Listen to this track by Third Man Records exec and wailin’ R&B-oriented rock ‘n’ roll firebrand of a different stripe altogether Jack White. It’s “Lazaretto”, the eponymous track from his newest solo record, Lazaretto.
White trumpeted something of an international sensation with this track. Not only does it deliver that for which White has always been known and celebrated as a singer-songwriter and record producer who bridges the gap between the blues and rock without stigmatizing either, it was also the center of a more universal story; no less than a Guinness World Record!
A live version of “Lazaretto” was recorded, pressed, and distributed inside of a single day, in mere hours. White has very often hearkened back to a more off-the-floor and hands-on approach to putting out songs. So this back to basics approach wasn’t entirely out of character. This is a man who created the White Stripes’ most successful record (Elephant) in three days. Hey! If it was good enough for Jesus …
So, what was the story in this case? And what should be the main takeaways for us as fans, and perhaps for other artists, too?
Picture the scene. It’s Record Store Day in Nashville Tennessee, Saturday April 19, 2014. The location is White’s Third Man Records where White, or really anyone else, even Neil Young who used White’s 1947 Voice-O-Graph booth to record his new album A Letter Home, can record a live performance of material while spectators stare on. Young’s record was released on this same date in April, too. But, more was to come as far as recorded music events.
As you’re hearing it here on the studio version, it’s a monstrously riff-heavy tune punctuated by a rap-like delivery, fuzzy bassline, squalling guitar, a fiddle section that doesn’t jar but instead rocks like a mutha, and White’s trademark yelp of a singing voice that by now is like comfort food. This thing pummels us with undeniable riffage, switches musical gears like it just doesn’t care, and with each musician simply punishing their instrument to the greatest effect. So, the album version delivers the goods. But, the live version stepped it up even more, recorded before a limited audience at TMR.
A number of songs were presented during the performance. But, along with Elvis Presley’s “The Power Of My Love” as a B-side to the vinyl 45 single, it would be the live take of “Lazaretto” that would be in the spotlight for the fastest single ever recorded, pressed, and distributed to the very fans that witnessed its birth, plus a queue of others on the scene outside Third Man Records that day. The whole thing happened within the span of hours; pretty amazing. And it was all for Record Store Day, which is rightly celebrated by White, who’s brought the recording process and retail sales of the music all under one very literal and figurative roof.
Maybe it was a case of White showboating his set up. But, I think his success showed more than that. It helped to dramatically bring the recording process down to earth and into the realm of those who really drive it, and that is record-buyers and the artists who want to communicate with them. In this case the recording and distribution process itself was completely demystified to everyone in attendance. It was a stunt. But, I think it has a pretty big takeaway to offer otherwise.
The whole process demonstrated that long and drawn out hype around a record that sometimes has seen bands and record companies take decades to get music to fans (I’m looking at you, Guns N’ Roses) was always absurdly padded with unnecessary steps. Yet, a process like the one Jack White demonstrated is really the same as any other recording and distribution process. Only the timeline and the margin of error were different, along with the will to take them on. The fact is this: fans want cool records, and cool songwriters want to make them and to have fans buy and hear them. It really doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that – like rock ‘n’ roll itself.
Jack White’s new solo record Lazaretto comes out tomorrow, June 10! Find out more at the official Jack White site.
Thanks to Sony Canada for sending along a download of the new album.