5 “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You’re Told)” — Icky Thump, 2007
On their last album, the Detroit duo got more experimental than they’d ever been, playing with horns and mixing time signatures on two of the album’s other singles. So, this track earns a place here for being one of their most straightforward blues-rock songs in the later half of the band’s run. Not to mention one of the catchiest they ever released! The track also scores high marks for its outer-space guitar solo, simultaneously showcasing Jack’s flare for speed and melodicism. Such interesting flourishes show the bands skill at mixing experimental and conventional approaches simultaneously—and this duality is never more apparent (or more head-bangingly fun) than here!
4 “Fell in Love with a Girl” — White Blood Cells, 2002
The aforementioned “Fell in Love with a Girl,” along with its accompanying Legos video, began the White Stripes’ decade-long love affair with the spotlight. It might sound more derivative than later songs, yes. But the song would only be derivative if the band hadn’t known what they’re doing. As they proved over the course of the next few years, they could write songs just as appropriate for punk riots as for candlelight vigils. Of the former, this is there best and brashest. It follows the Ramones template of second-verse-same-as-the-first rocking, usually reserved for asinine lyrics; Jack’s lyrics, as usual, are more sophisticated. They actually do “bear repeating.”
3 “My Doorbell” — Get Behind Me Satan, 2005
The only song on here not to feature a guitar, “My Doorbell” is probably the most daring single a guitar band released since the Rolling Stones did the same with “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” As with the Stones, purists and pissants may have complained at the time. Any one with an ability to enjoy a catchy song, regardless of the instrumentation, absolutely adored this flavorful favorite. Propelled by Meg’s singular beat for a change, the song demonstrates the bands penchant for a groove, often hidden on louder classics. Jack also, amazingly, manages to sound child-like without ever sounding snotty. Go ahead, try it. It’s harder than it looks.
2 “Seven Nation Army” — Elephant, 2003
Yep, their biggest hit and most iconic classic. (The only reason it doesn’t top the list is because it was over played, but you can’t really blame that on the Stripes.) The riff is so monolithic, that it can sound redundant if you aren’t paying close attention. But listen again: with fuzzy overdubs, Jack manages to hit every freaking note on the fretboard, piling riffs upon riffs until your brain is seeping out your ears by the end. He even manages to play the bass part on his guitar using a special pedal! The powerful guitar combined with Meg’s steady back and forth beat make this track indispensable.
1 “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” — White Blood Cells, 2001
Falling somewhere between “House of the Rising Sun” and “Old Man,” “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” demonstrates the band’s ability to pay homage to classic sounds without ripping them off outright. Most of this comes from the pop-your-eye-balls distortion on the chorus — there’s a jagged punkiness that the Animals and Neil Young couldn’t have included, brilliant as they were. Jack’s voice also distinguishes the band, cool and crooning in his weird falsetto. Hitting big after “Fell in Love with a Girl” was released, this track proved that the White Stripes weren’t just one of the many garage rock mumblers that struck pay dirt in the wake of the Strokes — No, this band was much, much greater and more visionary than any of that.
That’s all the best from the band with the icky thump. Five rock classics on par with Creedence or the Stones at their finest. But, we just don’t know what to do with ourselves — how could we limit this list to just five for such a great band? So, we have to throw down a few more essential favorites, some deep cuts and some hits. But, maybe you’ll think our black math still doesn’t add up. Don’t be a blue orchid! Just include your favorites below, and if they’re good enough, they just might make the list. Here go the honorable mentions!