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How Jack White's rock song 'Seven Nation Army' became the World Cup anthem

In Fifa World Cup 2018, the official anthem 'Live it up' has been majorly ignored as the masses are singing the classic, 'Seven Nation Army'

Nibir Deka  |  New Delhi 

FIFA wold cup 2018 russia fans
FIFA World Cup 2018 fans

The music starts with a catchy bass drop of the typical 4/4 time signature, evident in any other Rock and Roll song. But, don't mistake the bass for an electronic configuration; it is mastered by with a Kay Semi-Hollow Guitar using a whammy guitar pedal. In simpler terms, it is the magic of the guitar riff distorted through a device that gives White's seven-note passage from The White Stripes' 2003 song, 'Seven Nation Army', a winning start.

The elements of the song are simple: Guitar, Drums, and strong vocals. Just three things to create a generational song.

But then it's the simple composition of the 'Seven Nation Army' that makes it appealing, possibly accounting for a fair part in its immense success. Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters once said, "The easiest songs to play are the hardest to make". White would approve.

In the ongoing Fifa World Cup 2018, the official anthem 'Live it up' has been majorly ignored by the masses. In the stadiums, fans are singing the classic, 'Seven Nation Army', the song which marked its way first in the Fifa World Cup 2006, surrounding Italy's World Cup glory.

It is not the first time a particular song has made such an impact in a sporting event though. The use of music at sporting events is a practice that is thousands of years old -- ancient Greeks did it. It has now found contemporary relevance, be it at the Superbowl in the US, in India's IPL or the Fifa World Cup (cue: K'naan's 'Wavin Flag' and Shakira's 'Waka Waka').

Some all-time hits

Often, listening to music is a very private experience; the train of thoughts a song unravels in oneself is unique. But anthems gain currency when one can raise his/her fist to join a hundred others in humming a common tune, every one of them feeling they share a common fate that's to be reached through a bridge that's that song.

ALSO READ: Stories from Fifa World Cup 2018 that made headlines for non-soccer reasons

There have been great anthems, which are played in almost all sporting events. Queen's 'We will Rock you' and 'We are the Champions' are all-time fan favourites. In recent instances, Arsenal fans chanted Beatles' 'Hey Jude' as a way to cheer on their striker Olivier Giroud, who now plays for Chelsea, as 'Na Na Nana Na, Giroud!!'.

So what makes 'Seven Nation Army' different from the other hits?

It is the journey from an American rock band song to its popularity in football's Magnum Opus, the Fifa World Cup, which makes it special. This is the reason many critics have claimed, 'Seven Nation Army' as the last great American folk song. By folk, it is inferred to a song of the people here.

Anthems like these form a part of the modern-day oral culture. Their admirers twist a word, squeeze a tune, and commonly snip certain parts of the song and carry it forever in the treasure bag of their memory. Some may call it distortion, but for the enthusiasts, it's like sugar cubes: they want the tea, but prefer to add sugar themselves. No wonder then that the song has been chanted commonly as 'Oh oh oh oh' or 'Po po po po' in Italy.

Who are

are an American rock duo formed in 1997 in Detroit, Michigan with (songwriter, vocals, guitar, piano, and mandolin) and Meg White (drums and vocals) as its members. rose to prominence in 2002, as part of the garage rock revival scene. They have enjoyed success with albums such as 'White Blood Cells' and 'Elephant' and have won a total of six Grammy Awards.

Jack White and Meg White of the The White Stripes. (Photo: The White Stripes Facebook Page)

and Meg White of the The White Stripes

Taking the connection between folk music and sports, White has argued that the sports arena is an extension of the church gathering, where many of the songs we consider folk canon first took shape.

“Modern folk music around the world happens when groups of people gather together in larger numbers, not in small homes and villages like it used to in the past. And many times this will happen in sports arenas, of course, particularly soccer," he told the Detroit Free Press in 2016.

"Sports are the only surviving events that millions of humans assemble around," he said.

Meaning of the song

According to bandmate Meg White, "Jack basically wrote (Seven Nation Army) around the idea of this guy who comes into town and all his friends are gossiping about him. It gets so bad, he wants to leave town and then he decides not to".

There is an ambiguity surrounding the song but White has often said it has to do with The White Stripes' rising fame and the gossip that followed. The song's protagonist becomes famous and returns to his hometown. His friends then gossip about him viciously, and so, he leaves.

Jack White has enjoyed consistent critical and popular success and is widely credited as one of the key artists in the garage rock revival of the 2000s. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Jack White has enjoyed consistent critical and popular success and is widely credited as one of the key artists in the garage rock revival of the 2000s. (Photo: Shutterstock)

But listen closely to the music and the lyrics, and you'll see that the song looks at the people in the eye and in a gradual but sure motion, tells them to rise and follow it until they become a part of something greater. It revolves around the theme of mob mentality. For a sport like Football, the song is a perfect setting, and also for the fans, who consider football something more than just a game.

The big question: How did it make way in football and Fifa World Cup?

It all started with the drunken supporters of the European football club Club Brugge K V, who sang the tunes for the first time in a football match.

The Belgian football club were to face Italia's bigget club A C Milan in the group-stage of the UEFA Champions League. In their pre-drinking time before the match at a local bar, K V’s supporters, known as the Blue Army, fancied the song playing on the bar's stereo — a simple riff they could chant whilst in an inebriated state. Coincidentally, that day they went on to beat AC Milan 1-0 with a strike from Peruvian stiker Andres Mendoz. That day 'Seven Nation Army' became an instant fan favourite. They associated the song with passion and energy.

It was AS Roma who took 'Seven Nation Army' to the roots of Italy when they encountered K V during the 2006 Uefa Cup and defeated them. “I had never heard the song before we stepped on the field in Bruges,” Roma captain Francesco Totti later recalled to a Dutch newspaper. “Since then, I can’t get the ‘Po po po po po po po’ out of my head. It sounded fantastic and the crowd was immediately totally into it. I quickly went out and bought one of the band’s albums", as reported on pastemagazine.

After the Italians picked up the song, the song later got famous as the 'po po po' song. With crowds and spectators reciting it like some 'mantra' necessary for their team to win. Not many knew the lyrics properly, yet they did the vocal rendition of the epic bassline.

Speaking on its popularity, Jack White said, “I especially love that most people have no idea what song the melody they are chanting came from. That inspires me greatly and makes me feel proud that I was a conduit and antenna at one moment in time for other people to help express themselves.

"The less people know where it came from, the more it is ingrained in the tradition of folk music; and the more it feels anonymous to the public, the more I’m fulfilled as a songwriter.”

It became Italy's unofficial anthem and coincidentally that year, Italy won the 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany. The song had suddenly found an even bigger stage and 'Seven Nation Army' became a familiar tune in the streets of Rome.

After the World Cup victory, Italian legends Allesandro Del Piero and Marco Materazzi joined the Rolling Stones to do a cover for 'Seven Nation Army'. The song was no longer a chant from a mere fringe football group in Belgium.

Responding to the song's World Cup links to Italy, White said, “I am honoured that the Italians have adopted this song as their own".

And despite the reputation of 'Seven Nation Army' as one of the greatest stadium anthems, White insists the song is 'unique'.

"What thrills me the most is that people are chanting a melody, which separates it from chants like ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy’ and ‘We Will Rock You’ and many of the most popular songs where large groups tend to clap or sing words and not just notes"” he said.

Such is the power of music and especially Rock and Roll, which is still relevant in the mainstream when you see fans still singing and chanting Rock songs to cheer their teams. If you think that's an overestimation, listen to the song and you will get into the groove.

First Published: Sun, July 15 2018. 10:02 IST