Tag Archives: The White Stripes

Song of the Day: “Fell In Love With a Girl” – The White Stripes

An explosive song that clocks in at just under two minutes, “Fell In Love With a Girl” just might be the coolest song to be released this century. Everything about the song – its violent riff, Meg White’s anarchic drumming, Jack White’s insane “ahhhhh-ahhhh-ahhhhh-ah!” screams – blasts out of the speakers and pummels everything in its path.

“Fell In Love With a Girl” just might be the best thing Jack White ever recorded in illustrious career. Inside those chaotic two minutes is a culmination of rock itself: blues chord progressions played at Zeppelin-esque volume; the DIY ethos of garage-rock and punk; the unbridled energy of The Who and the fierce attack of The Stooges; the power-pop sensibility of The Beatles.

A lot was made of the garage-rock revival at the beginning of the century. Some bands were really good (see The Strokes’ Is This It), others I thought were decent at the time but eventually realized were terrible (see The Vines) and some were fashion statements with instruments (The Hives). And  then there were the ones whose music you heard before back when they were called Joy Division. (Interpol, I’m looking at you.)

But The White Stripes established themselves above the rest with one single swoop. Whereas other bands felt like they were trying too had, “Fell In Love With a Girl” seemed spontaneous and off the cuff. (For the record, I do think Jack White does try too hard sometimes. Remember Get Behind Me Satan?)

The rest of White Blood Cells didn’t reach the height of “Fell In Love With a Girl”. The rest of the songs found on the album were very strong, but “Fell In Love with a Girl” was and too intense and too badass to be pushed by the wayside. The only way for White to eclipse or circumvent the song’s power was to create something more repetitive and simple sounding and double-down on it. “Seven Nation Army” might be on its way to becoming the most famous guitar riff of all time, if thousands of sports fans have their way.

But I’ll never get tired of hearing “Fell In Love With a Girl” in all its glory. To quote Bob Dylan, “Play fuckin’ loud.”

 

My Life in 33 Songs: #18: “Seven Nation Army” – The White Stripes (Or Going to a Ravens Game on Thanksgiving Night With My Father)

 

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On Thanksgiving night in 2013, a little bit before dinner my brother made my wife and I offer that  was too good to refuse: his tickets to that night’s Ravens game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has season tickets but because of the holiday did not want to go. Naturally, I immediately jumped at the chance. My wife, despite loving football was a little more hesitant because it was supposed to be a really chilly night. But knowing how much I wanted to go, she still would have gone with me. After a little while, she suggested that I go with my father instead.

As soon as I told him, my father starting rummaging around my brother’s house looking for warmer clothes. I could immediately tell that it made him happy to go with me. There was an unspoken acknowledge between us: years earlier the thought of the two of us attending a football game together seemed ridiculous.

It’s not like I didn’t like spending time with my father. On the contrary. Yet football was an entirely different matter. As a kid, I hated football and couldn’t understand why he would spend Sunday afternoons watching it. The games seemed to go on forever without anything actually happening. I couldn’t relate to his anger and frustration at seeing the his favorite team, Washington Redskins lose time after time. Why would anyone want to put themselves through that?

It wasn’t until six or seven years ago that I finally came around to football due in large part to spending Saturday afternoons drinking and watching Notre Dame games with two of my closest friends. At first I just used the games as an excuse to drink on Saturday afternoons, but eventually I found myself not only enjoying the games but becoming a fan of the Irish as well. It also helped that my wife is a big supporter of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and we have since attended several games together.  Living in Baltimore has given me little choice but to be a Ravens fan.

As we made our way to the stadium through the large crowd, it felt good to be with my dad. There seemed to be an openness to our conversations that is not always there. I could tell he felt similarly. His mood was so jovial that he even joked around with the people around us.

Mid-way through the game, the familiar boom of “Seven Nation Army” blasted through the  stadium loudspeakers. Almost immediately, the crowd began to chant the song’s famous guitar riff. “What is this song?” My dad asked, not being too familiar with popular music. “I hear it all the time in English Soccer games.”  I explained to him that it was a song by the White Stripes and wasn’t originally intended to be a sports anthem. For someone who didn’t particularly like rock music or why I love it so much, he seemed genuinely interested and even got caught up in the crowd’s chant.

