Oak Ridge Boys – “Seven Nation Army”

Juli Thanki | May 13th, 2009

Oak Ridge Boys

Country singers can cover rock songs with great success, like when Johnny Cash did Nick Cave’s “The Mercy Seat,” or when Dolly Parton gave “Stairway to Heaven” the bluegrass treatment.

This is not one of those times.

The Oak Ridge Boys’ version of White Stripes song “Seven Nation Army” (from upcoming release The Boys are Back) is bad, and not so bad it’s good. It’s “Indian Outlaw” bad, and if this cover were a corporeal entity, the only respite from its awfulness would involve jamming a stake through its cold black heart. While Jack White may occasionally dabble in country and roots music–in addition to producing Van Lear Rose, don’t forget he also included Porter Wagoner as an opening act when the Stripes played Madison Square Garden in 2007–he does it with far more success and grace than the Oak Ridge Boys reciprocate.

For one thing, the song starts out with an approximation of Meg White’s admittedly amateur drum work and Jack’s guitar intro…only the Boys sing the guitar part, with “bah bah bum” noises while a piano plays Very Dramatically in the background. It’s all downhill from there. The men who made “Elvira” a hit just can’t sell lyrics like “And I’m bleeding right before the Lord/All the words are gonna bleed from me/And I will think no more.” Despite their best efforts, it comes off like bad punk rock karaoke sung by your slightly drunk grandfather.

If this is an attempt to court a younger audience, it’s certainly a misguided one.

“Seven Nation Army” is the opening song on one of the decade’s best rock albums, 2003’s Elephant; it’s also the most recognizable White Stripes song, making the decision to cover it a daring one. The Oak Ridge Boys are to be commended for their song choice and willingness to seek out non-country material, but that’s the only thing about this recording that can be commended.

Thumbs Down

  1. frozenphan
    May 13, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Ugh. I just threw up in my mouth a little after hearing that. No wait, I threw up a lot.

  2. Baron Lane
    May 13, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Ho sad that this excellent harmony group decided to cover a group so derivative it’s hard to enjoy them from thinking of the bands they’re ripping off.

  3. Brady Vercher
    May 13, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Despite their best efforts, it comes off like bad punk rock karaoke sung by your slightly drunk grandfather.

    That’s all kinds of funny!

  4. Paula_W
    May 13, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Well, I’ve never heard the original so I cant compare the two, but I thought it was a nice derivative for the Oaks. The only thing I really hated was Joe Bonsall’s voice in the background. Would’ve rather heard more of Richard’s instead. Will I rush right out and buy it? No. Will I change the station if it comes on? No.

    3.2 out of 5

  5. Silvio
    May 13, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Call me crazy, but I kind of like this. From reading the review, I was afraid to click on the link to hear it, but I am quite impressed with the Oaks stepping out of their comfort zone. BTW, Billboard gave it a good review.

  6. Paula_W
    May 13, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    I’ve purposely started trying to NOT read reviews before I listen. So I’m not unduly influenced (in either direction) or specifically listening for the high (or low) points pointed out by the reviewer.

  7. Drew
    May 13, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Holy… baad stuff.

  8. Jaime
    May 13, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    It’s a rough day for song reviews at the 9513. Yech.

  9. Mike M.
    May 13, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    Ouch, guys. The Shea Fisher song and this in back to back days. Are you trying to reach your breaking point? The only thing that could make this worse was if Rascal Flatts had a new single out…oh, wait…http://www.roughstock.com/audio/rascal-flatts-summer-nights.

    In all seriousness, while I’m not a big Oak Ridge Boys fan(although I liked a couple of their songs when Steve Sanders was in the group), and while this is a complete disaster of epic proportions, I’ll give them credit for trying something new. They could’ve just continued doing an oldies tour with “Elvira” and “American Made,” but it is kinda cool that they’re trying to cover some material that is a little different from their norm. I just hope the rest of their material off the album is better than this train wreck.

  10. Mayor Jobob
    May 15, 2009 at 2:23 am

    good lord… It’s only a matter of time before Shenandoah makes a country rendition of “Master of Puppets”

  11. Ben Milam
    May 18, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    there is nothing sadder than seeing someone trying desperately to be something that they are not. its like watching sylvester put on a tweety cosutme.

