When the White Stripes shocked the music world by announcing their breakup, they left behind a series of iconic, stripped-down blues-rock songs that were as simple as they were powerful. Whittling their repertoire down to 10 tracks is extremely difficult, but here’s a good guide for those new to this stellar group.
A single recorded before they even released their debut album, “Let’s Shake Hands” captures the band in all their primitive fury. But the definitive version can be found on the 2010 live album, Under Great White Northern Lights, which retains all of the original’s fire while adding extra volume and urgency.
Elephant was the band’s attempt to make a big rock record, and this first single (and lead track) was where they made their intentions plain. “Seven Nation Army” didn’t just become a hit, it also turned into one of the most unlikely sporting event theme songs ever.
Pounding away on the piano while Meg White backs him on drums, Jack tries to figure out what went wrong with his latest love affair on “The Denial Twist.” Betrayed and bitter, he’s full of the blues, but not so much that he can’t come up with one of his all-time great lines: “Make sure to never do it with a singer/Cause he’ll tell everyone in the world.”
This may be the closest the White Stripes ever got to sounding like a metal band. From its awesome head-banging opening riff, “Little Cream Soda” is back-porch blues dressed up with hard rock attitude, as Jack White roams a desolate landscape in which even God can’t provide any relief.
“Jaunty” is not usually a word you’d use to describe a White Stripes song. But what else would you call “My Doorbell,” the lively, funky piano-driven tune from Get Behind Me Satan about being lonely? Usually, Jack likes to wallow in his misery, but here he gives it a playful twist.
The ambiguous lyrics suggest “The Hardest Button to Button” has to do with an unhappy family, but most everybody loves this song for its madly addictive bottom-heavy riff. And when the moment calls for it, Meg brings the thunder on the drums.
The White Stripes are most renowned for their barnstorming rockers, but this track was the band at their most lovely and disarming. A tale of two school kids in the throes of puppy love, “We’re Going to Be Friends” articulates all the innocence and fragility of your first crush.
This White Blood Cells single was the band’s introduction to the mainstream, and it crystallizes all their strengths: garage-rock purity, urgent vocals, and an utterly monstrous riff. In less than two minutes, Jack sketches all three dimensions of a relationship both passionate and doomed.
If 95 percent of all White Stripes songs have to do with love gone bad, then “Blue Orchid” is their masterpiece. Snarling with attitude, Jack White’s guitar sounds more like a ray gun, while his voice drops into a scary falsetto. Accusatory and defiant, White lets fly with some of his meanest putdowns ever (“How old are you now, anyway?”), and he and Meg proceed to wail on their instruments. Some breakup songs are sad -- it’s hard to think of one that’s angrier.