TURN IT UP TUESDAY: The White Stripes – Elephant


(APRIL 25, 2023)

In the early 1990’s, a teenage Jack Gilles and Meg White met while she was working at Memphis Smoke in Detroit, Michigan. By 1996, they were married, with Jack taking Meg’s last name.

While Jack had been playing in bands around town for years, Meg didn’t until she started playing with Jack, with him stating “When she started to play drums with me, just on a lark, it felt liberating and refreshing. There was something in it that opened me up.” Thus giving us The White Stripes.

The name from the band came from Meg’s love of peppermints. With them considering naming the band just that. You can see peppermint imagery throughout their aesthetics. Speaking of their image: they stuck with a red, white, and black theme. And playing with a love of the number three. 

They played their first live show together on August 14, 1997, at the Gold Dollar Bar in their hometown Detroit.

Five years later Meg and Jack White entered Toe Rag Studios to begin recording their fourth album, and this weeks recommendation. Elephant. 

In the process of recording they only used analogue gear, recording to tape, and in fact according to Jack, they didn’t use any equipment made after 1963. Something he’s proud of. 

Elephant also features Meg taking the lead vocals on the song “In The Cold, Cold Night.” She also has a short cameo on the duet “Well It’s True We Love One Another.” Sung by Jack White and Holly Golightly. 

Of The White Stripes sound Jack has said,  “I think every artist, their environment contributes to what they do. And Detroit is very much a part of The White Stripes.”

On April 1, 2003. Elephant was released to critical and fan acclaim. Peaking at number six on the charts. And catapulting the band to an even higher status that they’d known before. By September the band hit platinum in the US. And in February 2004 they walked into the Grammy’s with three nominations, Album of the Year, Best Rock Song, and Best Alternative Album, winning the latter two.

Four singles were released. The first coming in the form of “Seven Nation Army.” That dropped before the album on February 17, 2003. The label didn’t initially think the song was single material. Wanting to release another song first…more on that later. But Jack insisted it be released.

Funnily enough Jack and Meg didn’t really think much of the song while they were recording it. Thinking they had better material. The now iconic riff Jack had come up with, of which he was originally keeping in case he ever had an opportunity to make a Bond song (which he did with Alicia Keys, years later) but decided to used for this album instead. The song was a hit on the charts around the world, peaking at number one on Billboard’s Modern Rock Chart for three weeks.

The song has since taken on a life of its own. Becoming something more. In arenas and stadiums around the world, the iconic melody has been chanted by the masses. And very well could be somewhere right now as you’re watching this.

Heck, on the 825th anniversary on the Hamburg Port. A cruise ship played the melody on its horns as it came through the docks.

On the song becoming a chant, Jack has said “It’s not mine anymore. It becomes folk music when things like that happen. It becomes something that, the more people that don’t know where it came from, the happier I am.”

The next song released was a cover of “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” which was originally written in 1962  by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, with the Dusty Springfield’s version, released in June of 1964, being the inspiration behind the cover, after Meg heard that version and “I could just kind of hear us doing that song in my head…” By the time they recorded it they’d already been playing live for years.

The songs video was directed by Sophia Coppola and features a pole dancing Kate Moss.

Dropping on August 11th, was “The Hardest Button to Button”. The name referencing a coat Jack had, of which the top button was the hardest to button. As well as old sayings his father would say. The song itself being about a kid who’s trying to find their place after a new baby comes into their life.

The singles cover. Shows a silhouetted graphic hand, with a broken finger. That was a nod to Jack’s broken index finger, which was the reason for him wearing a cast in the music video. In the video 32 identical drums and amps were used, as well as 16 mic stands. After the video was done they were all donated to a music school.

Making a cameo is Beck, who’s the man with a “box with something in it.”

Though Jack had a different vision for what he wanted the video to be. Which would’ve been directed by Jim Jarmush and would’ve starred Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The video itself was parodied on a Simpsons episode in which Jack and Meg are in, called “Jazzy and the Pussycats”.

Third Man photographer, David Swanson “plays” on the album…sorta. “I was there with Jack and Meg, filming and photographing the making of the album. There was too much feedback between riffs, so Jack tried to turn on the compressor pedal to kill it. But it became a nuisance, so I was enlisted to play the compressor pedal on the song, turning it on and off between every riff.”

The last song released as a single was “There’s No Home For You Here.” On March 15, 2004. This song was the one the label initially wanted to release instead of “Seven Nation Army”. Which is insane to think about today. With this song being a song that only real fans of the band knows or remembers. Whereas, “Seven Nation Army”, is iconic. Of this song, Jack has said, “Our idea was to see how far we could go with an eight track recorder, and I think how far we went is too far.”

By the end of the albums release cycle The White Stripes had been launched into the stratosphere. Making them icons, not just of the garage rock revival, but music a whole. With one of the tunes ascending beyond that of a single. Inspiring a generation of kids playing guitar, like myself…..So grab it off your shelf or open your favourite music app, and turn up this weeks album. ELEPHANT.

Hey, Jade here. Thanks for visiting Backline Beat. If you like the site and would like to help support it, I’d be very grateful. Every little bit helps. Right now I’m an army of one, and would like at some point to be able to bring on other voices, to be a part of Backline Beat. Below, are links to Patreon, PayPal, and Linktree.

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                                                      — Jade Dempsey  

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