On Friday, December 4th, The White Stripes‘ first-ever anthology, entitled The White Stripes Greatest Hits, hit record store shelves and marked the band’s first album release since 2007’s Icky Thump. Though it doesn’t contain any new material, the album’s release certainly appeased the White Stripes faithful who have longed for more content since the band’s breakup in 2011.
In early November, The White Stripes released the album’s track list, which contains 26 of the most popular and well-known songs the band ever put out. The track list perfectly encapsulates the band’s career, serving as the most accurate representation of Jack and Meg White‘s body of work. It takes the listener on a journey from The White Stripes’ minimalist foundations to the band’s ever-expanding sound. It shows how even as the band’s sound evolved beyond its garage, punk rock, and blues roots, it also, somehow, remained fundamentally unchanged.
The band’s ability to consistently evolve within the same rudimentary framework solidified way back in 1997 helped to develop one of the most musically diverse fanbases in rock ‘n’ roll. With that in mind, this writer thought it would be interesting to consider some of the songs that many fans thought would make the cut for album, yet ultimately fell short.
The White Stripes Greatest Hits contains a roughly-even distribution of songs from the band’s six albums. Four each came from the self-titled album, De Stijl, Elephant and Get Behind Me Satan, with five from White Blood Cells and three from Icky Thump, along with two singles, “Let’s Shake Hands” and “Jolene”, which never appeared on a full-length studio album. This record contains four cover songs, Son House‘s “Death Letter”, Burt Bacharach‘s “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”, Corky Robbins and Patti Page‘s “Conquest”, and, of course, Dolly Parton‘s “Jolene”.
Though those tracks are some of this writer’s favorite Stripes songs, most notably their masterful reimagining of “Death Letter”, they stuck out as the obvious choices to remove for the purposes of this exercise. Given that prerequisite, let’s take a look at four songs that could have replaced these tracks if the band decided to only include originals. These songs might not have the most listens on YouTube, Spotify, or Tidal, but they are certainly fan-favorites and would fit with the album’s intention of encapsulating the full breadth and significance of The White Stripes’ catalog.
4. “Bone Broke” – Icky Thump
By the time The White Stripes released Icky Thump in 2007, the band had gone through many musical evolutions. While it had only been eight years since the release of their debut, self-titled album, the band had added many new instruments, sounds, and songwriting techniques to their arsenal. Get Behind Me Satan, which The White Stripes released in 2005, saw the introduction of mandolin and marimba, as well as the sustained use of piano throughout much of the album. In this writer’s opinion, GBMS marked a new direction for the band, which they pioneered even further on Icky Thump with the inclusion of bag pipes on “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” and “St. Andrew (The Battle Is In The Air)”, as well as a trumpeter, Regulo Aldama, on “Conquest”.
“Bone Broke” sticks out on Icky Thump due to its clear nod to the garage rock and punk roots that catapulted the Stripes to international stardom. “Bone Broke”, along with “Little Cream Soda”, sees the band invoke these early influences, something not as prevalent on the previous album, Get Behind Me Satan. Jack’s signature fuzz pierces through the mix on “Bone Broke”, with a bursting progression not unlike “Slicker Drips” or “Little People” from the 1999 self-titled album. The song’s themes fall in line with many of the concepts Jack writes about throughout his catalog: scraping for pennies, hard work, and, of course, the entitlement that pervades modern society. As far as Icky Thump is concerned, “Bone Broke” is a clear frontrunner for this theoretically altered version of the Greatest Hits album.
The White Stripes – “Bone Broke”
3. “Black Math” – Elephant
Considering this exercise removes a song from the band’s most prolific album, Elephant, it’s only right to replace it in kind. “Black Math” narrowly made the cut for this article, beating out honorable mentions like “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)” and “When I Hear My Name”.
On top of being a live staple and fan-favorite for years, “Black Math” held its own on the band’s highest-profile record. “Seven Nation Army” features arguably the most recognizable contemporary rock riff in the world, but the gruff vocals and high-energy chord progression on “Black Math” helped it standout on an album without a dud track. Jack’s penchant for the Big Muff distortion pedal on “Black Math” added a new level of intensity not quite found on previous albums, further shaping his already well-defined tone. The chemistry between Jack and Meg—who wrote, recorded, mixed, and mastered this album over just 10 days at Liam Watson‘s Toe Rag Studio without the use of computers—emerges distinctly on “Black Math”, making it one of the band’s most enduring tracks both in the live setting and on the studio albums.
The White Stripes – “Black Math”
[Video: The White Stripes]
2. “White Moon” – Get Behind Me Satan
In 2007, The White Stripes accomplished their long-sought goal of performing in every province and territory in Canada. The band documented this achievement in Under Great White Northern Lights, a documentary released in 2010 that followed them from their tour opener at Deer Lake Park in Burnaby, B.C. on June 24th, 2007 to the closer at Mile One Center in St. John’s, Newfoundland on July 16th. Jack and Meg would play their final show together just two weeks later at Snowden Grove Park Amphitheater in Southaven, MS on July 31st.
The final scene in Under Great White Northern Lights, perhaps the most memorable, saw Jack and Meg sitting at a grand piano backstage following the final show in Canada at Mile One Center. With the two full of emotion, Jack played “White Moon” as Meg sat beside him. His voice cracked and hands trembled as he worked his way through the tune, while tears streamed down Meg’s face. This rare look into the deeply-personal lives of the iconic duo cemented “White Moon” as one of this writer’s personal favorites, and surely a favorite among the many fans who have followed them throughout their careers.
The White Stripes – “White Moon”
[Video: Better Living Through My Chemistry]
1. “Little Bird” – De Stijl
It’s impossible to remove a De Stijl song as powerful as “Death Letter” without replacing it with an equally Herculean track off of the same album. “Little Bird” was an obvious choice for two reasons. Firstly, it keeps the six-album trend of including a “Little” song going. One of the most notable quirks of The White Stripes Greatest Hits is that it doesn’t include a “Little” song—straying from one of the only constants between all of the band’s previous albums. The self-titled album had “Little People”, of course, while “Little Bird” appeared on De Stijl, “Little Room” on White Blood Cells, “Little Acorns” on Elephant, “Little Ghost” on Get Behind Me Satan, and “Little Cream Soda” on Icky Thump.
Secondly, “Little Bird” is simply one of the most raw and visceral tracks the band has ever produced. With Jack’s in-your-face slide guitar and hoarse vocals taking center stage, “Little Bird” pays tribute to the rock and blues greats that came before him while highlighting the qualities that draw so many to this two-piece musical machine. The song’s riff is clearly inspired by Jimmy Page, reminiscent of Led Zeppelin‘s “In My Time Of Dying”, while Jack’s vocals and Meg White’s drumming harken back to the old Delta blues, as much of their catalog does as well. Much like their cover of “Death Letter”, “Little Bird” provided the punk and garage rock fans of the ’90s and early 2000s with a new, more edgy interpretation of blues past.
The White Stripes – “Little Bird”
[Video: The White Stripes]
Though there are surely many tracks over which fans could argue, Jack and the Third Man Records team did a wonderful job of curating this album. Recognizing the impossibility of building a perfect track list only makes The White Stripes Greatest Hits even more special for the dedicated fanbase. Below, listen to the album in its entirety and head to the Third Man Records website for more purchase and streaming options. Additionally, scroll down for a playlist curated by this writer, titled “The White Stripes Greatest Hits Pt. 2”, which includes 26 additional tracks for your listening pleasure.
The White Stripes – The White Stripes Greatest Hits
“The White Stripes Greatest Hits Pt. 2” (Fan Playlist)