At a Glance
Primary Instrumentation, Tone & Mix
Hit Factor Assessment
Why it’s a Hit
Artist: The Black Keys
Song/Album: Tighten Up / Brothers
Songwriter(s): Dan Auerbach, Patrick Carney
Week on BB Chart: November 27, 2010
Chart Position: # 1 Billboard Rock Song
Sub Genre: Blues, Garage
Structure: A-A-B-A-A-B-C-B (note: “B” refers to the instrumental theme)
First Chorus: n/a
Intro Length: 0:21
Outro Length: n/a
Primary Tone (Electric/Acoustic): Electric
Lyrical Theme: Love/Relationships
Primary Lyrical P.O.V: 1st Person
Section Length (Length of each individual section within the song)
Here we see pretty much equal time being allocated to each section within the song, with the exceptions being the short turnarounds (each at 0:09) and bridge (at 0:32).
Structure Timeline (Shows when each section hits within the timeline of the song)
Total Section Analysis (Total time consumed by each section and its percentage of the total song)
Here it’s easy to see that the two primary focal points of the song reside in the verse (comprising 34% of the total song) and the instrumental theme (comprising 32% of the total song). Technically, since there is no lyrical chorus within “Tighten Up”, the instrumental theme functions in very much the same manner that the chorus would, except that it is an instrumental. This is further reinforced by the total time allocated to that particular section throughout the song.
Momentum/Intensity Factor (Evaluation of the intensity of each section within the song timeline on a scale of 1 – 10, 10 being the most intense)
For what “Tighten Up” lacks in huge swings in momentum (i.e. low key verse followed by a huge chorus), it makes up for in its smoldering groove present throughout the entire song.
The song kicks off sparsely, with just the bass guitar and tambourine. At 0:04 in, we see the momentum increased a notch, with the addition of the kick drum, rhythm guitar and whistles, followed by the guitar melody.
At 0:21, we enter the verse where the momentum is kicked up and we’re instantly locked in to that infectious groove that occurs throughout the entire song. The drum beat / fill rhythm propels us along, leading into the turn around that increases the intensity ever so slightly (with the hint of the main guitar theme) before leading us back into the 2nd verse, which has the same intensity level as the 1st.
The momentum is then brought down a couple of notches during the kick/hat beat transition before leading into the main instrumental theme (or instrumental chorus as we can also refer to it). Once we hit the main instrumental theme, the intensity is kicked back up with the same drum pattern established during the verse, but now includes the main guitar melody and rhythm guitar section. The section ends with a dip in momentum with the same kick/hat beat that initially kicked the section off.
The general flow during verses 3 and 4 are generally the same as the first part of the song, with the exception being the introduction of the organ during the 4th verse, which adds a little bit more tension into the mix.
The bridge sees the momentum being kicked right back up after the transition from the last instrumental theme section. The momentum established by the new solid beat and rhythm guitar pattern is carried right through to the end of the song, where the main theme melody is put over the new rhythm established in the bridge.
The intro section is great on two levels. The first is that it instantly sets the overall tone/vibe of the song and leads the listener seamlessly into the 1st verse. The second is that it’s exceptionally memorable, and has a unique melody in comparison to the rest of the song. Overall, it’s the underlying simplicity of the section that makes it so effective.
The excellent phrasing and rhythm from all instruments (including vocals) work together in creating an infectious groove that instantly engages the listener’s attention and keeps them locked in for the duration of the section. The drums, in particular, with the beat/fill/beat/fill repetition gives it a unique vibe, and the way that the vocals are delivered coupled with the repetition of the final lyric in each phrase enhances the memorability factor. The low fi production coupled with the gritty vocal delivery gives it that “dirty” blues feel.
Main Instrumental Theme (Chorus): 8.5/10
“Tighten Up” is pretty unique in the genre in the sense that it forgoes having the traditional “lyric” chorus in favor of a reoccurring instrumental theme that occurs where the typical chorus would be in the song. The melody is very repetitive in nature, and after hearing it just once it’s hard to get it out of your head. The overall style is totally retro, with the fuzzed octave guitar harmony, being propelled by the same style drums as in the verses. Keeping in line with the rest of the song, it’s sheer simplicity of it that makes it so engaging and effective.
Overall, even though “Tighten Up” comes across sonically as an over compressed (due to the low fi, retro nature of the recording), in reality it isn’t as over saturated as the vast majority of other songs in the genre as we can see from the waveform above. It’s also interesting to note that there isn’t a lot of fluctuating in levels between sections. It’s pretty much uniform throughout.
Compares the song being analyzed to all Rock songs that have entered the Billboard Rock top 10: Q1 through Q3-2010.
The key elements present in “Tighten Up” are in-line with all year-to-date top 10 Rock hits EXCEPT:
- The song structure is significantly different than the majority of songs within the genre.
- The song does not contain a lyrical chorus. Instead it has a repeating instrumental “theme.”
- The song length is 0:30 shorter than the average top 10 Rock song.
- The tempo is mid compared to the majority of top 10 songs in the genre, which are mid/up.
- The song does not contain a solo.
- The style is very much retro in nature with a heavy emphasis on the blues. The majority of current hits in the rock genre are more modern sounding with a modern rock vibe.
Does the song flow in a cohesive manner? All of the sections within “Tighten Up” flow seamlessly into one another, tied together by the repetitive beat and rhythm guitar line. The only “jarring” section occurs during the bridge, which is completely different in nature musically than any other section (which a good bridge should be), but it still stays in line with the overall vibe of the song.
