Home Music Music Lists

Jack White’s 15 Best Cover Songs

The ‘Lazaretto’ master’s greatest renditions of other people’s material, from dusty blues classics to modern pop hits

jack white performs

David Wolff - Patrick/Getty Images

Jack White has made his name over the past decade-and-a-half by making music that injects the pure, potent sentiments of the past with a fresh manic spark that’s all his own. But as he consciously undertakes that endeavor, a parallel current runs through his B-sides and his live shows, where he unearths a number of tunes from days gone by and pinches and pulls at them until they’re of a piece with the rest of his work.

This fascination with re-imagining songs, both famous and obscure, has continued from the earliest days of the White Stripes, through his various band projects and solo efforts and up to last month’s world record setting pressing of the “Lazaretto” seven-inch. It’s resulted in a number of fascinating covers. Here are some of the best, from Bob Dylan to Gnarls Barkley. By Colin Joyce

Play video

The White Stripes, “Walking With a Ghost”

Tegan and Sara's lilting "Walking With A Ghost" first appeared in relatively tidy form on their 2004 album So Jealous, then the White Stripes promptly snapped it up for an EP of their own. White rightly recognized the paranoid lyrical content of the original as of a piece with his own work and he turned the Canadian duo's neat little pop gem into something much more alien. Funneling it through the White Stripes' meat grinder, "Walking With A Ghost" becomes a blocky, minimalist banger — all elbows and knees and cymbal crashes.

Play video

The White Stripes, “Death Letter”

Jack White's affinity for the work of classic bluesmen like Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, and Eddie "Son" House is fairly evident if you listen to the early White Stripes material, but he's also made that influence explicit several times throughout his career. He's offered rousing covers of Johnson ("Stop Breaking Down" on The White Stripes) and McTell ("Lord Send Me An Angel" as a seven-inch in 2000, and "Your Southern Can Is Mine" on De Stijl), but his rendition of House's "Death Letter" on De Stijl stands out. House's version of the song was plaintive and pained, but White plays with the wrath of God on his. White splatters his tormented vocal with grimy slide guitar work and manages to repackage House's mournful tune as something more thunderous, but no less emotionally impactful.

Play video

The Dead Weather, “New Pony”

Jack White struck up a friendship with Bob Dylan after inviting the latter to sing the White Stripes' "Ball and Biscuit," which Dylan and his band had been covering at soundchecks, at a 2004 show in Detroit. Needless to say, the admiration that Dylan expressed was mutual. White's recorded fascination with Bob Dylan runs as far back as his 1999 cover of Desire's "One More Cup of Coffee," but the Dead Weather's "New Pony" remains his best take on the scraggly-voiced poet's oeuvre. Dylan's magnetism is, of course, unique, but the gravitas that Alison Mosshart's vocals lend to "New Pony" is evident from her wailing intro. White's squelched backing vocals and muscular percussion also give the Street Legal song jittery new life.

Play video

The White Stripes, “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself”

The Burt Bacharach-composed (with lyrics by Hal David) “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” has been recorded by the likes of Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield, who each laid down versions that were probably more in line with what Bacharach had in mind than with the White Stripes’ ripping 2003 recording. Nestled on the same side of Elephant as “Seven Nation Army,” White’s version of the pop classic seems to represent both an embrace and intentional distance from groovy sixties culture. Here are Bacharach’s infectious melodies, but also a handful of guitar riffs and solos that thrillingly wrestle with the original’s winsome hooks. 

Play video

The White Stripes, “Jolene”

Dolly Parton‘s version of her 1973 single “Jolene” is pretty untouchable, but the White Stripes’ version (first appearing as a B-side on their “Hello Operator” seven-inch, then as a staple of their live shows) does its best to stretch and strain to reach it. White sticks losely to the original’s minimal guitar-and-vocals combo, but he does offer a whole lot of riveting emoting. Where Parton sounded melancholic and regretful, White screeches and yowls about the pain of loss. A lesser band would collapse under the weight of a classic, but White’s past-exorcising vocal is one of his best.

Play video

The Dead Weather, “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”

Other than being a couple of oddballs who have carved out a fruitful existence at the fringes of pop, there's little obvious similarity between Jack White and Gary Numan, but nevertheless the Dead Weather pounded out a simmering rendition of the latter's synth-pop classic in 2009. The glitzy keyboard flourishes on Numan's original are replaced by mucky, plucky organ parts and twitchy guitar lines. It's not quite as overtly pummeling as the rest of the band's repertoire, but the reimagining is grounded and earthy where Numan's version was icy and robotic.

Play video

The White Stripes, “Conquest”

To the uninformed, White's version of "Conquest" bears all the hallmarks of a proper White Stripes track, right down to Meg's minimal floor tom rumble, but the song's roots go back more than 50 years. Composed by Corky Robbins and made popular by Patti Page in 1952, "Conquest" is a Spanish-tinged lounge pop tune that the duo amped up on their 2007 album Icky Thump. This tale of the romantically hunting and hunted feels far more urgent in White's hands, and that's no doubt due to the stormy, unhinged guitar leads that he drops all over the track's three-minute runtime.

Show Comments