Simplicity gave The White Stripes an unlikely sports anthem

Simplicity gave The White Stripes an unlikely sports anthem

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in anticipation of the Sochi Olympics, we’re celebrating jock jams—or songs we think should be jock jams.

Simplicity was The White Stripes’ guiding principle. Look past the candy cane wardrobe, the willfully obtuse album art, and the fact that Meg White might be a robot, and everything about the band’s music is straightforward. In interviews, Jack White used to describe the band’s minimalist arrangements in terms of his pet numerological obsession: “I’ve always centered the band around the number three. Everything was vocals, guitar, and drums or vocals, piano, and drums.” There was a freedom in those limitations, and the band got a surprising amount of sound and songs from a trio of instruments.

Yet, The White Stripes reached the greatest number of ears with just one of those instruments, multiplied several thousand times, and they had no direct hand in it either. As detailed by Deadspin, the Stripes’ 2003 single “Seven Nation Army” became an international sports anthem by happenstance. It’s a tradition that traverses continents and cultures, because some Belgian soccer fans heard it before a match. “Seven Nation Army,” a fuzzed-out side-one, track-one that sounds rather puny next to the likes of “Hells Bells” or “Crazy Train,” is a rallying cry for people who’d have no context to understand the malapropism that gave the song its name.

And it all comes down to that simplicity. There are only a few measures of “Seven Nation Army” that don’t feature the song’s main riff. It’s instantly familiar, instantly memorized, and in true White Stripes fashion, Jack and Meg managed to build those seven notes (not divisible by three, but there are some triplets in the melody) into one of the ’00s signature album openers. Most of the people who know “Seven Nation Army” will never know how well it leads into “Black Math”—but the octave-hopping gallop of that track isn’t as easy to chant with 100,000 of your closest friends.

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