With their stripped-down garage rock and back-to-basics approach, the White Stripes transformed the musical landscape of the 2000s. Their carefully cultivated image (the fascinating with the number three, the red, white, and black aesthetic, the whole fake sibling thing) made them intriguing, but it was that fuzzy wall of sound and the raw simplicity of their performances that secured their legend. If you haven’t already committed their entire back catalog to your playlist, these are the ten best White Stripes songs to start with.
It may have taken a few albums before the White Stripes made their breakthrough, but they were capable of ripping strips off the competition from the very start, as evidenced by this blazing, riff-heavy delight from the band’s self-titled debut.
9. Hello Operator
According to Song Facts, Beck is a big fan of Hello Operator. “I feel like this is one of those songs, where it’s like Jack White just bypassed the song and went straight to that feeling you want to have, where it’s so raw and righteous and where people go, ‘Ok, now we’re talking. Now we mean business.’ It’s simple, it’s heavy, it’s beautiful,” he’s said. Brittle, bluesy, and blessed with a bone-crunching harmonica cameo from John Szymanski, it’s one of the highlights of the band’s 2nd album, De Stijl.
8. My Doorbell
A Grammy-nominated earworm from the band’s 2005 album Get Behind Me Satan, My Doorbell sounds like a jaunty slice of jubilant pop until you burrow a little beneath the upbeat melody and discover the less than joyful lyrics. Deceptive or not, it’s as infectious as a cold – once it gets in your brain, plan on it sticking around for a while. Released as the second single from the album, it took them to number 10 on the UK Singles Chart and number 13 on the US Billboard Alternative Airplay.
7. Apple Blossom
As Stereogum says, the White Stripes could melt the paint off walls, but they were also masters of subtlety. Case in point – Apple Blossom, a stripped-back exercise in simplicity that finds Jack White contemplating the ulterior motives that drive some men to rush to the rescue of damsels in distress. What he ends up concluding is tinged in ambiguity – what’s not is the song’s inherent brilliance.
6. Hotel Yorba
A former hotel in southwest Detroit might sound like an unlikely inspiration for a song, but when you hear the Beatles once stayed there, it starts to make more sense. In actual fact, the Beatles didn’t stay there, but Jack White became so convinced they did (in fairness, a lot of other people thought the same), he decided to not only write a song about it, but record it in Room 206 of the building itself. Rumors that the duo got slapped with a lifetime ban from the hotel shortly after have neither been denied nor confirmed. Either way, it’s a simple, stripped-back slice of country-inflicted goodness.
5. We’re Going to Be Friends
They might have built their reputation on fret-shredding performances, but when the White Stripes weren’t bringing down the ceiling, they were releasing sensitive little beauties like We’re Going to Be Friends. A simple, delicately nostalgic ode to childhood innocence, it tells the story of a young girl and boy who become friends. It’s not a complicated story and it’s not a complicated song, but it is a lovely one, and unquestionably one of the highlights of the band’s 2001 album, White Blood Cells.
If you’re going to take on a song like Jolene, you’d better know exactly what you’re doing. When Dolly Parton turned the experience of watching a flame head bank clerk flirt with her husband into a country classic in 1973, she created something iconic. Many artists have tackled it, and almost as many have fallen flat on their faces. The White Stripes were an exception. Their haunting cover comes within a hairsbreadth of bettering the original, with their usual wall of fuzz replaced with something deeply poignant, and profoundly human. Released as a live single in 2004, it reached number 16 on the UK Singles Chart and has since been named as one of the greatest live covers of all time by Rolling Stone.
3. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
The Stripes always understood the power of a great album opener, and in 2001, they pulled out one of their best for White Blood Cells. The album became their breakthrough and the song – a frantic squall of wailing feedback and crackling energy – became one of their biggest early hits, climbing to number 19 on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and number 25 on the UK Singles Chart.
2. Fell in Love With a Girl
Jack White may have fallen in love with a girl, but the whole world and its mother fell in love with the White Stripes when they heard this raging, punk/rock/ pop/ little bit of everything mash-up. The iconic, wonderfully sweet lego animation music video isn’t exactly bad either. Released as the second single from the band’s third studio album, White Blood Cells, in February 2002, it became their first-ever entry on the U.S. Alternative Songs chart, peaking at number 12.
1. Seven Nation Army
There was never really any competition, was there? In at number one is everyone’s favorite White Stripes song (and quite a few people’s favorite song, period), Seven Nation Army. How anything so perfectly polished can sound quite so primordial and raw is a question between two fake siblings and their maker, but that this swaggering, shrieking piece of noisy perfection deserves to be revisited as often and loudly as possible isn’t even a question. Not only the White Stripes’ crowning glory, but one of the very finest songs this side of the millennium.