When “Seven Nation Army” debuted in 2003 on The White Stripes’ Elephant album, I could not have predicted that it would become such a world-wide phenomenon at sporting events, let alone that my father would know the melody and chant it.  And I’m not even sure Jack White could have predicted its popularity.

Though it might seem normal now (and maybe even cliche) now, in all honesty, “Seven Nation Army” is a fucking weird song to be a hit outside of the rock world. It’s fueled in part by paranoia and a massive yet repetitive guitar riff that never wavers but only changes in octaves. The guitar solo contains the same chords as the main riff. And to top it all off, there’s no chorus. Like The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, the main riff is one that you can’t get out of your head no matter how much you try. The riff (sometimes mistaken as a bass guitar due its deep, thick sound) is the melody that drives the song. If the song is stuck in your head, you hum the riff, not Jack White’s vocals.

Though he can sometimes come off as cantankerous, Jack White seems humbled and bemused by the whole thing. As he related to Conan O’Brien last summer, “People come up to me all the time, and they think it makes me mad for some reason. I don’t know why they think it upsets me. As a songwriter, that’s the greatest thing that could ever happen. It becomes folk music.”

It’s hasn’t quite become reached that level, but it’s not far off. Watch any football game and you’ll hear marching bands play the song in the background. Many teams use the song to entice crowds who chant the song with glee. It’s on its way to becoming the “We Will Rock You” of the 2000s.

For fans of the Ravens, the song has a particular resonance. As the “pump up” song for thee crowd, it’s played at virtually every home game the Ravens play and it ignites the crowd in a way that nothing else does. Even some of the players have taken note of its power. Following the Ravens’ Super Bowl victory in 2013, former safety Ed Reed led the faithful through a chant of the song at a victory parade in MT&T Bank Stadium.

Interestingly, “Enter Sandman”, Joe Satriani’s “Crowd” and Shinedown’s “Diamond Eyes” along with “Seven Nation Army” were all original contenders for the “pump song”.  A few years ago, the Raven’s web-site called for song submissions and hundreds of requests were received. Coach John Harbaugh was then given the task of breaking the submissions the down to five. It wasn’t a landslide, but “Seven Nation Army” was clearly the winner. Ever since then, the song has become a regular part of Ravens home games.

I wish I could have explained all that to my dad. As it was, spending Thanksgiving night in the cold watching a Ravens victory over the Steelers was more than enough. As we left the stadium, I remember thinking that I wanted to make a tradition of going to a game with him every year. Just last month, we did exactly that. I hope we can go sometime next year too. Maybe I’ll make a Ravens fan out of him yet.

 

 

Albums By Artist I Love, But Have No Interest In

To love a particular artist, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should consider that their entire catalogue is amazing.  Even the greatest artists have terrible albums or ones that just don’t move you.  Some of these listed are albums that are known to be terrible, others are just ones that have never quite caught my attention for whatever reason and have decided that they are not worth my time.

Elvis Costello – Armed Forces

 

I know that this supposed to be a classic Costello album, but there’s just something about it that I can’t quite get a grasp on. Maybe it’s the cold production that turns me off.  To me, the album seems stuck between the energy and anger of This Year’s Model and the go-for-broke eclecticism of Get Happy!!   It does however, contain one of the greatest opening lines in album – “Oh I just don’t know where to begin”.  I’m inclined to agree with you about Armed Forces on that one, Mr. Costello.

 

R.E.M. – Reveal

Yes, everyone knows that Around the Sun is a piece of shit.  Even the band, specifically Peter Buck.  But Reveal is also pretty terrible too. I understand where R.E.M. was trying to do, which was to make a Beach Boys-style pop record. But the songs don’t go anywhere and the harmonies aren’t quite up there with the best of the Beach Boys imitations. Ironically, they were better at this type of stuff when Bill Berry was still in the band and they weren’t trying to make a Beach Boys style album.  Up may have its faults, but at least it was interesting.

 

Outkast – Idlewild

Outkast are geniuses.  They’ve given the musical world so many great albums.  But Idlewild is not one of them.  From their beginnings right up through Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, their ability to mash styles and still be under the umbrella of hip-hop was a thing of beauty.  But Idlewild falls flat under its own ambitions: a hip-hop album with ’30s musical stylings.  Too often throughout the album, the listener is left wondering what the hell is going on rather than having their minds blown.  Outkast wisely disappeared after this album’s release ensuring that everyone remembered why they were great in the first place.

