Playing Favorites #5: “Blue Orchid” – White Stripes (2005)

(originally posted May 11, 2007)


“Blue Orchid” by The White Stripes (2005)
Written by Jack White III, Meg White

“Blue Orchid” is the type of song that, as Stephen King says, would’ve “turned my dials all the way up to 10” in high school. To someone now in his 40’s, it still provides a pretty good kick.

The song is raw, unrefined, driving, loud, hard to ignore. And simple. I don’t say this in a derogatory way, only to note that when you isolate the song’s elements, you’ve got Jack White’s falsetto vocal, distorted guitar riffs (not even chords) and drums. That’s it. (To my less-than-expert hearing it appears that White has added a second guitar that’s just slightly behind the other track, adding a little more power and energy.)

I haven’t listened to all the White Stripes albums (although I’d like to), but from what I have heard, Jack and Meg do a masterful job of writing fairly simple melodies that stay in your head for days after you hear them. Not many people can do that, and even fewer can do it on a consistent basis. Several days ago I played “Seven Nation Army” (from Elephant) for this friend of mine and he was humming it the rest of the day. The same thing happened to me after hearing the opening riff in “Blue Orchid.”

While the music may be somewhat simple, the lyrics are a very different story. Although “Blue Orchid” opens the album Get Behind Me Satan, and the words “get behind me” are in the song, Satan is never specifically mentioned. So is Jack singing about Satan or about a really wicked woman? It would seem that whoever it is, he or she has the power/ability to screw up (with pretty malicious intentions) something that was once good:

You got a reaction

You got a reaction didn’t you?

You took a white orchid 

You took a white orchid turned it blue 

Something better than nothing 

Something better than nothing, it’s giving up 

You need to do something 

Try keep the truth from showing up 

How dare you 

How old are you now, anyway? 

How dare you 

How old are you now, anyway? 

White has commented that he sees the entire record as an exploration of “characters and the ideal of truth.”

Interesting stuff. Then you watch the video…. (You can see it here.) Man. A dilapidated house, a red-head wearing lace and impossibly high heels, Jack and a piano with its guts ripped out, a white apple, Meg drumming on stacks of dishes, a white horse, and Jack’s cane that becomes….well, just watch. David Lynch would be proud.

As weird as the video seems, it does give a more dismal interpretation to the song. Here are things ruined, degraded, coming apart, fallen. And what can you do besides ask “How dare you?”

“Blue Orchid” appears on the album Get Behind Me Satan.

2 thoughts on “Playing Favorites #5: “Blue Orchid” – White Stripes (2005)

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