No Christmas season is complete without ‘Silent Night’. The traditional Christmas carol isn’t quite as old as its biblical implications might allude, with composer Franz Gruber (not to be confused with the Die Hard villain of a similar name) in Austria during the early 1800s. That might not seem modern compared to, say, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, but it’s certainly not a traditional hymn as it would seem.
The more biblical edge came from the song’s lyrics, which were originally penned by an honest-to-god priest. Joseph Mohr was a hymn writer by trade, so when his friend Gruber invited him over one night to hear his new composition, Father Mohr was probably the best-qualified man to put lyrics to melody. Mohr composed the words to the song in just a few hours’ time, words that would be translated and echoed for centuries after he and Gruber were gone.
Almost immediately, ‘Silent Night’ became heavily associated with the Christmas season. The song itself is about the traditional birth of Christ, which makes it an appropriate carol for the holiday season. You don’t have to dig very far to find a version that fits your specific tastes, either.
Mariah Carey has a version because, of course, she does, but everyone from the King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Presley, to soul icons like Percy Sledge and The Temptations have recorded their own takes. Sinéad O’Connor, Josh Groban, and Nat King Cole all have notable versions of the track, but if your tastes lean more towards garage/punk/blues, then good news: The White Stripes recorded a version of ‘Silent Night’ as well.
Jack White has more than just a passing connection to the track’s religious origins. As the youngest of ten children, White was raised in a Catholic household, with both of his parents working for the Archdiocese of Detroit. White’s initial plan was to become a priest, but when he realised that the church wouldn’t allow him to bring his instruments with him, he baulked and decided to become an upholsterer, then a rock star, instead.
Slight Christian undercurrents could be picked up in The White Stripes’ music, even though White never preached or professed any specific affiliation. In fact, the closest that White ever came to acknowledging his religious background was recording ‘Silent Night’. In 2002, just after wrapping the sessions for Elephant, Jack and Meg White were asked to contribute a song to the Christmas compilation album Surprise Package Volume 2.
White wrote an original, ‘Candy Cane Children’, and the duo decided to put out a full Christmas single under the title Merry Christmas From… The White Stripes. On the B-side, Jack recorded a reading from the Gospel of Matthew while Meg sang an a Cappella version of ‘Silent Night’. At one point, Meg breaks when she can’t remember the words, and as the good son of a Christian that he was, Jack steps in to remind her of the verse.
Check out the reading and the version of ‘Silent Night’ down below.