How does the production stand up in maximizing the songs impact? This is a vintage “down and dirty” blues/garage rock song, and the low-fi, gritty analog nature of the production perfectly accentuates the overall vibe of the music. If “Tighten Up” had the over-produced, slick sound of most other modern rock songs, I highly doubt that it would have connected with its audience the way that it did. There’s something to be said for raw simplicity. The production brings back the “human element”, which is sorely missed in the current modern rock genre.
Does the instrumentation and sound maximize the vibe of the song? As with the production mentioned above, the instrumentation used and associated tones really accentuate the gritty vibe of the music. The low-fi drums coupled with the analog distorted guitars and gritty “Dr. Johnesq” vocals achieve this in grand fashion.
Do the lyrics serve the song and jibe with the vibe of the music? The lyrics within “Tighten Up” very well jibe with the vibe of the music in the sense that it’s retro bluesy love/relationship themed, and the lyrics match up perfectly with the vocal delivery and tone of the music.
Vocal Delivery: 10/10
Does the tonality and phrasing of the vocals maximize the songs impact? The gritty, Dr. John vocal style jibes perfectly with the bluesy/retro sounding instrumentation and production.
How easy is it to remember this song after you hear it once? Each section within the song is exceptionally memorable in nature, primarily due to the use of repetition, and “simple” (not in a bad way) melodic phrases.
WOW Factors: 0/10
Does this song possess any standout elements or contain special moments that aid in catapulting it to HIT status? There aren’t any real “stand out” factors in this song that are worthy of taking note of. Overall it is a very memorable, solid “retro” rock song. Nothing more, nothing less.
Does the song provide the listener with a strong payoff (i.e. a hot chorus)? Since there isn’t a “traditional” vocal chorus in this song, the main instrumental theme functions as the payoff for the listener. The passage is both repetitive and simplistic in nature, and is quite memorable. As far as being a payoff in the sense of having a “huge” chorus, it doesn’t pay off that big.
Does this song have its own unique vibe when compared to other songs/artists in the genre? When compared to other current hit songs in the genre, “Tighten Up” does stand out from the pack, both due to its true retro nature and overall simplicity. When compared to hard rock acts of the late 60’s and 70’s, where it obviously draws its influences (most notably Dr. John in my opinion), it’s not very original. It’s been done before.
Longevity: 7/10 (Artist), 4/10 (Overall Pop Genre)
Does this song have what it takes to stand the test of time? Will it become a staple of the artist’s repertoire? “Tighten Up” is a very solid, catchy rock song. However, there isn’t anything overtly “special” about it that will enable it to stand up with other hit rock songs that do stand the test of time. I do think it will find some longevity in the licensing world. The structure and vibe of the song lends itself to being attractive for film, tv and video game placements, as well as advertising.
- “Tighten Up” is very memorable due to the use of repetition (both vocally and instrumentally), its overall simplicity and catchy hooks.
- The production of the song brings out the “grit”, giving the song a very “human” quality that the listener can connect with emotionally.
- Overall, all of the elements (vocals, structure, instrumentation, etc…) work in perfect unison to create a very effective rock song.
- From a “hit” perspective, “Tighten Up” is a very strong retro themed blues/rock song. However, it doesn’t have any superb or standout qualities that will enable it to stand the test of time with other hit songs in the genre.
There are three primary factors that worked in catapulting “Tighten Up” to #1 on the Billboard Rock songs chart:
Overall Effectiveness. “Tighten Up” is the perfect example of all the elements coming together to make an effective, engaging rock song. The underlying simplicity, coupled with memorable hooks in the intro and repeating instrumental theme and the use of repetition throughout makes this a song that’s tough to get out of your head.
Uniqueness in the Genre: It stands out amongst most other songs that pass through the current Billboard Rock top 10 for reasons including:
- Raw Simplicity.
- The “Human” factor present in its production, instrumentation and vocals. People can connect with it.
- The Retro blues rock vibe. This song goes against the current “modern rock” sound.
Marketing: As with most other hits today, marketing, most specifically licensing, plays a huge factor in increasing exposure of a song. The Black Keys have always made good use of licensing, and “Tighten Up” is no different. Its uses include commercials for Molson and Subaru, TV shows including House, Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries, and licensed use in FIFA 2011.
- There is something to be said for raw simplicity in music, and that’s something that is vastly missing in today’s market. When your song is simplistic in nature, both structurally and sonically, it doesn’t hide anything from the listener. Everything is exposed, right then and there. Your listener is able to connect on a more human level, as opposed to being bombarded with slick, over the top production that loses the “human element.”
- Prosody. All the elements within your song, vocal delivery, lyrics, instrumentation, production, etc… should work in perfect unison with one another in creating one cohesive vibe. This is something that “Tighten Up” achieves very well. So, for example, if the intended vibe of your song is gritty down and dirty blues, make sure your lyrics aren’t about something that is off topic (such as picking flowers in a park on a sunny happy day), otherwise the listener won’t connect.
- License your music. Remember – it’s not selling out – it’s just SELLING. “Tighten Up” is a good song, but its exposure through licensing initiatives gave it increased visibility that aided in catapulting it to the top of the charts.
- Stay on target with your song. “Tighten Up” never deviates from the raw blues rock vibe. This is good both in the sense that it keeps the listener engaged, and also opens itself up to licensing opportunities for use in film, TV, video games, commercials, etc… Remember, when a song is being used in a TV show or movie, the music supervisor is using it to enhance the emotion of a scene. If your song is sonically or emotionally all over the place, its chances of being picked up go way down, or may be used for seconds instead of minutes.