The Story Behind 'Seven Nation Army' By The White Stripes

A song about the pressures of fame.

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The Story Behind 'Seven Nation Army' By The White Stripes
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Story behind the song

The main riff was composed at a soundcheck before a show at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne, Australia.

Jack White recalled to Rolling Stone:

"There's an employee here at Third Man named Ben Swank, and he was with us on tour in Australia when I wrote that song at soundcheck. I was playing it for Meg, and he was walking by, and I said, 'Swank, check this riff out.' And he said, 'It's OK.'"

"Seven Nation Army" meaning was rather unclear, so Jack pointed out:

"I didn't have lyrics for it until later on, and I was just calling it 'Seven Nation Army' - that's what I called the Salvation Army when I was a kid. So that was just a way for me to remember which one I was talking about, but it took on a new meaning with the lyrics."

The song is rare in being a very good song about that titanic cliche, the pressures of fame. Feeling squashed with the level of recognition they were getting, White came up with a story about a person who returns to native town and finds all his friends are gossiping about him.

"He feels so bad he has to leave town," he said, "but you get so lonely you come back. The song's about gossip. It's about me, Meg and the people we're dating."

Jack White said that the main riff was planned for the James Bond film if they ever got asked to write a song for it. But he decided it was unlikely and used it in this song.

Jack White speaks about creating "Seven Nation Army" and shows Jimmy Page and The Edge how to play this song:

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Official music video

The video consists of one seemingly continuous shot through a kaleidoscopic tunnel of mirrored black, white and red triangles, touching on Jack's love of the number three. The triangle slides alternate between images of Jack or Meg playing, interspersed with marching skeletons and an elephant, referring to the name of the album "Seven Nation Army" appeared on. The speed at which the triangles move forward through the tunnel speeds up and slows down in unison with the dynamics of the song. During the video, when the song begins to intensify, the lights in surrounding the triangles flash and other effects build up as well. The imagery bears a striking resemblance to Jason and the Argonauts as well as Bill Gold's theatrical release poster for A Clockwork Orange.

In the video when Jack White points to his hand as he begins the third verse, he's showing you where he is from. The state of Michigan is shaped like a mitten, and people in the state often point to a spot on their hand when asked where they are from.

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Guitar

Semi-acoustic 1950s style Kay Hollowbody guitar

The guitar is originally a tobacco sunburst, but it was covered in kraft paper in 2001 – supposedly to stop the feedback, though it may be just for the aesthetic reasons. As of the specs, it features a single DeArmond pickup with no controls but an on/off switch, spruce top, maple sides and back, and a floating rosewood bridge.

In the official video, we can see 1964 "JB Hutto" Res-O-Glass Airline Guitar, which is his main guitar for The White Stripes' live performances.

The guitar was made by Valco, a company that is better known for making National and Supro guitars before itэs demise in 1968.

It has a hollow Res-O-Glas fiberglass body, two Valco single coil pickups (even though they look like humbuckers), and a non-adjustable steel reinforced neck (without truss rod).

 

If you want to learn more about the gear, amps, notable covers, special techniques, tuning, song structure, and recommended lessons, read the UG Complete Guide to “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes.

 

 

21 comments sorted by best / new / date

    th3.k1dd.31
    It’s funnt watching Jimmy Page “learning” a beginners song.
    Eifler121
    This is such a good song. I highly recommend their performance of it from the Grammy's. I remember my dad saying, "There's this really cool video I saw, and it was really the first time I've heard something that sounded like classic rock, but kind of dark, in a long time." We were at an amusement park, Bush Gardens. He showed it to me the next morning on MTV, and over time, I was hooked on the band. I wound up listening to their albums at a friend's house every day, and figuring out all the riffs. I'd play through something and turn around, "Does that sound right?" I truly think it's the new Smoke on the Water, yet I still get pumped in a genuine, non-nostalgic way any time I hear it. I was in a night club in Charlotte last night, and they were playing it on the rooftop. It's a great song, proof of genius in simplicity.
    SFosterS
    That Grammy show with Death Letter was just so fucking good man, you see Tarantino losing his shit in the audience in one clip lol
    Spinnerweb
    I jumped with excitement when Jack changed the song suddenly and seamlessly. Tfw when even a 13-year-old White Stripes video getsbyou pumped
    SFosterS
    Thats funny, the first time I saw it, at the end I jumped out of my chair with my arms up victoriously... as if I'd done something lol
    Ed...
    The idea of this being a Bond theme is interesting. Would've been better than "Another Way To Die" at least.
    Eifler121
    I actually like Another Way to Die a lot. Chris Cornell and Jack White were my favorite artists of their decade. So it was a good Bond period for me.
    Ed...
    Oh I wouldn't say it's a bad song, just a little underwhelming, especially after the brilliant theme Cornell wrote. I'd put that as one of my favourites too.
    DropDeee
    I remember having a party at my place and I was so smashed.  Someone threw me in the shower and left the tap running.  As I'm laying there on the tiles I hear someone playing that riff in the next room.   The only other song I've heard of theirs is 'Icky Thump'.   That's the end of my story.     As you were, gentlemen...
    Driemo
    to be honest: I can´t stand this song. Jack White is highly overrated and if I ever hear that riff again...just my 2 cents.
    martha616
    Why the fuck is The Edge in a video with an old asian man and Jack White?