Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Black Keys "Tighten Up" Song Analysis

Reader Jimmy Keenen requested a song analysis of the Black Key's "Tighten Up," so here it is. The song is from their 2010 Brothers album and has been featured on a variety of television shows and commercials. Like all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Tighten Up" is an odd song, form-wise. It has an instrumental hook that acts as a chorus, and the end of the song is a different feel altogether, almost like a different song. That said, the form looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Interlude, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus - (new feel) Intro, Verse, Chorus, End

You'd think with a song that only has a vocal on the verses and only two sections that repeat that the song would be boring, but it's not, and a lot of that has to do with arrangement. The fact that each chorus is played differently with a different length, along with an odd bar or two thrown in for good measure before and after the choruses, and you have the formula for keeping the listeners attention.

The Arrangement
Although the form of "Tighten Up" might be a bit unique, the arrangement follows a more traditional pop technique of adding instruments as the song goes along to develop the dynamics and keep the interest level high.

On the second verse a guitar line enters to make it different from the first. A bar of quarter note bass is added at the end just before the chorus. Not only is the form of the second chorus different, but you have two guitars playing the octave melody line on the right side and a guitar playing a much more active chordal figure on the left. The third verse is back to the basics while the last verse has the organ playing a pad.

The drum pattern is pretty different and not what you'd expect, which is why it works so well.

  * The Foundation: Synth bass and drums

  * The Pad: organ in 3rd verse

  * The Rhythm: Tambourine

  * The Lead: Vocal, guitar, whistle, synth

  * The Fills: guitar line

The Sound
The sound of this record is as interesting as the form and arrangement. The tambourine that plays through most of the song and establishes the rhythm is lightly flanged, while the drums are pretty much dry and in your face. The synth bass is all low end and doesn't come across on small speakers as a result, but it's not meant to, as it fits the song exactly how it sounds.

The vocals are slightly distorted on the first half of the song and have a bit of a room reverb with a very slight delay double. The guitars all lay nicely together as they have different sounds and are panned away from each other (except for the lead line that's doubled with an octave higher guitar), while the guitar riff at the end of the song is modulated with a flange or resonator.

The Production
The song was produced by Danger Mouse (Brian Joseph) and it's a very cool marriage of hi and lo tech. To me, the arrangement is a thing of brilliance. I love how the choruses change, with the melody line basically stuttered. I love the odd bar thrown in between verses and choruses. These are the things that make music interesting and unique. It might not seem it on the surface, but "Tighten Up" is a great lesson in production.

Send me your song analysis requests!



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2 comments:

Fred Decker said...

Bobby,

I think you've really discovered a powerful idea--how important arrangement and structure are to the appeal of a record.

I like your breakdown of the functions of the parts--foundation, rhythm, pad, lead, fills, etc. These ideas give me a systematic way to analyze what I am hearing and give the parts a name, like "the organ is playing a pad."

I understand you want to consider contemporary songs.

It's better for me anyway to do the analysis of songs I want to figure out for myself. I'll learn more that way.

No offense, but I can't bring myself to care about the Black Keys, or anything else I hear since about 1976 when rock and roll divided into punk and disco and I didn't want to be either. I've been an old crumudgeon for 35 years now.

I know there's good music being made today. It's depressing that I don't know how to find it, so I'm sticking with the stuff I like, and using your ideas to help me understand it.

Thanks,

Fred Decker

Bobby Owsinski said...

Fred,
Most of the songs that I analyze are by reader's request.

I'll be happy to analyze a song that you suggest, as long as it's popular enough that people recognize it and I can grab a video from YouTube.

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