Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 46: White Stripes “Greatest Hits” Expanded Edition (2020)

The 46th set of exclusive vinyl items offered to members of Third Man Records’ Vault service was mailed out to the members in December of 2020. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (usually one full-length album and one 7” single) to its members every three months.

The 46th Vault package contained an expanded version of the White Stripes’ Greatest Hits album released in late 2020. While the regular vinyl issue of the compilation album was a double-LP set titled My Sister Thanks You And I Thank You, the Vault variation was a 3-LP set titled Aside From That And Besides This, featuring a third disc filled with bonus B-sides and rarities. The first disc was pressed in white vinyl, the second in red vinyl, and the third (the B-sides disc) in splattered red-white-and-black "detonation" vinyl.

It seems like only yesterday that Greatest Hits albums, or “Best Of” compilations, were all the rage among music buyers. In the age of CD’s (and in the earlier ages of records and cassettes), such releases were a convenient way for consumers to purchase an artist’s hit songs and essential tracks without paying for proper albums which may have been littered with “filler” tracks. But in the current age of digital downloads and playlists, listeners are now able to assemble their own compilations – if, in fact, they even care to hear or own that many tracks from one artist. So, Greatest Hits albums, as we knew them, have become something of a thing of the past, like so many other things have become in the internet age.

Of course, Jack White has always been one to help bring back things from the analog past, something that the Third Man Vault service has always been good for doing. So, the time was ripe for a “Greatest Hits” compilation from the White Stripes, the guitar-and-drums duo of Jack and Meg White (Jack’s ex-wife), ten years after their official breakup, and 13 years after the release of their final studio album Icky Thump.

The White Stripes were not known for scoring many hit singles – the title track from Icky Thump was their only U.S. Top 40 hit, which technically makes them a one-hit wonder in this country – but the 26 tracks compiled on the regular 2-LP black vinyl edition of Greatest Hits (as well as the CD and digital versions) make up an almost complete collection of the duo’s well-known alternative radio hits (“Seven Nation Army”, “Fell In Love With A Girl”, “Blue Orchid”) and other album tracks which are now considered essential (“Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, “Hello Operator”, “We’re Going To Be Friends”). As is often the case with compilations, one could argue that some excluded tracks deserved inclusion; personally, I would have included “Little Bird” as an essential White Stripes track, and “You Don’t Know What Love Is” for being an accessible radio airplay hit. On the flip side (no pun intended) of that argument, there are usually tracks that one would argue were undeserving of inclusion on a compilation album. Greatest Hits does not have any bad tracks to speak of, although “Ball and Biscuit” and “I Fought Piranhas” are two tracks that I would have left off in favor of the two I just mentioned.

One odd thing about Greatest Hits is the order of the track listing. Compilations usually either list tracks in chronological order, or front-load the artist’s best-known tracks at the beginning. Greatest Hits seems to defy both of these traditions. “Seven Nation Army” has become the duo’s best-known track over the years, but it is placed dead last on the non-Vault compilation, being the last song on the fourth side. The duo’s 1998 debut single “Let’s Shake Hands” does start the album off (albeit with an unnecessarily re-recorded lead vocal), but there is almost no sense of chronology the rest of the time. The songs don’t seem to be arranged stylistically, either; the rawer songs from the earlier Stripes recordings are sometimes placed incongruously next to more polished tunes from their later albums. On a CD or digital format, that may not matter much, since you could program the tracks in any order you like. But on the vinyl version, the track order is chosen for you, something that a modern listener may no longer be accustomed to.

Whatever its imperfections, the White Stripes’ Greatest Hits album does a satisfyingly good job of compiling worthwhile tracks from the duo’s history, and of providing a comprehensive overview of the musical ground covered during their career, and – of course – reminding the world of what a “Greatest Hits” album ought to be.

