out the verses over a driving instrumental groove while Auerbach sang the chorus.

‘Brothers’ (2010): “Next Girl”
The Black Keys’ hugely successful 2010 album Brothers filled with fantastic material. “Tighten Up” and “Howlin’ for You” were the mainstream hits, but deeper cuts — like the romantic “Everlasting Light” and the psychedelic instrumental “Black Mud” — showed depth beyond its radio-friendly tracks. Still, “Next Girl” is our favorite, a soulful, giddy declaration of learning from past relationship mistakes.

‘El Camino’ (2011): “Little Black Submarines”
Has any song started as a soft, acoustic folk song and then exploded into a blues-rock hurricane? So yes. Most notably, “Stairway to Heaven.” So when the Black Keys delivered “Little Black Submarines,” the Led Zeppelin comparisons naturally followed. Still, this single is more than strong enough to stand outside the shadow of any classic tune. Its first half is delicate and vulnerable, acting as a musical Trojan horse. Listeners are lulled into thinking that “Little Black Submarines” is one of the band’s mellow numbers, only to have the song erupt into rock glory shortly after the two-minute mark. This yin and yang dynamic makes “Little Black Submarines” one of the most entertaining songs in the Black Keys’ arsenal.

‘Turn Blue’ (2014): “Fever”
The Black Keys and frequent producer Danger Mouse sought to expand their musical spectrum. Of course, the blues still remained at their core, but the group stretched into soul and psychedelic Turn blue, evident on lead single “Fever.” A groovy synth hook and funky bassline wrap around the Black Keys’ traditional guitar and drum sound, adding further depth. Its last 30 seconds, where all the musical parts end the song, present one of the Black Keys’ trippier moments.

‘Let’s Rock’ (2019): “Shine a Little Light”
The Black Keys were determined to return to meat-and-potatoes guitar rock on their ninth studio LP, so perhaps it was by design that “Shine a Little Light” was chosen as the opener. A 40-second intro of soaring guitar kicks off the track before Auerbach begins with his usual soulful croon. Backing singers add some gorgeous interplay to his vocals, before the intensity is turned up again during the song’s emphatic chorus.

‘Delta Kream’ (2021): “Crawling Kingsnake”
The Black Keys celebrated hill-country blues with this all-covers release. The pearl of Delta Cream is “Crawling Kingsnake”, a tune first recorded in the 1940s whose origins date back to the 20s. That a modern band could deliver a faithful new version of a roughly 100-year-old tune is impressive, yet not surprising given the Black Keys’ Re-recording.

‘Dropout Boogie’ (2022): “It Ain’t Over”
After 11 albums and decades together, the Black Keys proved that time had not eroded their funky swagger with Dropout Boogie. “It Ain’t Over” bounces along to a sultry beat that opens up a broader sound on the chorus. “No one else for you to blame / But when you play the losing game / It’s not over,” Auerbach belts out the chorus, his vocals supported by delicious backing singer harmonies. Soulful and emotive, yet still rocking at the same time, the tune once again encapsulates the balance that makes the Black Keys such an enjoyable act.

Black Keys Albums Ranked

From lo-fi 8-track recordings to multiplatinum hits, a roundup of every studio LP by the blues-rock duo.

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