If you are a soccer fan there is no doubt that you will have come across The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army as a popular football chant. My own football team Melbourne Victory adopted its use in the mid to late 2000s for every home game especially after they score a goal. Though the first credited use of turning the song into a stadium chant is linked to Belgian team Club Brugge in 2006. Since then, its popularity has soared especially in Italy. Jack White once said, “ I am honoured that the Italians have adopted this song as their own. Nothing is more beautiful in music than when people embrace a melody and allow it to enter the pantheon of folk music.”
Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, The White Stripes seemed to come out of nowhere in the late 1990s with the release of their debut album The White Stripes (1999). The White Stripes for those who are still unaware of the famous garage-rock duo were Jack and Meg White. (The band’s name was inspired by Meg’s love of red and white striped candy.) In short, Jack and Meg first met during their senior year at high school. They married in 1996 with Jack Gillis taking Meg’s surname. It was also during this period that Jack taught Meg how to play drums. Interestingly, the couple divorced in 2000 but remained inseparable as friends and bandmates. It was here that Jack and Meg created a myth that they were brother and sister. As they continued their rise from regional rock heroes, Jack and Meg remained loyal to their unique garage rock vision. There was no studio trickery just simple effective song writing and recording that suited there two-person act. In 2003, The White Stripes released their fourth studio album Elephant. Composing of 14 killer tracks The White Stripes achieved international fame, especially with the warm reception of their first single from the album, Seven Nation Army. (The song peaked at #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart and the UK Indie chart.)
Jack White and his drummer/ex-wife Meg White, recorded Seven Nation Army in 2002. The song title came from Jack’s misunderstanding of the name of the Salvation Army as a child. But before there was even a page of scribbled lyrics, its famous riff was first conceived while The White Stripes toured Australia in 2002. It was during a soundcheck that White stumbled upon the riff while warming up. White was apparently taken aback by what he had discovered. “I played the riff again and it sounded interesting,’ White said in 2010.
It’s fair to say with its instantly recognisable seven-note opening, Seven Nation Army intro stands as one of modern rock’s greatest riffs. It shines not for its complexities but rather its clever use of an octave effect pedal to make Jack White’s guitar sound like a bass. Equally impressive is Meg White’s tribal drum beat that allows us to march along with it. A lot has been written about Meg’s simple style of drumming. She was often accused of being an imposter behind the drums. Like Dave Grohl, I’m happy to defend Meg as an incredible drummer. Her technique is purposeful without the flashy brilliance of some of the greatest drummers of all time. What is great about Meg, not just on Seven Nation Army, but across The White Strips catalogue is her interplay across the drum kit. Moreover, as one of the hardest hitting drummers, I’m surprised she didn’t topple over her cymbals or put her foot through her bass drum more often.
While Jack White’s iconic riff often gets the most praise when talking about Seven Nation Army, it’s still quite fun to want to sing along to White’s vague lyrics like “And I’m bleeding, and I’m bleeding, and I’m bleeding/Right before the Lord/All the words are gonna bleed from me/And I will sing no more/And the stains coming from my blood/Tell me go back home.” Often the most simplest explanation and or according to Jack White himself, the song is about gossip. “It’s about me, Meg and the people we’re dating.”
Jack White almost single-handedly reinvented the rock wheel with his minimalistic approach to instrumentation and recording and Seven Nation Army stands out for me as The Whites Stripes crowning achievement. For the record it’s also a Grammy-winning song from an album that went gold and platinum all over the world. By the way, that matrix of a music video with interchanging images of Jack and Meg White is also out of this world.