What makes the Vault version of Greatest Hits special (aside from the colored vinyl and alternate Rob Jones cover art) is the exclusive third disc, which compiles non-album B-sides from many of the duo’s singles (and, in the case of “Lafayette Blues”, a non-album A-side as well). Unlike the other two discs, this disc does present its tracks in chronological order, starting with the 1998 B-side from “Let’s Shake Hands” (a cover of Marlene Dietrich’s 1954 song “Look Me Over Closely”) and ending with “Walking With A Ghost”, a Tegan and Sara cover from a 2005 EP of the same name. Among many other cover songs that turn up on this disc, Bob Dylan’s epic “Black Jack Davey” – a B-side track from the “Seven Nation Army” CD-single – is a particular standout. The acoustic cover of Loretta Lynn’s “Rated X” – a song about divorce performed by a divorcing couple – was recorded by Brendan Benson in a hotel room in 2001, and was the B-side to a single containing a similar recording of the titular “Hotel Yorba”, which unfortunately did not make it onto this disc. Major devotees of the Stripes will recognize some tracks as covers of songs from friends of the Whites, including Brendan Benson’s power-pop tune “Good To Me”, the Greenhornes’ retro-‘60’s rocker “Shelter Of Your Arms”, Blanche’s alt-country ballad “Who’s To Say”, and the Soledad Brothers’ psych-blues ballad “St. Ides Of March”. Some of the tracks show a higher-tech side of this duo, who are usually remembered for minimalism. The “Trendy American Remix” of “You’re Pretty Good Looking” (which was the 2000 B-side of “Lord, Send Me An Angel”) adds autotune to Jack’s voice; in retrospect, the bizarre electronic opus “Who’s A Big Baby?” – a 2005 CD-single B-side to “Blue Orchid” – foreshadowed the futuristic experiments of Jack’s 2018 solo album Boarding House Reach. For those of us who dig rarities, this exclusive third disc of Aside From That And Besides This: The White Stripes Greatest Hits makes a swell compilation album in itself.

Am I going to find something to nitpick about this third disc? Sort of. One B-side that does not appear on this disc is the B-side of the “Hello Operator” single from 2000, namely the Stripes’ cover of Dolly Parton’s pleading ballad “Jolene”. Why? Because, as you may have noticed, that song is included on the second disc in this set, placed among the selection of album tracks. That goes to show what an essential White Stripes concert staple the song had become. However, this version of “Jolene” is the remixed version from Vault 6 with the echo effects, not the original mix from the 2000 single. And I, for one, prefer the more natural sound of the elusive original mix.

The bonus items in this Vault package are three silk-screen prints designed by Rob Jones, and a White Stripes-themed set of poetry magnets.

Another note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or the runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present in this package. The three-record set has “My Sister” carved in Side A, “Thanks You” carved in Side B, “And I” carved in Side C, “Thanks You” carved in Side D, “Side Til I Die” carved in Side E, and “De Meer Vak” carved in Side F.

The White Stripes “Aside From That And Besides This: The White Stripes Greatest Hits” (Third Man Records TMR-700) 2020

Track Listing:

Disc 1, Side A:

1. Let’s Shake Hands
2. The Big Three Killed My Baby
3. Fell In Love With A Girl
4. Hello Operator
5. I’m Slowly Turning Into You
6. The Hardest Button To Button
7. The Nurse

Disc 1, Side B:

1. Screwdriver
2. Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground
3. Death Letter
4. We’re Going To Be Friends
5. The Denial Twist
6. I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself
7. Astro

Disc 2, Side C:

1. Conquest
2. Jolene
3. Hotel Yorba
4. Apple Blossom
5. Blue Orchid
6. Ball And Biscuit

Disc 2, Side D:

1. I Fought Piranhas
2. I Think I Smell A Rat
3. Icky Thump
4. My Doorbell
5. You’re Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl)
6. Seven Nation Army

Disc 3, Side E:

1. Look Me Over Closely
2. Lafayette Blues
3. Red Bowling Ball Ruth
4. You’re Pretty Good Looking (Trendy American Remix)
5. Rated X (Live At Hotel Yorba)
6. Who’s To Say?
7. Good To Me

Disc 3, Side F:

1. Black Jack Davey
2. St. Ides Of March
3. Who’s A Big Baby?
4. Though I Hear You Calling, I Will Not Answer
5. Shelter Of Your Arms
6. Walking With A Ghost

Reviews of other Third Man Vault packages