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The classic White Stripes song written during a soundcheck

The White Stripes were one of the most important rock bands of the modern era. Formed in Detroit, Michigan, in 1997, the band consisted of frontman and guitar hero Jack White and Meg White. Notably, the pair were married in 1996 and divorced in 2000, but this didn’t stop them from writing some of the most influential rock cuts of the 21st century and inspiring a whole generation of musicians in the process. 

Quickly after forming, the band became a staple of the Detroit music scene, releasing several singles and a couple of records which increased their stature in the local scene. Still, it was not until the release of their third album, 2001’s White Blood Cells, that the band truly hit the big time.

It featured singles such as, ‘Hotel Yorba’ and ‘Fell in Love with a Girl’, and off the back of cuts such as these, they established themselves as one of the key outfits in the garage rock boom that featured the likes of The Strokes and The Von Bondies. Afterwards, they went from strength to strength. Dominating alternative music, they released Elephant in 2003, Get Behind Me Satan in 2005 and Icky Thump in 2007 before dissolving in 2011 after a lengthy period of inactivity. 

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Whilst there are many brilliant moments in the band’s back catalogue, the standout effort is, of course, ‘Seven Nation Army’ from Elephant. A cross-over mega-hit, it recently gained over a billion streams on Spotify, and since its release, it has taken on a life of its own. 

The simple melody has found a place in the hearts of many worldwide, and understandably, it has become omnipresent at sports events, with crammed stadiums watching the NFL, the Premier League and the Six Nations all echoing Jack White‘s most iconic riff. There’s a primal, trance-like feeling to the song that seems to communicate to our inner animal, so there’s no surprise that nearly 20 years since its release, it is still very much alive in popular culture.

The song was recorded at Toe Rag Studios in London in 2002, and famously, the title comes from White’s childhood misunderstanding of the term Salvation Army. 

The most surprising fact about the track, however, is its provenance. Although now it makes a solid claim to be the most famous riff in modern rock, it actually came to fruition as an accident during a soundcheck in Melbourne, Australia. “I was playing it for Meg and [Ben Swank, Third Man excutive] was walking by,” recalled White. “I said, ‘Swank, check this riff out.’ And he said, ‘It’s OK.'”

The story goes that Swank felt White could “do better” than what he had presented, and later, White told NPR that Swank “didn’t even think that rhythm was that great, either”. Duly, he opted to save the riff for a potential James Bond theme before once again trying to turn it into a White Stripes song after consigning himself to the fact that the chances were slim of the band being asked to create a James Bond tune

Luckily for White, he’d surprise both himself and Swank. ‘Seven Nation Army’ became one of the biggest rock tracks of all time, and five years later, he was asked to write and perform the theme for the 2008 Bond outing, Quantum of Solace, alongside Alicia Keys, which became the highly underrated ‘Another Way to Die’. 

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