 

Bob Dylan – The Entire Christian Era

In the past few years, it seems there’s been a bit of revisionist history concerning Dylan’s ’80s albums. The consensus seems to be that they’re not that bad and that there are some good songs throughout the ’80s.  Hey, I admit to liking Empire Burlesque and Infidels and even Knocked Out Loaded has its merits (that being “Brownsville Girl” of course.)  But as far as the born-again era?  Dylan was the epitome of the counter-culture in the ’60s so who really wants to hear him singing about finding God and how those who sinned will be eternally damned?  Imagine if the Rolling Stones decided to have an album full of songs about the joys of domestic life or Rage Against the Machine put out an album that wasn’t political.  It’s the same thing.

 

U2 – No Line on the Horizon

The 360 Tour was great. U2 are always great as a live band.  But No Line on the Horizon is even worse than the misguided electro-tinged Pop.  With Horizon, U2 put out an album that wanted to please fans of their experimental side and fans of their soaring anthems.  A nice attempt that ultimately goes nowhere. “Get on Your Boots” is their most embarrassing song while “Magnificent” is half-baked re-write of “Beautiful Day”.  Say what you want about U2 but even at their worst, they’re never boring – except for this album.

Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak

 

Every once in a while, I think I should give this album another chance. And then I listen to it and I just can’t do it. West seems to think it’s a bit ahead of its time, and maybe that’s true. I tend to think it was ahead of its time even for him. The desolate and cold atmosphere was better served on last year’s Yeezus.  808s & Heartbreak finds West at a crossroad: an artist conflicted with his own image and where he aspires to be. It’s not exactly a terrible album, but it’s the only time I’ve ever been disappointed in a Kanye West release.

 

Pearl Jam – Riot Act

Pearl Jam’s 2003 Tour found the band hitting a stride. Musically they were at the top of their game, and Eddie Vedder gave some of his most passionate performances due to the beginnings of the War in Iraq.  Too bad Riot Act (the album they toured behind) is pretty much the worst of their releases.  Riot Act is the exact opposite of that tour: tired and bland.  There’s nothing majestic like “Nothing As It Seems” from 2000’s Binaural or glorious as “In Hiding” and “Given to Fly” from Yield.  The one sole rocker “Save You” sounds forced and its excessive use of expletives is downright embarrassing.

 

The Who – The Who By Numbers

For the sake of the argument let’s forget that Face Dances and It’s Hard never happened.  After the sprawling and epic Quadrophenia, The Who returned with the lackluster The Who By Numbers.  Almost all of The Who’s trademarks are gone: chaotic drums from KeithMoon, powerful vocals from Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend’s crunching power chords. Townshend wrote the album in the midst of a life crisis but unlike his solo album 1980’s Empty Glass, his anguish left him uninspired.

 

The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan

After the brilliant Elephant, The White Stripes released this mess. Get Behind Me Satan is what happens when an artist starts believing their own hype and then completely abandons the things that fans love about them. The album is unfocused and meandering.  The saving grace is “My Doorbell” but even that with its repetitive hook can get annoying after a while.

Song of the Week: “Seven Nation Army” – The White Stripes

 

In terms of actual songwriting, “Seven Nation Army” is a very strange song.  There’s no chorus. It’s famous “bass-line” is actually a guitar.  And the whole song is just a variation one on single riff.

But it’s a riff that gets stuck in your head, and is very easy to hum or mimic, which might explain why it’s such a popular song to be played at sporting events.  The song has been used for chants for many years in European Soccer games.  In recent years, Baltimore Ravens fans have picked it up as their “unofficial anthem”.  I went to one game a few years ago and was amazed at people’s reaction to it.  The whole stadium erupted into a song/chant of “Ooooo, oooo,oooooo,ooooo-ooooooooooh!” as the song blared in the background.  A girl behind me shouted, “Finally!” like a major play had just happened.

It’s hard to believe that “Seven Nation Army” and Elephant will turn 10 in just a few months.  Upon its release, I became obsessed with the record and that song in particular. Compared to what was out at the time, The White Stripe were exciting and bizarre. And of course, they flat-out rocked. Elephant was one of the few CDs I bought with me on a study abroad program to Italy that year.  On the weekends, as a group we took trips to Rome, Florence and Venice. As everyone else on the bus passed out and nursed their hang-overs, I stared out at the window looking at the country-side with “Seven Nation Army” blasting through my head-phones.

