From Blondie to Bob Dylan: Jack White’s 7 greatest covers of all time
As one half of The White Stripes, he brought a filthy rock and roll sound to a new and adoring generation. Unadulterated, unfiltered and fully-leaded, Jack White has been a leading figure of the music scene for many years now and his guitar ranks among the finest of a new generation. Despite his freshness, White is an artist who has been moulded by the past.
White achieved the feat of becoming the leading light in garage rock in the early noughties. Not only lending his hand to some of the best rock bands of the last two decades, from The White Stripes to Dead Weather, but also by being a never-ending student of his craft. Like any good student, he pays tribute to the scholars of the past and has covered some of the greatest rock musicians of all time. Here, we’re looking at seven of Jack White’s greatest covers of all time.
We often think that the way an artist handles a cover of the song shows off exactly the kind of performer they are. While some singers and bands will stay faithful for the original text, perhaps accentuating the points of personal talent they can employ within the song — a la Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, or more correctly, John Cale’s. Or, the band can completely change the sound of the song, recreate it in their own image and provide a searing expression using the tools of another, with Jimi Hendrix’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ being perhaps the greatest.
White operates in the latter space. From across the genres and styles, White takes the music of the past and creates songs and expressions that could fit on any one of his own records. He pumps them full of buzzsaw guitar, he adds flourishes of Americana grit and slicks the whole thing down in premium grade crude oil before spinning the song on its head and sending it out into the airwaves.
Below, we’ve got seven of our favourites from White’s impressive career both with and without The White Stripes.
Jack White’s best covers:
‘Daughter’ – Pearl Jam
In 2018, Jack White and Eddie Vedder were going through a bit of a bromance. The lead singer of Pearl Jam and White were paying homage to one another whenever they could. During Jack White‘s tour performance in Seattle, the former White Stripes lead singer took to the stage to perform the brilliant track ‘Daughter’. The singer was touring his Boarding House Reach album at the time.
It’s not necessarily the cleanest cover you’ll ever hear of ‘Daughter’ but what the performance does have, that almost all of White’s live performances have, is a serious cutting edge. White and Vedder also joined Neil Young that year for a rollicking performance of ‘Rockin in the Free World’. However, this is the best cover from that year in our opinion.
‘Pablo Picasso’ – Modern Lovers
The song, which was famously covered by David Bowie, arrived a little while back as part of White’s Spotify Singles set and also includes a live version of his Boarding House Reach single ‘Over and Over and Over’. The Modern Lovers, American alt-pop legends led by curious Jonathan Richman in the 1970s and 1980s, enjoyed widespread success in 1976 when the band released their self-titled debut album. It was on that album the hit track ‘Pablo Picasso’ appeared.
The song was recorded in 1972 at Whitney Studios in Los Angeles, and produced by John Cale, but was not released until four years later. Richman, writing the lyrics to the song with his typically sarcastic wit, touches on the idea that women ever rejected Picasso’s romantic advances despite the fact that he was short in height.
“Well he was only five foot three but girls could not resist his stare,” Richman sings. “Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole / Not in New York”. White naturally takes the song in his own unique direction, galloping the track through the gate with a heavy stomp and a thunderous leap.
‘Rated X’ – Loretta Lynn
Jack White’s love of all things country and western is deeply embedded in his character. The singer and guitar impresario has always had a fondness for the icons of country music, especially the Queens of the genre. On The White Stripes cover of Loretta Lynn’s ‘X Rated’ the band get down and dirty.
The singer’s fascination with Lynn goes further back than his 2004 production of her album Van Lear Rose album and his subsequent outpourings of adoration every time he passes through Tennessee. It goes back to 2001 with this rollicking cover of the country classic. “When you work with someone like her, you forget everything else,” White said of Lynn on the red carpet at the 2010 Grammy ‘Salute to Country Music’ which honoured the singer’s 60-year career. “You can’t imagine this talent is right in front of your eyes. These things that you’re hearing, they just don’t seem human.”
While White can’t quite match Lynn vocally, he can certainly outplay any guitarist in his vicinity and delivers a killer lick on this footage form a 2001 Detroit club show, It’s simply marvellous.
