The Friday Morning Listen: The Black Keys – Brothers (2010)

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Photo by Pieter M Van Hattem

by Mark Saleski

I have no doubt that a lot of Bob Dylan fans will be incensed at what I’m about to admit, but here we go: if you don’t count his first Greatest Hits collection (which I inherited from my sister), the first Dylan album I bought was At Budokan. My “has to be heavy” phase surely had a lot to do with this. Dylan brings his own kind of heavy, but for a long time, it just wasn’t what my ears were looking for. So I was poking through the bins at a used record shop in Waterville, Maine and came up with Dylan’s At Budokan. I loved it immediately, probably because I was attracted to the “alternate versions” of his own songs.

We’ll return to that point in a little bit.

A couple of nights ago, I listened to a Fresh Air interview with Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Much of the interview focused on one of the ways that the band grew their fan base: by selling material for use in commercials and television shows. I have to admit that I’ve pretty much always been against this practice, siding with artists like Tom Waits, who thinks that it destroys the meaning of a song when it appears in an ad. I remember getting into some heated arguments about this issue when The Who started unloading their catalog. It just didn’t seem right.

But Auerbach and Carney made some decent points, the most interesting of which is that FM radio, formerly there to break new artists to the public, no longer serves that function. The Black Keys were getting very little attention on the airwaves, but after selling some music to Nissan (“Set You Free,” from Thickfreakness), they saw it translate to enthusiasm at their live shows. It felt like they had a radio hit, minus the actual radio.

This brings me back to Dylan. I read a review of At Budokan (which the critics seemed to hate) where the writer was incredibly pissed off at Dylan for screwing with his own song structures. We can argue this point’s merits but it does bring up the related issue: Who owns the songs after they’ve been “set free” to the world. Can the artist do whatever he wants with them? Does that include selling them? Restructuring them?

I don’t have any answers, but I can see that the rise of the Internet and changes in all forms of media (not just radio) have made for non-trivial alterations of the former entertainment/media landscape. If the Black Keys needed to leverage the ad market to get noticed, that’s probably not a bad thing.

I guess.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at
Mark Saleski
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