“Seven Nation Army” (also stylized as “7 Nation Army”) is a song by American rock duo The White Stripes. It was released as the lead single from their fourth studio album, Elephant, in March 2003, and reached number one on the Alternative Songs chart—maintaining that position for three weeks. It also became the third best-performing song of the decade on the same chart. It was well received commercially as well.
The song is known for its underlying riff, which plays throughout most of the song. Although it sounds like a bass guitar (an instrument the group had never previously used), the sound is actually created by running Jack White’s semi-acoustic, 1950s-style Kay Hollowbody guitar through a DigiTech Whammy pedal set down an octave. A combination of the song’s popularity, recognizable riff, and defiant lyrics led to it becoming the band’s signature song. Often ranked as one of the greatest songs of the 2000s, it has been used widely at sporting events and political protests internationally.
The song received two nominations for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Rock Song at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards, winning the latter one.
The riff present throughout “Seven Nation Army” was composed at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne, Australia.
“Seven Nation Army” has its origins in a guitar riff that Jack White, the White Stripes’ lead singer and guitarist, wrote in Corner Hotel in Melbourne, Australia, while the band was on tour in January 2002. He proceeded to show the riff to Ben Swank, who was traveling with the band for the tour; Swank responded, “It’s OK.” Jack White later recalled that he “didn’t even think that rhythm was that great, either”. After initially saving the riff in case he was ever asked to create a James Bond theme song, he decided to incorporate it into a song for the White Stripes, believing the aforementioned scenario to be unlikely.
“Seven Nation Army” was recorded at Toe Rag Studios in Hackney, London, England, and was produced by Jack White. He wrote “Seven Nation Army” as a “little experiment”, hoping to create a compelling song that did not include a chorus. The song’s title originated from his mispronunciation of Salvation Army as a child. The title “Seven Nation Army” was initially used as a placeholder for the track before its lyrics were written; the name ultimately stuck.
A DigiTech Whammy was used to create the bass-like sound heard in the driving riff. “Seven Nation Army” is an alternative rock and garage rock song with a length of three minutes and 52 seconds. According to sheet music published by Universal Music Publishing Group, it is composed in the key of E minor in common time with a tempo of 120 beats per minute. The song is driven by a riff that resembles the sound of a bass guitar. To create this sound, Jack White connected a semi-acoustic guitar to a DigiTech Whammy Pedal that had been lowered one octave. The riff uses five different pitches and consists of seven notes; it begins with a held note followed by four syncopated notes, ending with two notes that appear frequently in laments. The song also features distorted vocals and a “heartbeat drum”, played by White Stripes drummer Meg White. Tom Maginnins noted that the song “manipulates the power of tension and release”: it creates a sense of “anticipatory energy”, then transitions into what AllMusic’s Tom Maginnis described as a “crush of what stands for the chorus”, consisting of an electric guitar and a “bashing crash cymbal”.
John Mulvey of NME described “Seven Nation Army” as a “diatribe against fame”. The song’s lyrics were inspired by the growing attention received by the White Stripes. According to Jack White, the song tells the story of a person who, upon entering a town, hears its residents gossiping about him and proceeds to leave the town in response. Driven by a sense of loneliness, he ultimately returns. Regarding the song’s meaning, White stated, “The song’s about gossip. It’s about me, Meg and the people we’re dating.” Maginnis described the lyrics as presenting an “obstinate attitude”, citing the opening lines: “I’m gonna fight ’em off/ A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back/ They’re gonna rip it off/ Taking their time right behind my back”.
Jack White’s idea of releasing “Seven Nation Army” as a single was initially opposed by the White Stripes’ record labels, who wanted to release the song “There’s No Home for You Here” instead. Jack White ultimately succeeded in persuading the band’s record labels to release “Seven Nation Army”, and in 2003 the song was released as a promotional single alongside Elephant track “In the Cold, Cold Night”. It was subsequently released as a 7-inch vinyl single and a CD single; the former included a cover of “Good to Me”—written by Brendan Benson and Jason Falkner—as its B-side, while the latter included both “Good to Me” and folk song “Black Jack Davey”. The photograph used as the album’s artwork was taken by Patrick Pantano; it includes an elephant painting made by Greg Siemasz.
