Every generation births their own guitar gods. Some had Jimmy Page while others had Jimi Hendrix. It’s the stuff that makes up some of the most epic debates you’ll ever have with fellow music nerds and the soundtrack to many Friday nights spent at home alone. Jack White fills our generation’s needs in this area.
For 20-plus years, he’s kept his Third Man stamp on indie rock and mainstream radio. His bands The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather have all received massive critical and commercial success, opening doors into varying genres and collaborations with the likes of Danger Mouse, Alicia Keys, Loretta Lynn, and Neil Young.
As the man turns 45 today, it seems as appropriate a time as ever to take a retrospective look at what he’s done so far. Admittedly, trying to nail down his top 10 tracks is hard enough, even when taking his greatest song — “Seven Nation Army” — off the table, but hey, if he can do the unthinkable … maybe we can, too.
If anything, it should spark a pretty epic and fun debate.
10. “Portland, Oregon”
When White produced Lorreta Lynn’s 2004 record, Van Lear Rose, he could have easily assimilated the legend into some new-school format that would probably be more accessible. He chose to keep things real, though, sticking to each other’s strengths, with the greatest example being “Portland, Oregon”. White’s Zeppelin-influenced guitar riffs blend against Lynn’s powerful, lonesome crooning. Sigh. The fact that White can come off a scorcher of an album like Elephant and straight into a brooding, country western record proves how dynamic he’s always been. –Dusty Henry
09. “Blue Blood Blues”
In 2010, the commercial and critical success of White’s Alison Mosshart-led side project, The Dead Weather, was further cemented with their excellent sophomore album, Sea of Cowards. “Blue Blood Blues” tips off the album with Mosshart’s subtle harmonies that accent White’s seminal screech perfectly. In a way, it’s as if White reincarnated himself as a woman to occupy a different but strikingly similar vocal range. Couple that with a few crunchy riffs from his bottomless bag, and there you have it. –Kevin McMahon
08. “I Fought Piranhas”
Although the Stripes didn’t enter the mainstream stratosphere until around 2002, the predating tracks in their back catalog shine just as strong. “I Fought Piranhas” is a spacious yet gritty track from their 1999 self-titled debut that showcases White’s prowess with the slide guitar, a talent that many incorrectly see as latent until the entry of 2003’s Elephant. –Kevin McMahon
07. “Blue Veins”
Blame it on their frustrating working relationship, but The Raconteurs sure made some angry, bad-ass music together. “Blue Veins” encapsulates the band’s most eccentric Zeppelin-like oddities. A watery tremolo ripples poignantly throughout, suffocating the song’s haunting, reversed lyrics and the ominous space between each snare hit just smacks of evil. Also, the way White channels his inner Robert Plant during the song’s many vocal breakdowns makes this one a definite must-add to any Jack White playlist. –Kevin McMahon
06. “Little Bird”
What can we say? When White busts out the slide, it almost never goes wrong. This song perfectly encapsulates White’s brand of blues. The electric tone he developed from the beginning of the White Stripes has redefined many genres and inspired countless knockoffs, and this Big Muff-distorted JB Hutto shatters cliché blues norms while still honoring its I-IV-V structure. Goddamn, Three Quid can write a riff. –Kevin McMahon
05. “Love Interruption”
Fact: In 2012, White released his first solo album, Blunderbuss, which he recorded at his Nashville studio. “I was directing people in the room,” he noted. “I had never done that before. When you are in a band, you don’t really tell other people what to play.” This freedom must have struck a creative nerve with White, who penned one of his most personal songs to date: “Love Interruption”. The song juxtaposes the enveloping nature of love and its negative implications with moving forward, which speaks volumes in the context of his then recent divorce from Karen Elson. White vows that he won’t “let love disrupt, corrupt, or interrupt [him] anymore.” Easier said than done, I believe. –Kevin McMahon
04. “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”
The grimy, opening chords to “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” might be one of White’s first iconic moments. This isn’t to say that The White Stripes weren’t already putting out great tracks on their self-titled debut and De Stijl, but the White Blood Cells opener just feels classic. White’s dooming guitar tone is matched by his ominous storytelling. His ability to turn a phrase like “you know why you love at all if you’re thinking of the holy ghost” shows the prowess of a mature soul that revels in the desperation of the blues. –Dusty Henry
03. “Icky Thump”
For as much praise as the Stripes received for their throwback shtick, they were still a very forward-thinking band. Case in point, the title track to their final album, Icky Thump. The first sound isn’t White’s guitar or even Meg White’s drums; rather, it’s the unfamiliar, chaotic noise of a clavioline keyboard. With mainstream rock radio at their beck and call, the Stripes opted for an experimental keyboard jam that feels like the Stooges waging war against the Doors. Not only that, but White hit up Capitol Hill by calling out the immigration policies of the United States. Nothing’s changed, of course. –Dusty Henry
02. “Ball and Biscuit”
“Ball and Biscuit” is the White Stripes at their most carnal. Gnarly riff aside, the song’s wildly inventive — like Van Halen’s “Eruption” but with a little more focus and one sloppy, sludgy groove. It’s guitar virtuosity meets punk tenacity. You get the breadth of White’s guitar pastiche, with music that jumps from a slow roll to a steady blues rumble, which then peaks with a distortion freak-out before settling down again, and that’s just the first quarter of the song. Too many n00bs at Guitar Center have attempted to recreate this song … and not one of them realize the greatness of the song hardly lies in a tab. It’s all in the heart here, kid. –Dusty Henry
01. “Fell in Love with a Girl”
In under two minutes, and with LEGOs no less, Jack White and the White Stripes made their mainstream debut to the world. “Fell in Love with a Girl” was a quick and defining statement for the band, laying out everything a newbie would need to know. The song’s impulsive nature plays to White’s punk and garage roots, and the Michel Gondry video helped establish their black, red, and white aesthetic.
But more than that, “Fell in Love with a Girl” remains a bold example of the band’s uncanny knack to maintain a lo-fi aesthetic with just enough poppy sensibilities, which explains so much of their success. While far from being White’s most technically precise work, the song captures a sense of ambition that would underlie his career. –Dusty Henry