Around the turn of the new millenium, The White Stripes shot to the forefront of the garage rock revival scene. The Detroit duo of Jack and Meg White had an iconic look, the coolest influences and the tunes to match. Across their 14-year career, they released six albums and achieved both critical and commercial success. Here are 10 of their best songs, presented in chronological order.
This deep cut from their self-titled debut album encapsulates everything that made The White Stripes such a breath of fresh air in Detroit and beyond. Foreshadowing the best songs of their career, its back-to-basics approach and tempo changes allow Jack’s wailing vocals and incendiary playing to shine, while Meg quietly goes about her business in the background.
Their second album De Stijl took its name from a Dutch art movement which included Piet Mondrian, whose work they replicated for the album cover. Death Letter is a cover of the Delta blues musician Son House’s signature song. House was a big influence on Jack White, and their debut album had been dedicated to him.
On White Blood Cells, the band stripped away the blues influences so apparent on their first two albums in favor of a straightforward garage rock sound. Lead single Hotel Yorba made this immediately apparent with its no-nonsense strumming and drumming, and shouty chorus. It was recorded in a room at the Detroit hotel of the same name, which Jack wrote about because he had heard The Beatles once stayed there.
Their first big hit, Fell in Love with a Girl is less than two minutes of pure punk rock energy but it turned them from critical darlings into commercial successes. Paired with an animated lego video by French director Michel Gondry, it made the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and introduced a whole new audience to the garage rock revival. It has since been frequently named among the best songs of the century so far.
Before becoming an unlikely sports anthem, Seven Nation Army, the lead single off fourth album Elephant, was simply an indie rock banger with one of the greatest riffs of all time. Its name came from what Jack White called The Salvation Army as a child, and White initially wanted to use the riff if he was ever asked to do a James Bond theme (which he actually was five years later). Unsurprisingly, it was their biggest hit, winning a Grammy for Best Rock Song, while Elephant took home the Best Alternative Music Album award.
A jam made up of all the classic White Stripes elements, Hardest Button to Button pairs a repetitive bass drum beat with a simple but effective four-note riff and strange storytelling in its lyrics. Its simplicity is echoed brilliantly in its iconic video, for which they worked with Michel Gondry again. It was later parodied when the band made a cameo in The Simpsons.
The band initially released a studio version of this Dolly Parton classic as a B-side to Hello Operator off De Stijl, but the definitive version appears on their 2004 concert film Under Blackpool Lights. Capturing the raw power of their famous live shows, Jack shrieks the vocals over Meg’s pounding drums, taking the desperation of Dolly’s anthem to a whole new level.
The band scored their second Best Alternative Music Album Grammy with their fifth album, Get Behind Me Satan. After the success of Elephant, the album saw a change of style, with less guitar and more piano-led songs, but that wasn’t the case on its frantic lead single, Blue Orchid. Jack’s falsetto and fuzzy guitar created a distressing vibe that’s complemented by its creepy video.
Though Meg White’s simple style garnered both love and criticism throughout the band’s career, her drumming works perfectly on My Doorbell, a ditty with an earworm chorus in the same vein as Yellow Submarine. Probably the most famous example of the piano-based White Stripes era, its different approach even earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
Meg White’s acute anxiety brought the band to a sudden end a few months after the release of sixth album Icky Thump in 2007, but its lead single was a great way to go out. Notable for the unusual buzzing synthesizers of the verse, which build to vintage White guitars in the chorus and solos, it also features political lyrics, a rarity for the band. The song won the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals Grammy and the album won them their third consecutive Best Alternative Music Album prize.