His ex-wife, Meg White, who had no music experience whatsoever, was subsequently taught how to play the drums by Jack; her rudimentary, child-like sloppiness proved to be the missing ingredient for the sound that Jack sought after. Their low-key modesty and enigma were a true testament that one of the greatest musical minds of the generation could accomplish so much in a limited amount of time. I mean, after all, Jack White has three bands under his belt, a consistent solo career, his record label called Third Man Records, and has collaborated and produced for everybody from Loretta Lynn, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, all the way to the likes of Stephen Colbert, Conan O’ Brien, and Insane Clown Posse, just to name a few. Enough chattering now; it is time for our top ten list:
# 10 – The Same Boy You’ve Always Know
The White Stripes have been known to be bombastic and unforgiving with their approach to the blues, but this song is one of their more reserved compositions. Here, Jack White channels tender love and sadness as he speaks about a woman who broke his heart while he reminisces about their cherished times. Its structure and story play into the melancholy of the Blues, while the melody hints toward hope.
# 9 – The Denial Twist
This hard-rockin’, piano-bangin’ diddy, with its nice ’50’s ragtime twang, was released as a single on their musically diverse record, Get Behind Me, Satan. You see, Jack was obsessed with the number three, and he figured, to keep the minimalist tactic as restricted as possible, that the band would only play three instruments; his vision was always “vocals, guitar, and drums,” but on this record, the piano was more prevalent. His gospel preaching on this song really gets the soul moving; if you don’t find yourself tapping your foot to this tune, your ears probably need to be slapped.
# 8 – I Fought Piranhas
This was the closing track on their first self-titled album, and it packs a serious punch. This is one of many tracks where Jack White showcases his gifted feel for the blues in the form of his signature open-A slide guitar playing. Its theme tells the story of a man on the run trying to make it on his own, with the recurring line “I Fought piranhas, and I Fought the cold,” representing fighting the ascendancy of life’s harsh mechanics. A fun fact: in the rock documentary It Might Get Loud starring Jack, Jimmy Page, and the Edge of U2, there was a nice scene that got cut of him performing this song outside by a cow pasture; it isn’t much grittier than that.
# 7 – I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself
This song was originally written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and was first recorded by Tommy Hunt before being turned into a commercial hit from Dusty Springfield’s version. Even Dionne Warwick performed her successful cover. It’s been covered by various musicians, but none fare well against the White Stripes’ angry rendition. It quietly skulks in the shadows with its unobtrusive chord-strumming before capsizing your calculations with a false sense of security in the voracious structure of fuzz and powerful amplification.
# 6 – Death Letter
This song, released on their second album, De Stijl, is a definite standout; probably the best song on the album, in my humble opinion. It’s a modern rendition of Delta blues legend Son House’s composition, Death Letter Blues. It’s the story of a man who receives a letter telling him that his lover has just died, and so he embarks on a journey that involves him identifying her corpse lying on the cooling board at the morgue, and attending her funeral, very unpropitious subject matter. Of course, the Stripes tackle the true spirit of the song with Meg’s duck soup percussion and Jack’s rude slide riffin’ that takes a page out of his hero Son House’s book.
# 5 – There’s No Home For You Here:
This tune is one of many off of their magnum opus, Elephant, that showed just how musically mature they had grown by then; well, I suppose White Blood Cells was the genesis of such, but Elephant put them on the right path. There’s No Home For You Here is a valid representation of Jack’s layered application for guitar riffs, strident fills in between breaks to magnify the ambiance of the song, and the bridge section, which explodes into operatic vocal touches to highlight the song’s aggravated temperament before drop-kicking you one final time with the chorus.
# 4 – Catch Hell Blues:
Here’s another fire-breathing exercise in slide guitar. I’m sure you all are growing weary of seeing these kinds of songs on here, but I can’t help myself; Jack White is undoubtedly at his most raw-to-the-bone marrow when he’s ripping it on the open A slide. Plus, it’s his very own original composition, too. And I am aware that I Fought Piranhas is an original as well, but this one’s much more genteel and it leaves a lasting impression once you realize just how much of the blues this white boy harbors. So, if you’re looking for a scorching track to leave your diaphanous ear cavities dehydrated, don’t be surprised if you get burned by this one.
# 3 – Icky Thump
This hit single off of their sixth and final record of the same name is one of their grimiest and most ambitious; hell, the whole album is one big slice of lo-fi paradise, but this opening molotov cocktail gives you a glimpse of what you’re in for with this album. Here Jack white blesses the listener with not only a diabolical riff and a screeching guitar solo towards the end, but he also overlaps everything with a vintage Univox synthesizer before each verse; it’s so quirky and out-of-place that it sounds like a Wes Anderson afterthought. And with socially conscious lyrics about the bigoted views of immigration in America, the song still holds water nine years later.
# 2 – Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground:
This punk-induced banger is one of their most well-known songs and one of the greatest opening songs for an album. Dead Leaves, along with their other big hit, Fell In Love With a Girl, helped the White Stripes break on through to the other side of Mainstream success and respectability, and I feel like this is the song every person should listen to if they’re looking to get into the White Stripes and Jack White; the song perfectly captures the epoch of the 21st century where music was beginning to transition from post-grunge/pop punk to the kind of Independently charged rock music we so desperately needed.
# 1 – Ball And Biscuit
If you ever had your doubts about Jack White’s skill as a guitar player, or if there’s someone out there downplaying him as nothing more than a hack…….show them this song and then let’s see if their jaw doesn’t detach itself from their mouth; this song is that great. No, scratch that: this song is in a whole other stratosphere of perfection. Sitting in at an impressive seven minutes in length, Ball and Biscuit morphs into an atypical twelve bar blues epic that basically acts as a stylistic amalgamation of everything Jack White is known for. That Muddy Waters-inspired riff cruises over his lyrics about a “seventh son” trying to romance a woman who’s into hard drugs, much like himself; he boasts to her that they’ll both eventually get clean.
The “seventh son” is also a reference to the folklore legend where special powers are granted to the seventh son born in an unbroken line with no females born in between; this was the case in real life where Jack White was born the seventh and final son in a family of ten children. This song is a flawless representation of how Jack jams out with improvisational precision; his distorted guitar solos never feel worn down or repetitive, and they keep your attention focused while you’re simultaneously vibing out. I can’t really go on at this point with any more aphorisms that further dictate why this song is their greatest song; sit down and immerse yourself in it.
Top 10 White Stripes Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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