  12. Patrick
    May 23, 2009 at 1:12 am

    Gyess I’m gettin old, I like it. Heh, my 15yo son and I saw them at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and the concert was not too bad. Ok, lets face it William Lee Golden is what (70 years old) and had a heart attack 4 years ago. Come on give him a break, he’s a legend and his son is playing the drums for him. He sang his Blue Bird song and it was great. Richard Sterban was so deep he almost blew up the speakers. If anything the new CD does them no justice compared to what they are currently performing live on stage. IMHO – I got the feeling they were thanking God to be able to still bringing it after 30 some years. For some old dudes – it seemed like they were going to perform all night long…. I give them props for that and also for Joe Bonsall’s patriotism. If anything, I wish they would add another guitarist to the band and push the mic on Joe’s Banjo up a notch or 2.

  13. George
    May 30, 2009 at 11:44 am

    If anything the song is proving to be polarizing. I’ve yet to see, “it’s okay” in any review.
    I fall on the side of loving it. Much like Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails, this is a daring departure from what’s expected of the artist.
    People need to open their minds a bit. I would venture to guess if you heard the song, and didn’t know who was singing it, you’d think it was a good effort. “Too cool” music reviewers can’t bear to give it a chance because it’s got “Oak Ridge Boys” stamped on it. (How very un-punk rock)
    I’ve been an alt rock fan going back to the 80’s, and this is what alternative music is all about: stepping out of comfort zones, and delivering the unexpected. In this case it’s done with creativity, strong musicianship, and even stronger vocals. The reviewer needs to get over herself.

  14. Juli
    May 30, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    I’m hardly a music snob or anti-Oak Ridge (that one dude’s warlock beard alone is worthy of commendation), and while I do think that it’s nifty that the ORB are expanding their musical boundaries–I am a fan of their tried and true gospel stuff, but so many of their other recent songs like “It’s Hard to Be Cool in a Minivan” are lame and bad showcases of their vocal talent–this song just isn’t enjoyable once the novelty value of a White Stripes cover wears off.

    I think “Seven Nation Army” is a gimmicky cover despite its skilled harmonies, and it’s also one of the weaker tracks on this newest record. Their version of Neil Young’s “Beautiful Bluebird” is a much better cover, and the Ethan Johns/Ray LaMontagne-penned song “Hold You in My Arms” is an excellent listen. (However, their cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” is horrendous and makes “7NA” seem a lot better in comparison).

  15. Kandi
    August 26, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    I saw them on Fox and Friends summer Concert on tv and when they started the song I knew the song and it was quite good. I have the orginal to the song and I like both Versions of the song. Even my mom liked the song and she asked me who did the song and I said The White Stripes and the name of the song and she never ever heard of them the white stripes.

  16. DORFER
    September 28, 2009 at 4:32 am

    Just saw the Boys Are Back tour in Oklahoma on Friday and they were fantastic (for being the age they are)….that is until I recognized the Seven Nation Army song! It was done, of course, in Oakridge Boys style, which made it hard to recognize at first (except for the glaring song banner blasting the song name on the back wall of the set).

    I love the White Stripes’ original 2003 version b/c of its oddities and cool, laid-over tracks making it sound a little metal, a little punk, and a little rock ‘n roll (and also b/c I just love Jack White!). However, the Oakridge Boys’ version was more like country meets gospel and that was just unnerving for me!! (although I don’t think the mostly geriatric 60-80 yr old crowd even noticed that this was a cover song?) I’m 52 and that just rankled my rock-n-roll sensibilities to hear such a great Stripes’ tune sung like it was a church testimonial. Some concert goers were even speculating if “Seven Nation Army” had some bible/gospel connotation to it?

    Don’t get me wrong though, overall the Oakridge Boys put on a hell of a show except for this one faux pas. I’d go see them again, but I might slip them a note to ixnay the Seven Nation Army rendition from their set.

  17. Grace Whorton
    June 1, 2010 at 11:26 am

    I am not going to apologize for the fact that I like this song; by the Oak Ridge Boys, not White Stripes. I am 58 and maybe that is the difference. I think you have it all wrong….they are not trying to cater to the younger group of people, maybe they are singing what they know their fans would like to hear?

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