On that trip I met one of my closest friends.  Throughout this past football season, she would send me text updates on the Ravens when I wasn’t able to watch the games.  Most of the time the texts were filled with updates on the score or major plays.  Occasionally, they were angry.  When Joe Flacco’s pass was intercepted by the Denver Broncos in December resulting in a touch-down, I got one that simply read, “We fucking suck.”

Of course the Ravens don’t suck.  And neither does Joe Flacco.  But to anyone who has followed the team throughout the season, you know it’s been an up-hill battle: Ray Lewis’ tricep injury, the death of Torrey Smiths’ brother early in the season, the death of founder Art Modell, critics who wrote Flacco off, the firing of Cam Cameron in December.

For much of the season, I became preoccupied with Notre Dame’s winning streak.  (They are my favorite team after-all.)  The further Notre Dame went and won in October and November, the more the Ravens seemed to slide. But then something happened: the Ray Lewis effect. When the famed line-backer announced his retirement in the beginning of January, the Ravens seemed invigorated and whole again.

As the dreams of a Notre Dame Championship win blew away and faded into the background, and the Ravens charged their way through the play-offs I grew more nervous.  If there was ever a season where the team needed a Super Bowl win, this was it. After the win agains the Broncos and Ray Lewis babbled his way through an obscure Bible verse (“no weapon forged against us”), I immediately thought of the opening lines of “Seven Nation Army”:

I’m gonna fight’em off.                                                                                                                       A Seven Nation Army couldn’t hold me back.

Truer words couldn’t be spoken about the team. Thanks guys for the memories and season, and thanks Jack for letting us adopt your song as our own.

 

 

Album of the Week: “Brothers” – The Black Keys

 

I don’t really purchase CDs on a whim anymore. There’s way too many great albums I’m missing in my collection, so I almost always feel the need to buy one of those before I take a chance on something completely unknown.  For whatever reason, I felt compelled to purchase the Black Keys’ Brothers in the summer of 2010.

This was before “Tighten Up” became a hit, and the album was probably only a week old at that point. I had heard of the Black Keys for a while, through various online forums but never really gave them much thought.  There’s the old cliche about not judging a book/album by its cover. But I took one look at the simple cover and could tell that the album was going to be bad-ass: “This an album by the Black Keys.  The name of this album is Brothers.”  

Like The Clash’s London Calling, the cover for Brothers is a homage.  In The Black Keys’ case, it references Howlin’ Wolf’s 1969 album, The Howlin’ Wolf which read in black lettering over a white background: “This is Howlin’ Wolf’s new album. He doesn’t like it. He didn’t like the electric guitar first either.”  Howlin’ Wolf has long been one of my favorite Blues artists. I knew that the Black Keys played retro-blues, but this simple reference solidified my thought that they would surely be for real.

And sure enough, I was right.  Brothers captures the feeling of the Delta and 1950’s Chicago.  It’s a swampy mess with the menace of the streets. You can smell the rail whiskey from Auebach’s twisted riffs.  They sound like a band who have played in bars where bottles could easily be thrown at them, or would sell their souls to the Devil at the cross-roads.

A lot of comparisons have been made over the years between the White Stripes and the Black Keys. Most stem from the fact that both are a two-piece band with a color in their name, and play the Blues like Stevie Ray Vaughn or Eric Clapton never existed.  “The Black Keys are what the White Stripes want to sound like!” A friend of mine said recently.    To me, it’s an easy and lazy comparison. I happen to like both bands, but one thing that the Black Key have that the White Stripes never did, is a sense of groove.

And groove is all over Brothers whether it’s the slow-burn of “Next Girl” or the neo-soul of “Everlasting Light” and “The Only One”.  When was the last time you heard a popular single that has an ending in half-time?  A lot of songs speed up as they draw to a close, but “Tighten Up” ends in a slow-crawl fuzz.  It’s like Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney thought to themselves: “You think you know what we’re going to do here, but we’re not doing that.”

