Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 213
Thurs. Sept. 12, 2013
“Little Black Submarines”
The Black Keys
can it be/
If The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” was the “Stairway” of the eighties than The Black Keys’ “Little Black Submarine” definitely must be the “Heaven” of 2011. Although the first section of “Submarines” does mirror the sound of Led Zeppelin’s most famous acoustic flavored classic, lead singer/guitarist and chief songwriter Dan Auerbach disputes the notion that his band is solely influenced by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones when he told Subersify.com, “Man, you know what? I never listen to Led Zeppelin. But, I mean, I don’t think Robert Plant or Jimmy Page listen to Led Zeppelin, either. We all prob¬ably obsessed over the same old blues records growing up.” The thing that Auerbach and his partner/drummer Patrick Carney have in common with Led Zeppelin is The Black Keys have been collectively fighting for respectability since the band’s inception in their hometown of Akron, Ohio circa 2001. Like Page & Plant, Auerbach and Carney concentrated on the rhythms and let their music do the talking.
By 2011, famed eclectic producer of the infamous Jay Z/ The Beatles mash-up The Grey Album, Danger Mouse took the helm for their celebrated 2010 album Brothers and their critically acclaimed follow-up 2011’s El Camino. In an interview with Exclaim.ca, Auerbach talked about the experience of working with Danger Mouse when he said, “It took 40 days to make but it was off and on, because we had to leave for shows, come back, and leave for shows again. We really love hanging out with [Danger Mouse] and respect him as a record maker, and I think he feels the same about us, so there really wasn’t much to talk about. We didn’t do any demos, there were no rehearsals, and we had nothing when we went into the studio. We started from scratch every day.”
The most celebrated track and my favorite cut from El Camino was the song that made me an instant fan of The Black Keys, “Little Black Submarines.” Telling Excalim.Ca, Auerbach described “Submarines” as, “Yeah that was my jock-rock moment. We actually did that song in two versions, an acoustic one and an electric one and spliced them together. I think that the electric half of that song is the closest representation of our live show than anything we’ve done before.” Dan’s The Black Keys bandmate, drummer Patrick Carney told American Songwriter how “Little Black Submarines” came to life when he explained, “Little Black Submarines’ began as a demo that Brian [Burton a.k.a. Danger Mouse] and Dan made, but we completely changed the song around. We cut it four or five different ways, and then we cut a really stripped-down version with acoustic guitar. We had a louder version, too, but it wasn’t completely working, so we decided to combine the two by going into the studio and punching in a new ending. That whole ending is the first take we played, just figuring out what we’re doing and riffing on that idea. That’s why that part of the album feels the loosest. It’s how Dan and I play. It’s live in the studio, just guitar and drums, with the instruments bleeding into reach other.”
The reason why so many fans and critics think of “Submarines” as a post-modern day “Stairway” was the way Brian, Dan and Patrick totally captured Jimmy Page’s quiet to loud aesthetic that made Led Zeppelin one of the biggest and most influential bands of the 1970’s. “Little Black” mirrors the emotional tension of a broken-hearted soul who’s lost so much in love that he’s about to explode with rage. At the beginning of the song, Dan’s acoustic song echoes the protagonist looking back fondly to a past affair but by the end as Patrick comes in, “Submarines” turns to a full volatile finale that culminates in one of the most dynamic decibel detonating climaxes in recent memory. My favorite part is towards the end of “Submarines” when we hear Dan shout “yeah” in a barbaric yawp style which sounds like Brian had encapsulated the sound of a live Black Keys performance on tape.
More than just a Zeppelin clone, The Black Keys are original American rockers who are influenced by the same blues legends that gave Jimmy Page and Robert Plant the lit the creative spark to Led Zeppelin’s most celebrated songs. “Little Black Submarines” maybe echo the eloquence of Page and Plant’s “Stairway to Heaven” but this Black Keys cut is pure Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney at their greatest. I urge you to spin this celestial rocker that will make you an instant fan of The Black Keys. All you have to do is crank up the volume past the eleven and let the genius of The Black Keys take you over. If this is the first time your virgin ears will be experiencing “Little Black Submarine,” you will definitely thank me for this one.