Story of the Song: Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes

Robert Webb
Friday 25 June 2010 00:00
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The Salvation Army hasn't inspired too many hits – "Banner Man" by Blue Mink being perhaps the most obvious. The White Stripes' highest chart entry takes its title from how the infant Jack White heard the organisation's name.

Lyrically, "Seven Nation Army" has little to do with William Booth's evangelical movement. The song sits on a classic riff that was first heard in the sound check for a White Stripes gig at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne, Australia in 2001.

White stumbled upon the riff while warming up his hollowbody guitar. "I played the riff again and it sounded interesting," he said. White plugged in an octave pedal and wound his six-string down to a low twang. He had grand plans: "I thought if I ever got asked to write the next James Bond theme, that would be the riff for it." Instead, he devised a storyline in which a protagonist discovers that his friends are talking about him behind his back. "He feels so bad he has to leave town, but you get so lonely you come back," said White. "The song's about gossip. It's about me, Meg and the people we're dating."

It was recorded in April 2002 on analogue equipment at London's Toe Rag Studios. White sings: "I'm bleeding / Right before the Lord / All the words are gonna bleed from me / And I will sing no more". "I think it's the only time I used two of my voice; I doubled it," said White. The opening salvo on the 2003 album 'Elephant', it won a Grammy in 2004 for best rock song. Italian football fans adopted it for their 2006 World Cup win, to White's delight: "Nothing is more beautiful in music than when people embrace a melody and allow it to enter the pantheon of folk music."

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