It might be an unconscious thing for some bands, for others a very conscious moment. The first song on an album sets a tone or sends a message of intent.
Like a setlist at a live show, album song order is usually very deliberate, someone has to ascribe the order afterall. Therefore it’s a conscious act. In thinking about the first songs on The Black Keys albums we are being conscious of the consciousness.
The album is a collection that sits together; it’s not just a random amalgam. The song order will take you on a trip through that collection, increasing the pace or lowering the tempo, changing the mood, influencing how the listener reacts. The first song is key is setting some of those expectations. As band’s grow and think more about their legacy, so too does their attention these details.
Dan and Pat were raised in a pre-iTunes era where the lore of the album experience was important. It would be surprising if they didn’t consider the first song as part of that experience.
Traditionally when listening to an album preview in a record shop you couldn’t just skip through to the next track if you didn’t have access to the record player, tape or cd player. You were forced to listen in song order. The first song therefore assumed greater importance. The online generation just has the opportunity to skip and personalise, listening to a 30 second preview before moving on, deciding to buy or otherwise. Some of the first song influence is therefore lost or not recognised, all songs become a first song.
The one-two punch, soft-loud dynamic. Part of the album experience is to draw the listener in by setting a mood, theme or simply by reducing the volume to get the listener to lean in and concentrate. The second song on an album might then be the two punch. If you think about some of the one-two combinations on The Black Keys’ albums this is perhaps prescient:
Everlasting Light > Next Girl
When The Lights Go Out > 10am Automatic
All You Ever Wanted > I Got Mine
Maybe when the new album drops, listen to the first track and try and imagine the rest of the album before listening to it.
The first songs off The Black Keys’ albums:
The Big Come Up – Busted
Listen to Busted here
Busted is a cover of the RL Burnside track Skinny Woman albeit with different lyrics. With many covers on this album Dan and Pat are adding themselves firmly to a tradition, with their own particular identity.
Thickfreakness – Thickfreakness
Listen to Thickfreakness here
Thickfreakness is a body punch attack that doesn’t relent. This signature tune still opens live shows. The power of the song is a template for the album and representative of a clear confidence and arresting desire to be noticed.
Rubber Factory -When The Lights Go Out
Listen to When The Lights Go Out here
Slow tempo blues shakes up the generally straight ahead approach on Thickfreakness. This slow burning tune holds back, slowly showing its layers. The same could be said of the album.
Magic Potion – Just Got To Be
Listen to Just Got To Be here
Get ready to rock. Straight ahead riffage, looping around and around. The rest of the album doesn’t much change.
Attack & Release – All You Ever Wanted
Listen to All You Ever Wanted here
Reminiscent of Rubber Factory, slow tempo. I Got Mine follows up. Like a foot in both camps, the band trying to break free and then still delivering what is seemingly expected of them.
Brothers – Everlasting Light
Listen to Everlasting Light here
The album where vocally Dan risked alot and succeeded. What better way to set the mood and shake up fans old and new than with a falsetto-esque vocal treatment to Everlasting Light. You knew immediately you were about to hear something different from that which had preceeded it.