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Released: 2010

“Howlin’ for You” by The Black Keys is essentially a groovy confession of unrequited love filled with yearning and metaphoric imagery. As you’d expect from the title, it’s a song of longing, howling in the metaphorical sense, yearning for the affection of the beloved.

When he sings “I must admit, I can’t explain, Any of these thoughts racing through my brain, It’s true, But baby, I’m howlin’ for you,” the lead singer, Dan Auerbach, is essentially confessing that he’s head over heels—his thoughts consumed by this woman he’s singing about. The phrase “howlin’ for you” is a bluesy way to say he’s yearning or crying out for her. This motif keeps coming back throughout the song, highlighting his relentless longing.

Lines like “There’s something wrong, With this plot, The actors here, have not got a clue, Baby, I’m howlin’ for you” speak to a deeper level of confusion. Not only is he perplexed by his feelings, but he also sees a disparity, a sense of wrongness in the unfolding narrative—maybe their relationship isn’t taking the turn he hoped it would, or others around them don’t understand their dynamic.

The repetitive “Da da, da da, da” lines act as a musical mantra, lulling the listener into the song’s downbeat, blues-inspired groove while also serving to underline the singer’s hypnotic obsession. The phrase may seem meaningless, but sonically, it’s key in setting the mood.

When Auerbach sings “Mockingbird, Can’t you see? Little girl’s got a hold on me like glue, Baby, I’m howlin’ for you,” he uses the mockingbird as a metaphor—a witness, if you will—to his unrequited love. The woman he yearns for has got a hold on him, strong like glue, almost paralyzing him with her grip.

The line “Throw the ball to the stick, Swing and miss, and a catcher’s mitt, Strike two, Baby, I’m howlin’ for you” uses baseball imagery to express his failed attempts at catching her attention or affection, perhaps indicating he’s nearing his last attempt—since “strike three” in baseball means you’re out.

Overall, “Howlin’ for You” is a classic embodiment of blues rock with a modern twist, expressing longing and desire, cleverly painted with metaphors and wrapped in a catchy, foot-tapping rhythm. It’s a song that many can relate to, especially those who have been struck by Cupid’s unrelenting arrows.

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