Jack and Meg have split. Musically this time. And they leave behind a legacy of songs and albums that have opened the doors for indie/garage/neo-outlaw country bands everywhere. With their unique shtick and AMAZING output, the Stripes never released a bad record; in fact, the exact opposite is true: all of their efforts were unique and breathtaking and almost exhausting to listen to; such an energetic blues sound, played on such ancient, pre-Beatles recording equipment, using whatever instruments were in the studio at the time of recording, had never been heard before and likely won’t again. As with any band though, the cream rises to the top. Here are my ten best White Stripes songs in descending order.
10. Little Room. At only 50 seconds in length, it exemplifies the White Stripes’ simplicity and economy. A cyclical little tale that apparently describes Jack White’s creative process, Little Room is short and savoury and allows you little time to listen and a lot of time to think.
9. Take, Take, Take. The White Stripes have a handful of what I refer to as ‘finger-wagging’ songs, which teach some sort of fable-esque lesson to the listener. This one of them. It’s like a joke and punch line: Jack White walks into a “place so seedy” where he has a comfy chair and a drink, and it was “all that [he] needed. But suddenly he spots Rita Hayworth with her “long red curly hair” and she’s kind enough to pose for a picture, sign an autograph (featuring a seductive message), etc. etc. etc. In the end, she doesn’t even care that he’s there. “What a horrible feeling.” With a repetitive, rollicking beat and maybe the oddest ‘story’ in rock music history, it’s memorable and telling and I love it.
8. Rag & Bone. Little passive-aggressive interjections from Meg only add to this song’s oddball appeal. But aside from even just the strangeness of writing a song about the rag & bone man’s collection of Hoarders-worthy junk is one of the best rock songs ever. What begins off as a simple bouncy riff and childish drum taps turns into grunge perfection.
7. Little Ghost. “Get Behind Me Satan” is maybe the least accessible White Stripes record, with a lot of piano-banging and ethereal imperfect melodies. But it also brought out the pureblood country sound in the band that hadn’t made itself known in previous efforts. “Little Ghost” could have been written and/or performed by the Carter Family and sounds like it came straight out of the depression era. Jack’s southern accent and some fantastically juvenile tambourine make this song what it is.
6. We’re Going to Be Friends. Aside from Seven Nation Army, this is likely one of the few songs by the White Stripes that everyone knows (no thanks to Jack Johnson… close, but seriously no cigar… not even a cigarette). The school yard sweetness of the lyrics somehow comes across as a wink at the listener and yet continually gets more alluring as the song progresses. When we get to Jack’ singing with quiet conviction, “we sit side by side in every class/teacher thinks that I sound funny but she likes the way you sing” you can almost feel this burst of energy and love from this deceptively simple song.
5. Fell in Love With a Girl. Watching ‘The Wedge’ on Much Music wayyyyy back in the day, I saw a video featuring two white-faced stop motion animated Lego figures playing music for the most energetic 2 minutes ever. I was once obsessed – obsessed – with this song. It’s since become a mainstay and I’d argue it might be one of the best songs of the 00’s. It started it all and it was a must-include on this list.
4. Effect & Cause. Finger-wagging song part 2 is the best lesson ever taught in music. “You can’t take the effect and make it the cause.” A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, this song has amazing, bitter, clever lines such as “you’re like a little girl yelling at her brother ‘cause you lost his ball” and “I ain’t the reason that you gave me no reason to return your calls/you built a house full of cards and got shocked when you saw them fall.” The White Stripes have a reputation for amazing closing album tracks and this is the best one EVER.
3. Hotel Yorba. This is the catchiest, sweetest White Stripes song ever recorded. The bridge of the song comes as a bit of a vulnerable, yet nakedly brave proclamation with just the right touch of humour (“if I’m the man that you love the most, you could say ‘I do’ at least”).
2. Denial Twist. “Make sure to never do it with a singer ‘cause he’ll tell everyone in the world/what he was thinking about the girl.” This is the line that sums up the reasons why I love this song; it’s clever and frank and oh so catchy and balls-out rock n’ roll. While straight-up in a certain kind of way, the sexy lyrics, rock piano and maracas kind of speak for themselves. The beat is a bit off-kilter with Jack’s impassioned vocals and as I like to say, imperfections are perfect.
1. Ball & Biscuit. “It’s quite possible that I’m your third man girl. But it’s a fact that I’m the seventh son,” begins Jack with the conviction of an evangelical preacher. It’s a bold, somehow egotistical statement that Jack White stood up on a soap box and shouted to everyone before playing his motherfucking HEART out on THE BEST guitar solos recorded in the last decade – and not just one - thus accidentally on purpose claiming adamantly that he is and always will be the reigning KING/GOD/DEITY of indie rock.