‘Moonage Daydream’ – David Bowie
When you think back to some of David Bowie’s best songs it’s very hard to look too far past his illustrious and seminal record The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. The White Stripes picked up one of the record’s best tracks ‘Moonage Daydream’ for a special early cover over 20 years later to express their incarnation.
The White Stripes were in their infancy when they picked up the cult favourite track and added their own unique spin. The recording below is likely from one of their first-ever shows with most people dating the clip back to around 1997. But what really hit us is that despite the rough sound, Jack White’s oddly high vocals, and a newly developed band, this cover incredibly indicative of The White Stripes’ future sound.
The interpretation from one of our favourite guitar impresarios is a uniquely Jack White style of sound, even at the young age of 22. It moves away from the original glam rock tones and instead leans more heavily on the blues roots of the song, White’s fire breathing guitar eviscerating all those in earshot. The fuzzing guitars and pounding drums signalling the beginning of the new generation taking up their rock and roll batons.
‘One Way or Another’ – Blondie
We’re taking a trip back to the 1990s to get a taste of White Stripes leader Jack White putting his unique spin on a classic by Blondie. The track was taped when White was working as a session engineer, helping out a band called 400 Pounds of Punk.
Ben Blackwell, a White Stripes archivist as well as co-founder of Third Man Records, wrote a full essay around the musician as part of a celebration around ‘Cassette Week’. In the article, Blackwell highlighted some of the rarest inclusions is in his own personal collection which arrived in the shape of a 1997 recording of Jack White singing Blondie song ‘One Way or Another’.
Discussing the demo, Blackwell said the cassette “is as far as I can tell, the rarest physical release of a Jack White performance. And prior to the mention here, the release was completely undocumented. I doubt more than a half-dozen people even knew about it.” The demo in question is found on a cassette which pre-dates The White Stripes and sees White singing Blondie’s ‘One Way or Another’. You can listen to it below.
‘Isis’ – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan song ‘Isis’ is a favourite among his fans despite him seldom performing the track live. However, in 2001, The White Stripes would surprisingly cover the number at London’s Kentish Town Forum and execute it delightfully.
‘Isis’ was written by Dylan in collaboration with Jacques Levy and would go on to feature on his seventeenth studio album Desire in 1976. The song captures his insane storytelling instincts in full flow with follows a man who has recently split from his wife, Isis. Dylan would write seven songs for Desire with Levy as they started their fruitful songwriting partnership.
The White Stripes certainly did ‘Isis’ justice in their cover and to turn Dylan into a fan of their work in the following years is testament to their version which was a regular number in their set for the whole 2001 tour. This was a bold move for them as is one of the singer’s more obscure tracks which their crowd were unlikely to know but it is the sort of thing Dylan himself would be proud of, as they followed his maxim of playing for yourself first and foremost.
‘Jolene’ – Dolly Parton
Jack and Meg White deliver a frenetic performance of Dolly Parton’s timeless classic ‘Jolene’ back in 2001. The band were beginning to find their feet internationally and with the release of White Blood Cells, they started to set roots as the somewhat deranged guitar heroes of the garage revival scene. They were a simple duo of guitar and drums who had the ability to create a sound nobody thought possible. Meg’s pounding tribal drums were always matched by the crunching, twisted pageantry of Jack’s frenetic guitar.
His ability to create weird and wonderful noises capable of bringing down a house in a single note set the scene alight. To then couple that with the songmanship on tracks like ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ and ‘Hotel Yorba’, showed that this band understood and delivered the storytelling that is reserved for timeless artists.
Somehow, there’s no better way to show this than on the band’s beautiful cover of Dolly Parton’s heartwrenching classic ‘Jolene’. It’s a cover which would become a part of the band’s live set and offer a glimpse of White’s love affair with Americana and country music.
White effortlessly conveys the yearning and desperation of Parton’s sensational protagonist, all while still adding his own unhinged flair for the dramatic. The fret-shredding performer is full of rage and burning hearted love and with every lick of his guitar, he bewilders and beguiles the audience. That is, before switching to the buzzsaw fuzz of a jilted lover threatening to burn your house down.