And I will think no more
March 20, 2015 3:12 PM   Subscribe

If we're all quite aware of what it has become, then where did it come from? From Jack White’s guitar of course, and from his fingers and his brain. But what about the sequence of notes? Could they have been hanging around in the universe since the cosmic microwave background splurged into existence, just waiting to be aligned by a malleable composer? Speaking to the BBC last year, Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine said: "It's less a riff that feels like someone wrote it than it was unearthed. It's something that's always been there, and it's something that speaks to the reptilian brain of rock listeners."Stupid & Sophisticated: The Rise & Rise Of The Seven Nation Army Riff
posted by timshel (63 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Ben L'Oncle Soul cover linked in the article was region-blocked for me, but this one worked. Also, it's really good.
posted by muddgirl at 3:20 PM on March 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


It's hard to talk about riffs per se because different musicians can do very different things with the same basic riff. In 'Seven Nation Army,' I find it really dull, lacking energy or any identifiable mood or feeling. Maybe someone else can do something with it that would make it worth listening to, but so far it seems like a waste of everyone's time to care about it. I mean, unless you enjoy it or whatever.
posted by clockzero at 3:29 PM on March 20, 2015


Thanks, muddgirl! That was awesome!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:31 PM on March 20, 2015


I mean, unless you enjoy it or whatever.

Well, we certainly wouldn't want that.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:36 PM on March 20, 2015 [58 favorites]


Based on the article alone, it appears that a few people do, in fact, enjoy it or whatever.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:38 PM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Here's a video of a cruise ship playing Seven Nation Army riff.

Oh wait. I just had a great idea. A set of air horns tuned to the notes of the riff. Sell them outside of sporting events.
posted by mhum at 3:47 PM on March 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


To denigrate it as simple is to profoundly miss the point--truly memorable and compelling simplicity is one of the most difficult things for an artist to achieve. The same charge has been laid against Hemingway and Rothko, and it's wrong for the same reasons.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:49 PM on March 20, 2015 [19 favorites]


Metafilter: your favorite band one of the most widespread, covered, and well loved songs of the past 15 years sucks.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:51 PM on March 20, 2015 [25 favorites]


It's as close to a perfect rock riff as you're going to hear - up there with Nirvana's "Teen Spirit" and Black Sabbath's "Iron Man". My problem is that I can't connect to perfect rock riffs anymore. They reveal everything they're going to do in a manner of seconds. They work on your primitive caveman brain, in the same way a TV jingle does, sowing a 10-second hook that sits there forever. So eventually the caveman sitting inside your head is just sitting there dumbly bashing a rock for hours every day and nothing interesting happens with it anymore. I'm more interested in something like Sonic Youth's Catholic Block that takes the idea of a perfect rock riff as a starting point and then corrupts and complicates it.
posted by naju at 3:53 PM on March 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


I'm more annoyed with ripoff ads that rip off the video.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:54 PM on March 20, 2015




Previously.
posted by Justinian at 4:00 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Clearly Seven Nation Army has become popular enough that its time for everyone to start talking smack about it.
posted by Justinian at 4:02 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I love this clip from It Might Get Loud -- Jack White teaching Jimmy Page the riff. As if Page can't figure it out just hearing it once. But it's still a great riff.
posted by starman at 4:11 PM on March 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


It's derived from Pink Floyd's Interstellar Overdrive.
posted by colie at 4:16 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I was thinking of how good Weird Al Yankovic's style parodies are, and one great example is how his song CNR is just as catchy as a lot of actual White Stripes songs.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:17 PM on March 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


It's always been an incredibly catchy guitar riff (a great little introductory exercise for beginning guitarists I've used for 10+ years to introduce counting quarter-note triplets). But I never would've imagined it turning into a chant. It sounds so weird to me when people sing it, like hearing a bunch of people sing the guitar riff from "Satisfaction."
posted by straight at 4:20 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, wow, I saw Mr. Morello perform 7NA at Lala 02 with Audioslave. It was a moving performance. His use of guitar is novel. Odes and poems and science papers could be written on the amazing music he makes (solo acoustic material is really good also).
posted by infinite intimation at 4:38 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am 110% sure that when Gipsy Danger fought its first kaiju, its airhorns played the Seven Nation Army Riff.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:40 PM on March 20, 2015 [20 favorites]


I should add for those unfamiliar with Morellorageaudioslave that they took a "bare riff" and melded it with pure exlorative energy. It went places that the "headliners" Janes addiction really lacked. They felt like what Naju described above while Audioslave (part RATM part Soundgarden) and Incubus had an exploratory inquisitiveness towards the sorts of songs they created in live Venus.
posted by infinite intimation at 4:48 PM on March 20, 2015


In conclusion rock is a land of contrasts.
posted by infinite intimation at 4:49 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Meow! Meow meow-meow-meow meowww meowwww!

