80. The White Stripes - Seven Nation Army

The White Stripes have always been kind of an enigma to me. It seems that I can't really believe anything they say about themselves. There was them saying that they were brother and sister. Then it was the rumor that they were a couple. Evidence of a marriage in 1996 (and a divorce in 2000) created more confusion in my brain. But then it occurred to me that maybe that's exactly what Jack and Meg White (the two members of the band) were trying to do. They didn't want people focusing on their relationship, they wanted people focusing on their music. So once I got all of that out of my head, I found it a lot easier to get into The White Stripes.

"Seven Nation Army" is one of those songs that pulls you in with a simple repeated "bass" line and a thumping drum beat. It could not be more simple. Two musicians playing a simple riff. But simple doesn't mean bad. In this case, simple becomes genius. It's a riff that is repeated over and over throughout the song, and you can't get enough of it. It invades your brain much in the same way that "Copacabana" by Barry Manilow does, but with a much more satisfying result.

I put bass in quotations above because it actually isn't a bass playing the line, it's a guitar string octaved down to make it sound like a bass. Just like the vocals, which are distorted just enough to give you the feeling like you may be listening to him singing from another room with the door cracked open. That's the thing with The White Stripes. There are only two of them playing, and so much is simple about their playing and production, but then there are all these other, more complicated, layers. Jack White is an underrated guitar player because so many people see just the simplicity and can't appreciate the other layers he brings to the table.

Lyrically, there's much discussion about what the song means, but I'm in the camp that says it's in response to fame and imitation. Jack White is one of those musicians that doesn't much care for the fame that comes with being famous. He wants to make his music, and appreciates that fame enables him to do that, but it's the trappings of that fame that he is railing against. The people that want to take what he does and take it as their own.

And if I catch it coming back my way
I'm gonna serve it to you
And that ain't what you want to hear
But that's what I'll do
And the feeling coming from my bones
Says find a home

I think Jack watches some idiot teenager wearing red, black and white, with dyed black hair down the streets of Manhattan much the same way that Kurt Cobain watched flannel shirts go down the runway in Bryant Park's fashion shows. I'm sure there were a flurry of curse words in both scenarios. There are lots of lines that talk about going back home, and I think the frustration is clear. He just wants to go back to where he was before the fame (and all that comes with it) became something he had to deal with.

The ultimate irony is that this song went on to become The White Stripes' most popular song off of their breakthrough album. It's so popular that fans are chanting the guitar riff at soccer games all over Europe. So the song that talks about the frustrations of imitators and being famous actually propelled the band into more recognition and fame. Bummer, dude. But what an awesome song. So stay pissed off, Jack, 'cause that's when you're at your best.

(Fun Fact #72: The name "Seven Nation Army" actually comes from a seven year-old Jack thinking that was the name of the Salvation Army.)

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