The Black Keys - Tighten Up
Tighten Up was written by Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney and produced by Danger Mouse. It was released in 2010 by Nonesuch.
The song is in the key of F# Minor. Tempo varies from 96 – 111 bpm. Entire track is 4/4, except for one bar which is 3/4
Intro, Verse, Refrain, Verse, Bridge, Chorus, Bridge, Coda, Solo
Drums – Kick, Snare, Hi-Hat, Tom, Crash
Electric Rhythm Guitar
Electric Lead Guitars
The structure of Tighten Up is slightly unusual and doesn’t really follow a conventional structure. This adds to the ‘live, jamming’ feel of the record which was the intention of the band, and also the reason why the track was not recorded to a click. The intro covers the first ten bars. The first two are more of a count-in, with the bass and tambourine setting the tempo for the band. Then the kick and rhythm guitar come in, accompanied by a whistled melody, double-tracked and set an octave apart, with the lower octave panned left, and the higher to the right. After four bars, a single lead guitar melody is added, panned left. The song then has an eight-bar verse where the vocals are introduced. Following the verse is a four-bar refrain, where the lyrics resolve, and a melodic hook is played by the left-panned electric guitar we heard in the intro, but also by another playing a similar melody an octave higher, panned to the opposite side. After this refrain, we have another verse, similar to the first, though this time the left-panned electric guitar from earlier is brought up in the background for the second four bars. At the end of this second verse, there is a bridge, where the kick, hi-hat and bass vamp on the song’s tonic note for one bar. The kick and bass are playing ¼ notes, with the hats on 8ths. This introduces the first 8 bar chorus. The chord progression changes here and we lose the vocals. There are no lyrics at all in this section, instead, the two lead electric guitars from earlier play a new melodic hook, still an octave apart, but now both panned right. The rhythm guitar that is now panned left balances this out. The chorus is followed by another bridge, the same vamping from before, but now the time signature changes to 3/4 for one bar. It returns to 4/4 as we enter the third verse and refrain, which is identical musically but not lyrically to the first. The fourth verse introduces padding by a modulating organ, which is playing a different chord progression to the bass and guitar. The second half of the fourth verse, like the second verse, re-introduces the left-panned guitar. Then the same vamping bridge as earlier takes us into the second chorus, which is structurally the same as the first. This is followed by one more bridge, as before, which is then followed by one bar of a breakdown, with a slowing drumroll and effected guitar sound. The tempo slows down during this bar, setting the pace for the approaching coda. The chord progression here is the same as the chorus’, only now it’s played at a tempo of around 96 to 100 bpm. The first four bars are instrumental, then the vocals come in for eight bars, over the top of the same four chord progression. The vocals then cut back out and a new, distorted and flanged electric guitar plays a slower version of the lead melody for eight more bars. The track ends and then a final 4 bars of just the guitar fades the song out.
The track builds up over the verses, then there’s a break just before and after the chorus’ when the vamping happens on the kick and bass. This gives the impression that a new important part is coming up. There is not a huge amount of variation in dynamics other than that, except perhaps at the transition between the final bridge and the coda.
The track mostly makes use of harmonies that are an octave apart. This is present in the whistling at the intro, and also the majority of times we hear the lead guitars playing melodic hooks. Other than that, the organ played in the fourth verse plays F# minor, E major, B minor and C# major, the one, six, four and five of the F# minor scale, while the other instruments carry on the usual progression of F# minor, A major, B minor, C# major. This is padding, and the harmony between the A and E chords gives this verse a noticeable point of difference and creates a build up towards the second chorus.
The hook that is whistled in the intro of the track is different to the hook that is later played by the guitars. It climbs down the F# pentatonic scale, playing F#, E, C#, B, C#, before resolving on B, C#. The melody that creates the hook played in the refrain sections of the track by the two electric guitars are also in the F# pentatonic scale, but this time using the whole scale over several octaves. This scale is very typical in Rock and Pop music and fits the style perfectly. The melody in the chorus uses the same scale, but differently. The vocal melody throughout the track also makes use of the F# pentatonic scale, although it never follows the same melody as the guitars.
The drums, vocals and guitars all have a fair amount of distortion on them. This is either from heavy compression or pushing the gain levels elsewhere in the chain. Either way, it sounds like analogue distortion. The bass and tambourine that are present throughout the song are left clean, which balances out the heavy fuzz of the other instruments. The rhythm guitar has a fair amount of reverb on it, and a tremolo'd delay, which could be the reverb itself. The two lead guitars that play the hooks do not have the tremolo'd delay but do seem to have the same distortion, and a little of the reverb, as the rhythm guitar. The organ sound from the fourth verse sounds as though it is being played through a Leslie, or similar, rotating speaker. The solo played by the electric guitar towards the end of the song is the most heavily affected instrument in the track. The guitar here is run through a Flanger, set to a wide, slow and deep sweep that flows left to right. There is another tiny sliver of this in the fill section, right before the coda. During the verses, the entire drum-kit is spread wide, most likely with stereo panned room over-head or room microphones. The mix gets a lot of use out of panning, moving the guitars around constantly, and sitting many instruments just off to the left or right. Whenever two parts are set an octave apart, they are also usually panned to opposite sides, giving the track a wide image, with minimal parts.
All instruments were recorded live, and most likely at the same time, bar the lead guitars, which would have to have been overdubbed. The song was not recorded to a click track, which makes me think that at least the percussion, drums, bass and rhythm guitar were recorded live together.
Tighten Up has a great, old school, rock n roll vibe. It sounds honest, real, live and human. The heavy use of distortion makes it sound gritty and dirty, and the lead guitar hooks really cut through and get stuck in your head.