That's how we sing Seven Kitty Army around MY house.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:54 PM on March 20, 2015 [44 favorites]


This is one of those songs that, for whatever reason, makes me lunge for the radio (or phone) to switch the song or station. Never much thought about it before, but I guess it is an impactful riff, as I can't simply ignore it as I can other songs I don't like.

I like plenty of other songs by this band, but for some reason this riff is like fingernails on chalkboard to my ear.

Interesting read, though.
posted by Debaser626 at 5:15 PM on March 20, 2015


I love this clip from It Might Get Loud yt -- Jack White teaching Jimmy Page the riff.

Jeesh, and the Edge too, all while wearing a black Stetson and suspenders. "Aye, 'tis a fine riff, English, but 'tis no birdhouse."
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:22 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


(I'm just jealous, of both the riff and the outfit)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:23 PM on March 20, 2015


It's less...like someone wrote it than it was unearthed. It's something that's always been there, and it's something that speaks to the reptilian brain

c.f. all important art
posted by j_curiouser at 5:28 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


The first time I heard this song/riff, I went Hmmm, that sounds familiar, what is that from?

Unearthed is a great way of stating it.
posted by inparticularity at 5:31 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]




Hm. This riff never impressed me. Meg White's drumming impressed me. I mean, impressed me to the point of despair, of wanting to give up playing the guitar, because what is the point of doing all that hard work, when instead you could do that with a couple of sticks? And she makes it look effortless. It isn't.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:57 PM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's a very exciting article, but I thought there'd be more on "where did it come from?" There's gotta be a close cousin riff in Stevie Wonder or Sly Stone somewhere.
posted by batfish at 6:42 PM on March 20, 2015


It's not just that riff, it's the entire album.

It's on a short list of albums from that general time period, along with Discovery by daft punk that's just like fucking perfect all the way through.

I must have played that album a thousand times. It came out at the perfect time in my life, right at the end of middle school and beginning of high school. I'd get in friends parents cars and it would be playing, i'd go over to someones house and it would be playing, it was perpetually playing in my room at home.

This song itself has gotten a ton of attention, analysis, that whole scene in it might get loud and other stuff... but i really wish the album as an entire like, artistic cruise missile got more attention as a unit.

One of my biggest regrets is that while i did get a chance to, and shelled out a big fat stack of cash(that i earned loading construction debris and garbage in to a dump truck all summer) to see daft punk, i never got to see the white stripes live. I saw jack white years later... but it wasn't the same, and it wasn't at that point in my life where it would have been utterly mindblowing.
posted by emptythought at 7:12 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


From the "It Might Get Loud" clip - I love how when the three of them get into it, you have the loose and traipsing White riff, magnified by the flourish and sway of Page, and underscored by the effortless precision of Edge. Wow. Then you get a feel of how and why the electric guitar replaced entire orchestras. It's a big, big sound.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:19 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I love It Might Get Loud to a disquieting degree. Also, I would pay cash money to hear BitterOldPunk's version. CASH MONEY!!!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:26 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is one of two songs that is ALWAYS in my head.

The other is "Kristen Schaal Is A Horse" so I'm not really sure what to think about it.
posted by davidjmcgee at 7:27 PM on March 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


emptythought: "One of my biggest regrets is that [...] i never got to see the white stripes live."

Oh man. One of (if not the absolute) best show I've ever been to was The White Stripes at The Gorge in 2005 touring for Get Behind Me Satan. Of course, they played "Seven Nation Army" and it was amazing. Also, their opening act? Sleater-Kinney touring on The Woods. An incredible show.
posted by mhum at 8:03 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh wait. I just had a great idea. A set of air horns tuned to the notes of the riff. Sell them outside of sporting events.

