It’s hard to remember a time before “Seven Nation Army” was co-opted by sports crowds, its instantly recognizable melody transformed into an all-purpose stadium chant. But, 15 years ago, it was just the very good, enormously catchy lead single from The White Stripes’ fourth album, Elephant. The only drunks singing along had to do it in smaller venues, like their bedrooms and local bars.
A video from YouTube channel Middle 8 looks at how it became such a hit. Starting with the era when the song passed from its status as popular pop song into the world of legendary arena thumpers (as the video mentions, its only real peers include tracks like “We Will Rock You,” “Rock And Roll Part 2,” and “Kernkraft 400”), Middle 8 explains, as we have in the past, how the simplicity of The White Stripes in general and “Seven Nation Army” specifically are ideally adopted as crowd chants.
Most interesting is what the video identifies as the first time the song was heard during a sporting event: a Belgian soccer match in the autumn of 2003. With “Seven Nation Army” having invaded the charts, supporters of the Brugge KV club went from a bar where the track was playing to a match against Italy’s AC Milan, singing the melody all the while. Brugge KV fans soon adopted it as a celebratory chant following their team’s goals. After another Italian team, AS Roma, defeated Brugge during the 2006 UEFA Cup tournaments, it was brought to Italy and became popular there under the less evocative, but far more descriptive name, “The Po Po Po Po Song.” That year’s FIFA World Cup saw Italy triumphant—Middle 8 points out that they beat seven other nations to do so—and the melody was chanted throughout the Roman streets and into sports history as the first song played at the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Euro Cups.
Middle calls “Seven Nation Army” “the last great American folk song,” which is a good (if bold) assessment. Its grown beyond its place as an important part of early ‘00s musical pop culture and into something that anyone, even those who don’t know a Jack White from a Jack Black, can recognize.
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