Think back twenty-three years ago to August 14th, 1997. The Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death, Google.com was a month away from registering their domain name and the billboard charts were dominated by Puff Daddy, The Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys and Third Eye Blind. Also on that day, at the Golden Dollar in Detroit, a duo took the stage for the first time, calling themselves The White Stripes.
From their debut, the band was noticeably different. Guitar and drums playing primitive blues/punk/garage rock and working with strict rules such as wearing only red, black and white, while calling themselves brother/sister even though they were married for the first three years they played as a band. Meg was new but Jack had been on the Detroit rock scene (The Go, Two-Star Tabernacle) and understood they needed something different to get noticed. Against all odds and fashions of the times their quirky style/substance clicked.
While rap-rock and nu-metal bands were poisoning the ear, a new era of back to basics rock n’ roll was bubbling underground as fans craved something pure. The White Stripes worked and toured tirelessly opening for a wide range of acts from local stalwarts (The Gories) to nationally known artists (The Flaming Lips) and were on the forefront of ushering in a new phase of a retro/garage revival on the charts at the turn of the millennium.
It may be hard to imagine but when the band was playing the MTV Movie Awards and Rolling Stone referred to the duo as the reluctant saviors of rock and roll in 2002 – that meant something major pre-blogosphere and Twitter. Along with The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines and a host of other “The” bands, stripped down garage rock was taking over and the likes of Limp Bizkit, P.O.D. were thankfully regressing to the discount bins where they always belonged.
As The White Stripes grew in stature they kept their minimalism at the forefront releasing six studio albums with a slight expansion of instrumentation and style as they progressed. The rawest self-titled release proclaimed the duo to be blues aficionados covering Robert Johnson along with originals like “I Fought Piranhas” and “Astro” while their follow up De Stijl continued along the same style, breaking them to a wider audience with songs like “You’re Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl)”, “Apple Blossom” and their excellent take on Jack’s favorite song, Son House’s “Death Letter”.
The breakthrough arrived with the release of White Blood Cells and the band’s first hit “Fell In Love With A Girl” which went to #12 on the U.S. Alternative Songs Chart. Other fan favorites were included such as “Hotel Yorba”, “I Think I Smell A Rat” and “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground” as well as the saccharine sweet childhood tale “We’re Going To Be Friends”.
Worldwide success followed with Elephant as the band reached its cultural zenith as their style exploded from the opening notes of “Seven Nation Army” (now the biggest sports anthem in the world) through the crunching “Hardest Button To Button” and the blues-rock guitar majesty of “Ball and a Biscuit”.
Having taken the guitar/drums simplicity to its limit, the band began opening their sound on Get Behind Me Satan incorporating pianos, marimba, and mandolin. The transitional approach led to successes with “The Nurse”, “The Denial Twist” and the catchier then all hell “My Doorbell” which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Performance by Duo or Group.
In retrospect, it is clear the band was pushing the edges of their style as Icky Thump turned out to be the final album of their career incorporating trumpets, synthesizers, bagpipes, and Scottish folklore with their gritty Detroit ethos. The blaring “Conquest”, the banging political title track and the blurring of lines “I’m Slowly Turning Into You” proved the band was still writing and recording on a top-notch level, but it was to be the last studio release from Jack and Meg.
Now The Whites Stripes release their first-ever Greatest Hits package, all of the above-mentioned songs and more make up the twenty-six track collection from Third Man Records. An overarching career retrospective that is not arranged in chronicle order, rather it gives a random sampling of the band’s most successful efforts for a new generation of listeners to discover.
The White Stripes helped change the sound, style, and conversation around popular music in the late ’90s and early 2000s and now their biggest songs are all available in one place – until stadiums are filled again.
Third Man Records and Columbia Records will release The White Stripes Greatest Hits on December 4. The first-ever official anthology of recordings from the iconic rock duo, Jack and Meg White, is an essential career-spanning collection highlighting 26 previously released songs.