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Matthew Berlyant: August 24, 2008

The White Stripes

For over a decade now, the duo of JACK and MEG WHITE have been cranking out high-powered, lo-fi garage rock with country and blues-rock flourishes and along the way, they somehow became one of the biggest bands of this decade. I recently went back and listened THE WHITE STRIPES’ entire discography from their first album all the way up to last year’s Icky Thump. It’s interesting to note that of all the bands touted in the “garage rock revival” of the early ‘00s, they’ve fared the best and have consistently put out the best records. I think their music will be remembered fondly decades from now. In any case, here are 10 of my favorite songs of theirs and the respective album each song is on and some commentary on each track.

  1. “The Big Three Killed My Baby”

    From their self-titled debut, this high-octane screed against the auto companies of their native Detroit nicely critiques corporate greed while referencing ill-fated pioneer PRESTON TUCKER and mixes it with a hint of paranoia, never losing its sense of fun amidst its outrage.

  2. “Astro”

    Also on their self-titled debut, this can be interpreted as either a reference to the dog on the The Jetsons, a dance for the space-age future or just an excuse to name-drop ANGUS YOUNG and his AC/DC, as the song goes.

  3. “You’re Pretty Good Looking”

    From 2000’s masterpiece De Stijl, this is quite simply the best song that THE KINKS circa The Kink Kontroversy never wrote. A stunning opener in a discography full of them (think “Seven Nation Army” from Elephant or “Blue Orchid” from Get Behind Me Satan).

  4. “Fell in Love with a Girl”

    Admittedly, this is the first song I ever heard by them. It was either in late 2001 or early 2002 that I first came across this and after that, I picked up White Blood Cells (the breakthrough album from which this BUZZCOCKS meets ‘60s garage blast comes from) and their two previous albums as well.

  5. “We’re Going to Be Friends”

    One of the sweetest, if not the sweetest, song in their entire catalog, this acoustic gem from White Blood Cells is a nice break from that album’s intensity and a close cousin to BIG STAR’s similarly-themed “Thirteen”. In the way that it portrays adolescence (or pre-adolescence, whatever the case may be) in a longing way, it also reminds me of JONATHAN RICHMAN.

  6. “The Hardest Button to Button”

    From their major-label debut Elephant, this song isn’t just great because its video was shot inside of a PATH station (the one at 33rd Street in Manhattan, to be specific). It also flat-out rocks.

  7. “Seven Nation Army”

    The song that propelled Elephant to platinum status, this surely has a lot of bottom end for a song without any bass (like the rest of their compositions). Its main riff will also get stuck in your head for hours, if not days.

  8. “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t that Lonely Yet)”

    The stunning closer of Get Behind Me Satan is one of the most underrated songs in THE WHITE STRIPES’ cannon. On much of that album, JACK WHITE’s guitar isn’t heard as often and this track is no exception. It’s essentially Jack solo at the piano, pouring his heart out and in the process successfully tinkering with their well-worn formula.

  9. “Icky Thump”

    This song would be worthy of inclusion on this list for its pro-immigration lyrics, but it’s also one of their finest, straightforward blues-based rockers (sounding like something that wouldn’t have been out of place on LED ZEPPELIN’s Presence album, for instance) in a catalog full of them. And don’t forget the bagpipes, either!

  10. “Jolene”

    OK so this is of course a DOLLY PARTON song, but their version is so good that they made it their own and as such, it deserves to be on this list. A live favorite, their version of this blew me away the first time I saw them play in April 2002 at Bowery Ballroom. The recorded version is great, too.


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