“Seven Nation Army” was later made available for digital download. On January 3, 2014, Third Man Records announced a limited edition clear 7-inch vinyl reissue of “Seven Nation Army” as part of a package for subscribers to its Vault service. A black 7-inch vinyl reissue with updated artwork was released on February 27, 2015.
The video, directed by Alex and Martin, consists of one seemingly continuous shot through a kaleidoscopic tunnel of mirrored black, white and red triangles, touching on Jack’s love of the number three. The triangle slides alternate between images of Jack or Meg playing, interspersed with marching skeletons and an elephant, referring to the name of the album “Seven Nation Army” appeared on. The speed at which the triangles move forward through the tunnel speeds up and slows down in unison with the dynamics of the song. During the video, when the song begins to intensify, the lights in surrounding the triangles flash and other effects build up as well.
The music video received four nominations for Best Group Video, Best Rock Video, Best Visual Effects and Best Editing at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, winning the latter one.
“Seven Nation Army” received widespread critical acclaim. The song won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards, and in 2003, it was ranked number three on Pazz & Jop based on music critics’ votes. Heather Phares of AllMusic described it as a “breathtaking opener” to the album Elephant, and Bram Teltelman of Billboard suggested that “adventurous rock programmers might want to join the ‘Army'”. In particular, “Seven Nation Army”‘s central riff has been the subject of praise since the song’s release. A writer for Rolling Stone described it as the best riff of the 2000s decade, and Rebecca Schiller of NME wrote that the riff is “the most maddeningly compulsive bassline of the decade, and not even actually played on a bass guitar”. Critics also praised Meg White’s drumming—a “hypnotic thud” according to Tom Maginnis of AllMusic. Teltelman described the drumming as “simple but effective”, and Phares said it was “explosively minimal”.
Critics compared the song to the White Stripes’ other work. According to Teltelman, “Seven Nation Army” represented an effort to “defy categorization”, especially the garage rock label that had been attributed to the band. He further wrote that it was “much more of a straightforward rock song” than the band’s 2002 single “Fell in Love with a Girl”. Phares found “Seven Nation Army”, along with “The Hardest Button to Button”, to “deliver some of the fiercest blues-punk” of any song by the White Stripes, and Alex Young of Consequence of Sound viewed it as the band’s best song.
Critics ranked the song among the best tracks of the 2000s decade; it appeared on NME’s, Rolling Stone’s, WFNX’s, and Pitchfork’s retrospective lists, and it was placed at number one on Consequence of Sound’s “Top 50 Songs of the Decade”. “Seven Nation Army” appeared on Triple J’s greatest songs ranking based on audience votes, and listeners ranked the song number six on BBC Radio 6 Music’s “Top 100 Greatest Hits” after being presented with an unranked best songs list that the station had created.
In March 2005, Q magazine ranked “Seven Nation Army” at No. 8 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. It was also called the 75th greatest hard rock song by VH1. In May 2008, Rolling Stone placed the song at No. 21 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.
On Rolling Stone’s updated version of its The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2010, “Seven Nation Army” was listed at No. 286.
On March 8, 2003, “Seven Nation Army” debuted at number 27 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart; on July 16, it peaked at number one, a position it maintained for three weeks. The song entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart on May 24, peaking at 76 that week. It debuted at number 38 on Billboard’s Mainstream rock chart on July 12, and it reached its peak position of 12 on November 8. It charted at number one on Canadian television channel Much’s MuchMusic Countdown for the week starting July 18, 2003.