7000 vuvuzelas, 1000 each tuned to the appropriate note.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:26 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Jack White teaching Jimmy Page the riff

my immediate impression on first hearing it was, finally, for the first time in decades, a fresh riff that I could imagine coming from Led Zeppelin, that understood those nether regions where simple meets heavier than god (thus unimaginably complex).

Also, clockzero is wrong.
posted by philip-random at 8:38 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's only one definitive version of Seven Nation Army (requires Spotify account)

Other versions don't really question the logistic and political feasibility of such a large army enough.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:49 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]




Well, we certainly wouldn't want that.

I meant what I said about it lacking any emotional weight to me, but I was joking about it being a waste of everyone's time. It's hard to communicate sarcasm in these contexts so one tries to be over-the-top.

Also, clockzero is wrong.

We're not enemies, we just disagree
posted by clockzero at 9:38 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's like 'Smoke on The Water' for the next generation. Just a riff and not much else.
posted by ovvl at 10:31 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't go to many sporting events, but I guess I did hear this at whichever one I was last at (OSU basketball game?). They brought it out as a sort of rah rah musical theme, didn't seem particularly effective on the crowd.

Divorced from the context of the entire song, it would be pretty annoying if it went on forever. The brilliance of the riff in the White Stripes' version is how it simmers in the background, then steps up to serve as the chorus (chord-ified), goes back to the background, gets bent out of shape in the solo, then da capo.
posted by Standard Orange at 10:37 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Timeless rock song is timeless.
posted by Abon Sapi at 10:42 PM on March 20, 2015


It's tournament time here in North Dakota and at both girls and boys games I've heard that riff come rising up out of the student sections. Most of these kids have no idea what the song is, just that it's a thing they've heard done at big time college games. Damn riff has gone viral.

I first heard this SNA cover on the blue some years back. It has absolutely no reason to work for these guys and yet, it does.
posted by Ber at 11:02 PM on March 20, 2015


The Smoke on the Water comparison is apt (along with some other classic riffs I can think of, like La Grange) but some songs really don't need more than the riff.
posted by immlass at 11:30 PM on March 20, 2015


I heard it sampled/homaged/copied in an Iranian pop song once. That riff is everywhere.
posted by Gordafarin at 4:24 AM on March 21, 2015


All of this makes me very curious how "Kernkraft 400" came to be sung loudly at sporting events everywhere.
posted by umberto at 5:09 AM on March 21, 2015


I heard it used early here in Rome - so nice to know where that fits in in the genesis of the stadium chant, thanks tonycpsu!
posted by progosk at 5:15 AM on March 21, 2015




That was a great article, especially the Chilly Gonzales quotes. I'm a total fanboy for that dude.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:50 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I never would've imagined it turning into a chant. It sounds so weird to me when people sing it, like hearing a bunch of people sing the guitar riff from "Satisfaction."

People are just so excited about some riffs that they have to do something about it. If they're slow enough, they'll sing them, especially in South American and European countries. I was annoyed by it at first, but the Fear of the Dark singalong won me over. The song is actually even better with the crowd singing that riff.
posted by ignignokt at 6:53 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


> like hearing a bunch of people sing the guitar riff from "Satisfaction."

like Bill Murray singing the Star Wars theme Vegas-lounge-lizard style on SNL.

Star Wars,
Talkin 'bout Star Wars,
Nothin' but Star Wars,
Shinin' on me...

Time will stop for you.
posted by jfuller at 8:28 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


"It Might Get Loud" is some excellent guitar porn.
posted by dry white toast at 11:13 AM on March 21, 2015


especially the Chilly Gonzales quotes. I'm a total fanboy for that dude.

I love Chilly cause he's smart and funny, but he's also the go-to dude for making something simple sound more complex than it is. I could bang two rocks together, and he could explain how I'm influenced by Palestrina's approach to counterpoint if he wanted to.
posted by ovvl at 11:18 AM on March 21, 2015


> It's on a short list of albums from that general time period, along with Discovery by daft punk that's just like fucking perfect all the way through.

