Tighten Up

Album: Brothers (2010)
Charted: 87
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • Like many Black Keys songs, there's no specific meaning to "Tighten Up," though it's loosely based around a cheating female lover. Lead singer Dan Auerbach said: "I took a couple of verses out of a book of lyrics and worked round them. I worked like that a lot like then. Sometimes I write songs and it's about the words: other times it's about the vowel sound. If I try to put a smarter word in, it doesn't sound better. They're all kinda spontaneous. I have no idea what the song's about."
  • "Tighten Up" was a breakthrough single for the Black Keys, who had been releasing music since 2002. It topped the Billboard Alternative Songs chart and was their first song to land on the Hot 100.
  • In Mojo, Patrick Carney called his drumbeat on this track "my sh--ty version of Can's 'Vitamin C' beat," referring to the 1972 song "Vitamin C" by the German band Can. He then explained how the song came together: "Dan came up with the riff and we both had the idea of a whistling hook. We made the song, didn't think anything of it, shelved the thing for a month and a half. That was 'Tighten Up.' We never thought it would get played on the radio. And then it did. It got played on the radio a lot."
  • This was the first single from the Black Keys' sixth studio album, Brothers. The bluesy track reunites the band - vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer/producer Patrick Carney - with producer Danger Mouse, who helmed their 2008 album, Attack & Release. Most of the album was produced by Mark Neill, who specializes in vintage equipment and a classic soul sound. Ten of the 15 songs on the album were initially recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama, but this one was done at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn, New York.
  • The original music video features a soulful dinosaur puppet named Frank singing the song and dancing. Directed by Chris Marrs Piliero, it was later replaced by a video with far more production value, also directed by Piliero. The updated video takes place at a playground, where Auerbach and Carney, and their adolescent doppelgängers, do battle over a girl.

    Frank the puppet was reprised in the Black Keys video for "Next Girl," also directed by Marrs Piliero. The band was not enamored with that clip, and insisted on a crawl of text across the bottom of the video explaining how much they hated it.
  • Dan Auerbach did the whistling. Carney said: "After Brian played the intro melody on keyboard, I suggested whistling it. Neither Brian nor I can whistle, so Dan stepped up and did it. Nailed it. We wrote and recorded the whole thing in 12 hours."

    Auerbach added: "Otis Redding's '(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay' was my favorite song when I was a kid, so I was like, 'yeah I'll do whistling.'"
  • Auerbach explained to The Sun, May 14, 2010, that the album title refers to his relationship with Carney. He said: "The title references our bond as band mates, friends and supporters. Pat recently went through a turbulent period in his life, going through a rough divorce, and being in a depressed state of mind. It really tested our relationship, but in the end we became closer than ever. The title fits perfectly."

    Patrick Carney said of Brothers: "Dan and I grew up a lot as individuals and musicians prior to making this album. Our relationship was tested in many ways but at the end of the day, we're brothers, and I think these songs reflect that."
  • Many were already surprised when the Black Keys won the Breakthrough Video VMA in September 2010 for this song, eight years after releasing their first album. MTV then proceeded to completely screw up the prize when the duo were presented with a trophy that said "Black Eyed Peas" instead of their own name.
  • Pat Carney worked on the song with Danger Mouse in New York. He recalled to Uncut magazine: "I remember singing the melody first. I don't normally write on piano - but I was playing more keyboard at the time because I'd played keyboards on my solo album. Brian was the first person I called over when I thought I had a melody. I remember working on it together with him. Then I changed the melody to the guitar."
  • The song has featured on several TV shows (Gossip Girl, House and Hung) and in a Subaru advertising campaign. In the past, the duo refused to license their songs, but by the time Brothers was released, they changed their position, figuring it was a good idea to take the money and get more exposure for their tunes. With offers pouring in as they grew in popularity, they limited commercial uses of their songs on their next album, El Camino, so the focus would remain on their music.
  • Carney admitted in an interview with Billboard magazine that the duo purposely penned this tune to be played on the radio. "That was the last song that we did - and the only one with Danger Mouse - and the whole idea was to try to make something that could get played on the radio," he said. "We realized we could get all the press in the world and do everything we'd done in the past, but the only thing that would be an obvious leg-up was radio airplay."
  • This won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance.
  • After working on "Tighten Up" for a while, The Black Keys had a two-and-a-half minute song, but needed more bells and whistles to extend the track. "Brian suggested a tempo change in the middle," Carney remembered. "We talked about bands who'd done a similar thing, like The Clash with 'Should I Stay or Should I Go?.' Dan went in the live room and jammed in a different tempo in the same key. We had this whole other section, and I said, 'Well, I could do a stupid drum solo!' So I did a whole stupid drum solo and, surprisingly, it worked."
  • The Black Keys filed two separate lawsuits against the advertising agency Della Femina Rothschild Jeary and Partners for using this song in a local advertising campaign for Valley National Bank without permission. They claimed the agency used the track without asking or compensating the band.

Comments: 2

  • Megan from Stevenson, AlI freakin' love this dang song! I first heard this and was amazed by the music. :) Great song!
  • Pat from Bremen, NjTighten up is a well put together song. The Black Keys are a really good band and they have been over looked a lot, but I'm excited to see what they do with their next record. They won some hardware at the grammy's so maybe they'll blow up soon
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Brandi Carlile

Brandi CarlileSongwriter Interviews

As a 5-year-old, Brandi was writing lyrics to instrumental versions lullabies. She still puts her heart into her songs, including the one Elton John sings on.

Rick Springfield

Rick SpringfieldSongwriter Interviews

Rick has a surprising dark side, a strong feminine side and, in a certain TV show, a naked backside. But he still hasn't found Jessie's Girl.

70s Music Quiz 1

70s Music Quiz 1Music Quiz

The '70s gave us Muppets, disco and Van Halen, all which show up in this groovy quiz.

Timothy B. Schmit

Timothy B. SchmitSongwriter Interviews

The longtime Eagle talks about soaring back to his solo career, and what he learned about songwriting in the group.

John Kay of Steppenwolf

John Kay of SteppenwolfSongwriter Interviews

Steppenwolf frontman John Kay talks about "Magic Carpet Ride," "Born To Be Wild," and what he values more than awards and accolades.

Oliver Leiber

Oliver LeiberSongwriter Interviews

Oliver Leiber talks about writing and producing hits for Paula Abdul, and explains his complicated relationship with his father, the songwriter Jerry Leiber.