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10 Years, 100 Songs: #34. “The Two Sides of My Brain Need to Have a Meeting…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 27, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

Looking back on the breakthrough of the run the White Stripes had this decade, I think the most interesting thing about them is how for a band that seemed so concerned with bringing old-school authenticity back to rock–going so far as to intentionally exclude instruments from the last 40 years on one of their albums–they really relied very heavily on cheap pop gimmickry. They dressed in color-coded outfits, they lied to the public about their personal relationship to create mystery, and they released eye-popping music videos–none of which you could really see band idols like Robert Johnson or the MC5 necessarily approving of. Not that I’m calling them out for it–it was all that stuff that made The White Stripes interesting to an audience with relatively few blues or garage-rock-revivalist artists in their music collections, which allowed them to become such an integral part of Naughty Oughties pop cutlure. But it’s still interesting to look back on all their PR dalliances, especially when the song that broke them with the general public was as raw, kinetic and frilless as “Fell in Love With a Girl.”

Really, I’m not sure if any band had done more with four chords since “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The influence of “Fell in Love With a Girl” to 00s rock was not nearly so pronounced–even if you believed every bit of the hype of the New Rock Revolution (and no one actually did, with the possible exception of my high school friend Pete), the significane could cover only a fraction of what Nirvana made possible in the 90s. But the first time, or the first dozen or so times, that you heard that four-chord intro, it got the same juices flowing–that gutteral, long-dormant and entirely illogical feeling that a guitar lick could actually change the world if played loudly enough. It had that size to it, that sense of legendary grandeur, which was guaranteed to stop you in your tracks for the next three minutes.

Not that the White Stripes even needed three whole minutes. “Fell in Love With a Girl” clocked in at a mere 1:50, an almost unheard-of song length for a hit in this day and age. It didn’t even feel all that short, either–it clearly wasn’t a King Crimson song, but it certainly felt like a full, fleshed-out song, and not the mere fragment that that duration would imply. Part of the reason this is, I think, is that the Stripes did an interesting job of structuring the song, kind of muddying the various parts of it–the title and main lyrical hook comes in the verse, the verse leads straight into the chorus, the chorus kind of sounds like a bridge, and the bridge is just an instrumental rendering of the verse. Consequently, it feels a lot longer than it actually is, because it seems like there’s just so much in it.

It helps that Jack and Meg rip through the song at such a breakneck pace. Meg bashes gracelessly on her drum kit (sheer enthusiasm got her unskilled attack by on the band’s less-involved songs) while Jack sings the song in a fevered frenzy, sounding flustered to the point of near-incomprehensibility on the choruses. The song’s speed, combined with its raw grunginess, is what made the song such an anomoly on radio and MTV in 2002–pop-punk had come, over the years, to be produced about as immaculately as any boy band or R&B balladeer, and to hear a rock song that sounded like it came straight from the garage (or just punk without the “pop-” modifier, really) in that capacity was nuts.

“Fell in Love With a Girl” probably wouldn’t have been the classic it was, though, if it wasn’t also just a pretty cool love song. The title is somewhat misleading, making the song seem much sappier and simpler than it is–it’s simple in that it is actually about falling in love with a girl, but unlike, say, the band’s own “We’re Going to Be Friends,” it’s not just a basic, gushing celebration of that fact. Rather, it’s more of an ode to love’s circuit-scrambling powers, as White is just as much confused as he is excited by his recent emotions (“Sometimes these feelings can be so misleading,” “Can’t think of anything to do, yeah / My left brain knows that all love is fleeting”). It’s a much less cliched way to approach the obviously very tired subject matter, and it’s even pretty clever in parts–Jack lamenting that the “two sides of my brain need to have a meeting” and remarking that he “must be fine, because my heart’s still beating.”

Of course, it’s basically impossible to talk about this song without also discussing its video–the Michael Gondry-helmed clip that really brought the Stripes to national prominence, and which was recently even voted as Pitchfork’s #1 music video of the 00s. It’s certainly hard to argue with; the vid’s Lego-crafted video becoming instantly iconic, a YouTube sensation before YouTube even existed, unforgettable and inseparable from the song itself. Aside from how impressive the technical wizardry of it was, and the fact that it just looked damn pretty (so visually accessible that it kinda smoothed the rough edges off the song) the main reason I think the video was such a hit is because it packed the same energy as the song itself, with its quick editing, constant motion and obviously youthful feel to it. (My favorite part, for the record–coy lego-Meg looking over her shoulder to ask lego-Jack “Are you all right?”)

The White Stripes never seemed like a band with sustainable mainstream appeal–Jack White quickly revealed himself to be a pretty big nut, and despite all the early pop gimmickry, the Stripes were always more of a cult band than anything. Their biggest hit was actually still to come, with the death march of “Seven Nation Army” even becoming an unlikely sports anthem, but soon after they were titling albums Get Behind Me Satan and making videos with Floria Sigismondi and it became very clear that the Stripes’ MTV days were over. They still come out with at least a couple cool songs per album, though, and White side projects like the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather have made some impressive contributions to modern rock radio as well. Critics may have wanted the Stripes to take the mantle as the first Great American Rock Band of the 21st century, but I’m not sure if that was ever really in their DNA–for better or worse, White was always cared too much about making his music (weird, occasionally in-jokey, often hopelessly antiquated) to ever reach that kind of broad, crossover appeal for more than a couple fluke hits.

If nothing else, though, the Stripes and “Fell in Love With a Girl” kept the old-school rock and roll dream alive for at least another decade with those four screaming, urgent guitar chords–the kind that should be the first that the next generation of bored suburban adolescents learn how to annoy their parents with. More importantly, FILWAG was fun and exciting enough to demonstrate why it was a dream worth keeping alive in the first place–even if they needed the best video of the 00s to get the message out.

(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment
40. Plain White T’s – “Hey There Delilah
39. MGMT – “Kids
38. Gym Class Heroes f/ Patrick Stump – “Cupid’s Chokehold
37. Franz Ferdinand – “Do You Want To
36. Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head
35. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want
34. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl”

One Response to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #34. “The Two Sides of My Brain Need to Have a Meeting…””

  1. Aly said

    yes.

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