That attitude is also central to Brothers’ success. Yes, the Black Keys are a blues-rock band, but they’re not bound to it. They use it as a tool, and bring a much needed breathe of fresh air to the genre.  There might be other retro-Blues acts that are technically better than the Black Keys, but those acts also seem intent on playing the blues like it never evolved past 1968.  (I’m looking at you Johnny Lang, John Mayer and Mike McCready.)  The Keys are smart enough to incorporate hip-hop and soul beats into their version of the Blues. So while the album has plenty of references to the old guys, it also sounds extremely modern.

The Keys, of course would follow-up Brothers with the even more taught and focused El Camino.  Brothers might not be a land-mark album, but it’s about as close you’re going to get a near-perfect rock record in the 21st century.

The Ten Most Important Artists Of The Last Decade (Full List)

This is technically a repost, but for those interested it’s all in one spot.

1.) The White Stripes

2.) Kanye West

3.) Jay-Z

4.) Britney Spears

5.) Danger Mouse

6.) The Strokes

7.) Radiohead

8.) Lil Wayne

9.) Green Day

10.) Death Cab For Cutie

Albums You Respect But Don’t Love

After reading Paul Trynka’s Iggy: Open Up and Bleed, I was struck by his observation that Pop’s first solo album The Idiot is more respected than loved.  I thought about the statement for a bit, concluding The Idiot is a far more interesting album if you look at its influence as a pre-cursor to the new-wave movement.  You can hear the ghost of The Idiot in much of Joy Division’s work (indeed Ian Curtis had the album in his record player when he hanged himself.)  Just as The Stooges’ stripped down had paved the wave for punk years earlier, it’s only natural that their lead singer would create a work that would signify the death of punk, just as it was starting.

But I don’t really listen to The Idiot very much – I tend to listen to Lust For Life or any of the Stooges albums.  But this got me thinking: what other albums do I respect, but don’t love?

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changing

Obviously, this is an important record.  It’s Dylan at the height of his protest-era.  The title track is among his best, and will always be immortalized as an anthem for  “the people” frustrated at the government.  The Times They Are A-Changing works extremely well as a protest album, but that is also it’s major flaw.  For me, Dylan’s albums have always been varied but  The Times They Are A-Changing is a little too one dimensional in its attack on the establishment.  It almost seems like a slight step backward after the masterpiece of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan which found Dylan humorous, angry, and sad.

The Clash – Sandinista!

It’s easy to make a snide comment about the album triple album monster that is Sandinista! I once commented  it was ironic that for a band that bitched about prog-rock, they made one of the most pretentious albums of all time.  I don’t entirely take back that statement, but I’ve grown to appreciate Sandinista! more in recent years.  This is the sound of a band taking on every single genre of music (with mostly mixed results.)  There a few gems – “Charlie Don’t Surf”, “Somebody Got Murdered”, and “The Call-Up”.  But what other band besides The Clash would dare put out a 36 track album and weave their royalty fee so it would be priced at lower rate?

M.I.A. – Kala

I actually bought this album before “Paper Planes” blew up all over the charts due to the glowing reviews it got.  I listened to it a few times and forgot about it.  It’s an interesting album – full of samples from The Clash (“Paper Planes”) and the Pixies (“20 Dollar”) and setting third world music to a hip-hop beat.  Perhaps Kala will be seen as a water-mark for music in a few years.  For now my consensus is that it sounds awesome when you’re listening to it, but except for “Paper Planes” I couldn’t tell you how any of the songs go.

Beck – Odelay

One of the defining albums of the 90s for sure, but I’m not sure it’s aged well.  Its reliance sound relies on a collage of sounds, it seems stuck in the late 90’s.  Like Kala it sounds awesome, but too often I find Beck is so full of ideas that he incorporates as much as he can into one song – “Hotwax” and “Where It’s At” for instance.  And “Where It’s At” mock-rap just sounds embarrassing 14 years later. A great product of its time, but ultimately not timeless.

The White Stripes – Elephant

This album used to be on the “love” list actually.  “Seven Nation Army” remains of the best guitar-heavy singles of all time.  It also was inventive – the guitar sounded like a bass, and its hook wasn’t a vocal melody but rather a hypnotic guitar line.  If I complained Odelay was too scatter-shot, Elephant sounds too focused even while the songs rock.  Jack White wanted to achieve his own place in rock history with Elephant by making a modern days blues record.  But with the exception of “Seven Nation Army”, he failed to add bring anything new to the table.

What albums do you respect, but don’t love?