An Ode To The White Stripes — As If They Need It

April 19, 2013

"Elephant" by the White Stripes

The Current, a Twin Cities gem of a rock-and-roll radio station, runs an occasional series called Musicheads Essentials, which gives the station’s DJs a chance to share some of their favorite albums. And they really do dig up some killer selections, including Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light,” Faces’ best-of album (is that cheating?), and one of my favorite albums (so underrated!) from my favorite band, Led Zeppelin’s “III.”

Most recently, DJ Mac Wilson celebrated “Elephant” by the White Stripes. God bless him for that. This album has received no shortage of acclaim; for starters, it’s 390 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and it seems like the music world holds its breath every time Jack White is about to do anything. But hearing Mac’s reminiscence about the brilliance of this album, one I still listen to regularly, made me reflect on just how damn good the White Stripes’ entire catalog really is.

It’s a national treasure. The ninth wonder of the world (the eighth is Led Zeppelin’s catalog, of course). It warrants its own museum in Washington, D.C. Selections from the catalog should follow the national anthem at baseball games.

Take a spin for yourself. But allow me to recommend a few of my own White Stripes essentials, picking one (or more; can’t help it) from each of their six albums, in chronological order.

Album: The White Stripes
Despite containing 17 songs, this album clocks in at a running time less than 45 minutes. “I Fought Piranhas” gives listeners an introduction to the variety of sounds they’ll hear a lot more of from this pair in the future — in this case, whining slide guitar in the verses, loud clashing drums, and nasty distorted chorus guitar.

Album: De Stijl
The album’s sound is perhaps a bit more refined, and the extra-loud blues guitar is on fine display on tracks like “Hello Operator.” And the album art is inspired by my favorite painter.

Album: White Blood Cells
This album includes the absolutely grunge-punk-tastic “Fell in Love with a Girl,” which you’ll recall was covered in a much slower, smoother fashion by Joss Stone. My fave, though, is “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.”

Album: Elephant
Holy shit. Mac Wilson has the more thoughtful write-up, but that’s my summation. This album kills. “Seven Nation Army” gets too much attention but holds up despite being overplayed (perhaps due to the awesome video). “I Just Don’t Know What to do with Myself” is a Burt Bacharach song, for god’s sake, but the Stripes turn it into a jam with a brilliant dirty swagger like only they can. “Girl, You No Faith in Medicine” is three minutes of rock for which you should probably wear a seat belt. The best, though, hands down, is “Ball and Biscuit.” Seven minutes and 19 seconds, three unique guitar solos, and some of the most outstanding blues-rock guitar work this side of George Thorogood.

Album: Get Behind Me Satan
Less guitar, more piano and little less dirty-loud guitar. Still unmistakably Jack White, though. Check out “Forever for Her is Over for Me,” “The Denial Twist,” and my fave, “Take Take Take.”

Album: Icky Thump
The band’s final effort finds the pair diving head-first into Scottish folk music with two tracks in the middle of this album. Stronger than “Get Behind Me Satan” but nowhere as solid as “Elephant,” be sure to check “Catch Hell Blues,” “Effect and Cause,” and “300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues.” Then enjoy “Rag and Bone” — a great example of songwriting with humor without being goofy.

I’ve never written anything that looked so much like a candy cane.