I don't listen to the White Stripes much these days, but when Elephant came out - back when most people my age were still buying CDs - someone played it for a friend of mine, and he bought it. And then that friend played it for another friend we had in common, and he bought it. And then that friend played it for me and I bought it. And then I played it for another friend, and he bought it. I don't know if the chain continued beyond that point, but it speaks to how massive that album was that summer.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:22 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The magic is all in the triplets. This is also why you bang your head during the rock-out section in "Bohemian Rhaspody".
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:57 AM on March 21, 2015


Meow! Meow meow-meow-meow meowww meowwww!

I'm sitting in a car dealership waiting for an oil change. This article (and thread) was really frustrating because I know how that riff goes, but I couldn't immediately bring it to mind and didn't want to play the videos here in this waiting room. So thanks for the meows, bitteroldpunk, because that totally did the trick.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:59 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]




I like the riff and the song just fine. The article's tone I found really annoying:

"I don't think so," says Chilly Gonzales. Here he takes us through the theory. You may want to hold onto something.

"It actually involves an initial rise of a minor third before descending," ...

Right, we’ve got all that. And how about the rhythm?


I really, really hate his whole 'Here's some theory which I chose to ask people about and chose to include in my article, but I'm gonna patronize you as if you're too dumb to understand or care about it, yet still include it, for some reason."
posted by signal at 7:36 PM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I read the Chili Gonzales quite the other way: Gonzales, a boy from a nice, Montreal family, is a big piano geek and he's bean-plating the fuck out of the riff :
It goes like this The fourth, the fifth The minor fall, the major lift
Sorry, no, that was something else, here :
It begins on the one, up to a brighter three, down to a tense six, then lowered to a five. A five begs to be resolved to its home destination, the one...
It's probably not gobbledygook, but it is pretty fine bean-plating.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:13 AM on March 22, 2015


From Bklyn: “It begins on the one, up to a brighter three, down to a tense six, then lowered to a five. A five begs to be resolved to its home ”
“Start with the tone. Up a full tone. Down a major third. Now drop an octave. Up a perfect fifth.”
posted by ob1quixote at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2015


Okay, I'll finally bite on this one.

I was not a child who enjoyed popular music, much. I grew up in the 80s, surrounded by the shaggiest and least-washed ghosts of classic rock and the sickly CRT afterimage of disco. I was at the perfect age to develop my tastes at a time when Spandau Ballet was busy making sure that cheesy music lost all redeeming features. I stuck with classical and jazz, retreating from the chintz and glare into Tradition. Meanwhile all the Olds were slowly gearing up for the (figuratively) tone-deaf "WOODSTOCK: NEVAR FERGIT!" It wasn't a great time for White People Music.

So while all my colleagues in Jr. High and High school were getting into Guns&Roses and GWAR and eventually an inexplicable foray into milquetoast "Young Country" artists, I stepped a predictable toe out and grabbed every Tom Waits album yet produced. Later I'd discover Portishead and other artists who made layered, gritty sounds without resorting to inane dance or moshpit hooks. I went through a Pink Floyd phase, because hell I was a teenager and their style was almost symphonic. I felt like Led Zeppelin had taken a wrong turn when they stopped just doing pure Otis Redding covers. Yeah, I was one of those idiots who loved the intro hooks to most rap tracks in the early 90s, but got frustrated when the actual rap started.

So the reason I'm laying all this "Portrait of That Guy as a Young Man" out is that the first time I heard 7 Nation Army, it wasn't the bassline that got me, it was the harmonising on the "And I'm talking to myself at night/Because I can't forget" line. I remember thinking "maybe I should give more classic rock a chance". For someone who really wasn't a fan of the some-guitars-and-drums-and-stuff genre, that's kind of startling.

I've never had my generation's ear, and I had to go back as an adult and deliberately work my way back into some of the greats I'd lived through and ignored. But this song always teased me with its immediate accessibility. I think hits work when they reach outsiders, but the hooks they use don't tend to hold on for very long. I had a listen to the rest of the album, and it's just Not For Me.

And thanks for the Ben L'Oncle Soul version! That's everything the song should have been, and I'll take on anyone who says otherwise: one at a time or all together!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:59 AM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


From Bklyn: "It begins on the one, up to a brighter three, down to a tense six, then lowered to a five. A five begs to be resolved to its home destination, the one...
It's probably not gobbledygook, but it is pretty fine bean-plating.
"

Not really. It's a simple answer to the question he was asked.
posted by signal at 4:42 PM on March 24, 2015


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