If it was chance encounter with David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream that threw the White Stripes together then it is Screwdriver that solidified them as a band. According to Jack the song materialized in the most Stripe-ish of fashions. One ‘rehearsal’ Meg casually pointed to a Screwdriver and said “why don’t you write a song about that?” Did Jack accept? Of course he did, he’s Jack White, and that is how Screwdriver was born which sounds cool enough but it’s actually one of the most important moments for those interested in the bands career because, in case you didn’t know, Screwdriver was the band’s first original song. If I were ordering this blog chronologically by conception (which would clearly be unachievable and futile) then this song would be number one. It is the beginning of the band as an independent creative unit. And what a way to begin.
While most songwriting debuts (and to be fair this isn’t Jack’s actual first song) are overshadowed by their significance and underwhelming in terms of quality Screwdriver is surprisingly masterful. It’s a real ‘get your ya-yas out’ and while I’ve already said this about a few other tracks, it manages to perfectly define the band in a single song. While not necessarily superior to the other milestone Let’s Shake Hands, Screwdriver is considerably more complex employing greater dynamics and a larger variety of motifs. It’s chock full of all the goodies, the killer hook, the clever rhymes, the loud climax and the softer and subdued moments. It’s all you need in 3 minutes.
As fun as the lyrics are the song, like about half of Jack’s work is built around one grand infectious riff that announces the songs beginning and from there we’re taken to many places and back. While Meg taps away Jack rambles away his brilliant stream-of-conscious rhymes over the soft strum of his guitar. Some of the couplets, while pretty nonsensical, are quite brilliant.
I call up Tommy now, call him on the telephone
Why don’t you wake up and come with me now
I’m going to the pawn and lone
What Jack is singing about is really nothing particularly special but the way it all comes together is quite effective. While Jack’s latest songwriting has become a sort of southern gothic style, due in no small part to his change of environment, here there is a greater influence of Detroit’s nature. Infusing a surrealist flow of words and banal bits of modernity, it’s almost like industrial beat poetry, which we see all throughout the album.
But ultimately what most makes Screwdriver memorable is it’s simplest moment, one that is illustrated best in concert. Jack and Meg, eyes fixed on each other, slamming out that power chord in sets of three with no consistent rythm holding the sound and silence together. All that is being relied upon is the near telepathic quality that holds the two together. It’s this that makes the band special and what 10 years of touring has been built around. So we really owe this song a lot.