Subscribe to our newsletter

Credit: Masao Nakagami

Music

The White Stripes hit song without a chorus

@TylerGolsen

As both the lead single and leadoff title track for their sixth and final studio album, The White Stripes clearly had a lot of faith in the song ‘Icky Thump’. From the very first listen, it’s clear why: featuring some of Jack White’s best riffing on record, the track also features a loopy narrative, some hard-hitting rhythms from Meg White, and memorability to it that stems largely from Jack’s freakouts on the organ keyboard. ‘Icky Thump’ was the kind of song that wasn’t easy to forget.

But one aspect of the song might have slipped some listeners’ minds: it doesn’t have a chorus. Or rather, it doesn’t have a traditional refrain. That catchy, repeated hook that is featured in almost all pop and rock music over the past 60 years? Nowhere to be found in ‘Icky Thump’. Instead, another memorable guitar riff fills the spot that would traditionally feature a chorus.

Now, there could be an argument that this particular guitar riff is actually the song’s chorus, considering how it repeats itself after every verse. But refrains traditionally have some kind of vocal melody or at the very least some words that differentiate that specific section from the song’s verse. Not the case with ‘Icky Thump’: Jack simply lays back and lets his guitar do all the talking with a more groovy backbeat from Meg than the insistent thump of the song’s verses.

There’s a brief breakdown before each verse, and also a one-off bridge featuring Jack throwing in ascending guitar riffs before returning back to the song’s third verse. The entire atmosphere of the song is distinctive from the rest of The White Stripes’ catalogue, from the military march of Meg’s bass drum throughout the verses to Jack’s incorporation of the Univox synthesiser. 

Despite its unusual construction, ‘Icky Thump’ wound up being the highest-charting single that The White Stripes ever had in America. The song peaked at number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100, providing the band with their one and only top 40 hit. In the age of well-placed throwbacks in TVs and film, a-lá ‘Running Up That Hill’, it doesn’t seem ludicrous to think that ‘Seven Nation Army’ could make a return to the charts sometime soon, but for now, ‘Icky Thump’ remains The White Stripes biggest hit.

Check out ‘Icky Thump’ down below.