The song debuted on the UK Singles Chart on May 3, 2003 at number seven, its peak position. It also reached the UK Indie Chart and Scottish Singles Chart the same week. The song debuted on the former at number one and remained at that position for another week, and it debuted and peaked at number six on the latter. On May 1, it debuted on the Irish Singles Chart, where it peaked at number 22. On June 22, the song debuted on the Australian Singles Chart at its peak position of number 17. It debuted on the Official German Charts at number 69 on June 27; it peaked at number four two weeks later.
“Seven Nation Army” continued to chart intermittently years after its release. The song debuted at number four on the Federation of the Italian Music Industry (FIMI) chart on July 27, 2006, and it peaked at number three a week later. On June 29, 2008, it debuted at number 18 on the Swiss Hitparade chart, where it ultimately peaked at number four; it reentered this chart several times afterward, most recently in 2013. The song debuted at number 23 on the Ö3 Austria Top 40 chart on July 4, 2008, and it peaked at number 18 the next week; it later entered the Ö3 Austria Top 75 chart for one week on February 3, 2012. The song also entered the French Singles Chart on multiple occasions from 2013 to 2018, peaking at number 48 on February 23, 2013. It debuted on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart on January 18, 2014, peaking at number 12 during its first week.
The song was awarded several certifications in the 2010s. It was certified gold by Germany’s Federal Music Industry Association in 2010, indicating over 150,000 sales of the single. In 2013, the British Phonographic Industry awarded “Seven Nation Army” a silver certification; after receiving a gold certification two years later, the song was certified platinum in 2017 for selling over 600,000 copies. The song was certified gold by the FIMI in 2014; three years later, it received a platinum certification, having sold over 50,000 copies.
“Seven Nation Army” played a significant role in the White Stripes’ popularity. A writer for Rolling Stone described it as a “career-changing hit”, and NME’s Daniel Martin viewed the song as the White Stripes’ “defining tune”, having sparked the band’s transition “from their garage rock beginnings to an entirely new level of acclaim”. In addition, “Seven Nation Army” contributed to the garage rock revival movement, becoming the first song in the genre to reach number one on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart. After its initial run on music charts, the song—especially its riff—grew in popularity as a result of its usage in sports. In 2012, Deadspin’s Alan Siegel described the “riff-turned-anthem” as “ubiquitous”, and according to The New Yorker’s Alec Wilkinson, the riff “might be the second-best-known guitar phrase in popular music, after the one from ‘Satisfaction'”. Erik Adams of The A.V. Club attributed the song’s popularity to its riff’s “simplicity”—a characteristic that he remarked makes the song “instantly familiar” and “instantly memorized”—and Nate Sloan said that the four notes following the riff’s first note create a feeling of “urgency that makes [the riff] much more memorable”.
The song has also appeared in various other media. It was featured in Ken Burns’ 2010 baseball documentary The Tenth Inning, and it appears as a playable track in Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock as well as in Guitar Hero Live’s online GHTV mode. In 2016, video game company EA used the Glitch Mob remix of the song in a trailer advertising Battlefield 1. A surge in streams and digital sales of the White Stripes’ version of “Seven Nation Army” followed the release of the trailer: within two weeks, the total number of streams and digital purchases of the song increased by 146 percent and 332 percent, respectively. On May 9, 2014, during the celebration of the 825th Hamburg Port Anniversary, “Seven Nation Army” was played using the horns of cruise ship MSC Magnifica as it entered the harbor.
In 2018, a deeply modified version of the original riff is used as background music played by Indian musicians with traditional instruments in the opening moments of the third episode of the second season of “Westworld”, in a scene taking place in a park depicting Victorian-era colonial India.
