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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 99
Wed. May 8, 2013

“Icky Thump”
The White Stripes

2007

“♫ Why
don’t you
kick yourself
out/ You’re
an immigrant
too
♫”

I’ve always believed that Jack White’s “Icky Thump” was more than just the first single from The White Stripes 2007 titled album; Being a devoted Led Zeppelin fan and follower of Jimmy Page, White crafted an “Immigrant Song” for the next generation. “Icky Thump” was an anthem for the invisible voiceless brought to life for the migrant masses by The White Stripes.

Did you know it was White’s ex-wife Karen Elson who inspired the title of the album and the song that Jack would make famous? In 2007, Jack admitted on Later with Jools Holland, “Ecky Thump” is the phrase Elson would say around the house, a Northern English phrase that means “What The Heck!” White loved the way the words sounded together and tweaked it by adding a more American sounding word and Jack added “Icky,” a more American sounding word, to “Thump” and the rest was music history.

After the success of White Blood Cells and Elephant, White struggled with the direction to take The White Stripes looking towards his heroes Led Zeppelin as inspiration, when he told British GQ, “This band is not supposed to evolve. We’re supposed to stay in our box. It is the same question you ask when you listen to one of the later Led Zeppelin albums – what do you want from them? You always hope for the best – you always hope they focus on your favorite thing about them.”

You can definitely hear the expansion of sounds on “Icky Thump,” it’s not just Jack’s guitar and Meg’s drums anymore, you will hear some crazy keyboard synth sounds and even some bagpipes mixed in for your listening pleasure. White told AV Club originally it was his love of other dialects, like Elson’s, that inspired him while making Icky Thump, “Well, yeah… I call it “sideways exotic.” People who speak the same language but live in different countries. There’s something exotic to these phrases that we don’t hear in America. And even more so, what’s very interesting to me is how many different types of accents there are in Great Britain, in a place that’s about the size of Michigan. Imagine if the people the next town over from your town had a different accent than you. I find that really bizarre. So many dialects in one tiny little place.”

Asked about the Latin American themes found on Icky Thump, White told American Songwriter, “Well, I grew up in Mexican Town, Detroit. There was Mexican music all around me 24 hours a day. I mean literally. Four o’clock in the morning there was Mexican music playing. So I was always surrounded by those melodies growing up, and I lived there until I was about 28 in the same house. But I never had a chance yet to work with a mariachi sound, and luckily we found a trumpeter here in Nashville. It’s kinda funny. I had to move away from Mexican Town to Nashville to finally work with mariachi music.”

More than just another White Stripes lead single, every time I spin “Icky Thump” it sounds evolutionary and revolutionary in the same breath. I liken the dynamic sound of blending The Beatles “Revolution” with Led Zeppelin to create a 21st Century “Immigrant Song” that’s a true anthem for a voiceless minority. Who better to stand up for the misunderstood than Jack White? Uncompromising, vocal and 100% authentic American Bluesman’s Soul, let it bleed “Icky Thump’s” Red, White, Black— The White Stripes play the blues for you.

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