A soccer field is surrounded by a large audience of people mostly dressed in red. “Seven Nation Army” was played before each game at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. According to Alan Siegel of Deadspin, “Seven Nation Army”‘s riff is “an organic part of sports culture”. The riff is commonly used in sports audience’s chants, in which each note is usually sung using the “oh” sound. This phenomenon has its roots in a UEFA Champions League soccer game in Italy in October 2003, during which fans of Belgium’s Club Brugge KV began singing the riff in a game against Italy’s A.C. Milan. They continued the chant after Club Brugge KV striker Andrés Mendoza scored a goal. Club Brugge KV won the game, and the song subsequently became the team’s “unofficial sports anthem”. After A.S. Roma won against Club Brugge KV at a soccer match in Belgium in 2006, fans of the former team began to use the riff as a chant, having learned it from the latter. Fans of the Italy national football team proceeded to chant the riff at games leading up to the 2006 FIFA World Cup,[ and “Seven Nation Army”—known as the “po po po po po” song among Italians—became the team’s “unofficial theme”. After Italy won the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final, the riff was sung in Rome’s streets. Regarding the song’s popularity in Italy, Jack White said:
I am honored that the Italians have adopted this song as their own. Nothing is more beautiful in music than when people embrace a melody and allow it to enter the pantheon of folk music.
The song’s usage has since expanded into various other sports settings. By 2007, audiences at the Penn State Nittany Lions’ football games had begun chanting the riff in support of the team; since then, other football audiences have chanted the riff as well. Meanwhile, Arrangers’ Publishing Company began publishing marching band arrangements of “Seven Nation Army”, and the song has since been played by marching bands at various colleges, including Boston College and the University of Southern California. The song has been chanted by NFL fans and played by NBA and NHL teams, and it was once chanted by Formula One racing driver Nico Rosberg. Audiences often replace the “oh”s in the chant with the names of members of sports teams, as with Maxi Moralez and Andrea Pirlo of New York City FC, as well as Santi Cazorla, formerly of Arsenal FC.
The song is also played at Melbourne Victory games as a goal song; the team plays most of their home games at AAMI Park- only minutes down the road from where the riff was composed.
“Seven Nation Army” has served as an official anthem at various sporting events; NPR’s Rick Karr remarked that the song is “arguably … the world’s most popular sports anthem”. It has been played at each UEFA European Football Championship since 2008, and it was played prior to the start of each game during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Karr estimated that the song has reached “hundreds of millions of television viewers around the world” as a result of its usage in the latter tournament. Multiple sports teams and personalities have also used “Seven Nation Army” as their official song, including boxers Gennady Golovkin and Anthony Joshua, football teams the Baltimore Ravens and the Detroit Lions, ice hockey team the New Jersey Devils, baseball team the Baltimore Orioles, and darts world champion Michael van Gerwen.
In 2016, the White Stripes stated via Facebook that they were “disgusted” by the song’s appearance in a video supporting Donald Trump’s campaign for the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and they said that they “[had] nothing whatsoever to do with [the] video”. Matthew Strauss of Pitchfork was unable to ascertain which video had prompted the post, though he mentioned a video unaffiliated with the Trump campaign that “featured Trump imagery and audio of his speech at the Republican convention, set to ‘Seven Nation Army'”. In response, the White Stripes manager Ian Montone remarked, “If you can’t find the video, great. Then our lawyers have done their job.”
“Seven Nation Army” made multiple appearances at events leading up to 2017 British general election. Following a speech by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at Wirral Live music festival at Tranmere Rovers’ ground on May 20, 2017, supporters in the audience began to chant Corbyn’s name to the tune of the song’s riff. This chant was repeated on several occasions in the run-up to the election and afterwards at the 2017 Glastonbury Festival, where Corbyn appeared on the Pyramid stage. As a result of the chant’s appearance at the Glastonbury Festival, “Seven Nation Army” saw a 16,893 percent increase in streams, according to music streaming website Deezer. Names of other politicians, including Labour politician Rebecca Long-Bailey and Conservative politician David Davis, were also chanted to the tune of the song’s riff during conferences held for the election. At a People’s Assembly protest on July 1, alternative rock band Wolf Alice performed a cover of the song.