Some might consider it hubris that the Drive-By Truckers, who have never had a “hit” by industry standards, are putting out Ugly Buildings, Whores, and Politicians, a collection of the band’s most popular songs from the era spanning from Gangstabilly to The Fine Print, a 2009 b-side collection. Their fans know better. The songs contained on the disc are less a standard hits compilation than a condensed introduction to a band that has undergone continuous evolution since its beginnings. And when a band has released a dozen albums and received contributions from four principle songwriters, there is room to discuss any collection deemed to be representative. When DBT compiled Ugly Buildings, Whores, and Politicians, certain songs simply needed to be included: “The Living Bubba,” “Let There Be Rock,” “Zip City,” and “Outfit,” for example. These may represent the Truckers’ Rushmore, but this is not a What I Like About You & Other Hits situation.
To correct the amount of material that was excluded, Prefix has compiled a list of b-sides to the tracks that were included that could easily have made this record or serve as an unofficial Volume Two. The Eagles have done more than one greatest hits album, and nobody even likes them.
Track One: “The Living Bubba”
B-Side: “18 Wheels of Love”
Patterson Hood has often referred to “The Living Bubba,” about the life and death of the Diggers’ Gregory Dean Smalley, as the best song that he’s ever written. “18 Wheels of Love” treads similar narrative territory, but chronicles Hood’s family and contains a little bit of apocryphal Drive-By Trucker lore. The band’s sonic evolution can be traced by listening to the original live version from Alabama Ass Whuppin’ and comparing it to the version included on Live From Austin, TX. The later version lacks the messy sonic swagger, but showcases the musicianship the Truckers developed over the years and a genuinely heartwarming update to the original song.
Track Two: “Bulldozers and Dirt”
B-Side: “Box of Spiders”
‘Bulldozers and Dirt” is a showcase for the early version of the country sound that the Truckers have returned to periodically throughout their career, and the name from the band’s 2007 Dirt Underneath tour was taken from a line in the song. “Box of Spiders” is built on a similar musical base, but substitutes the redneck in love motif, which has its merits, for a fully realized Southern gothic portrait that moves from the titular arachnids to a meditation on life and death.
Track Three: “Ronnie and Neil”
B-Side: “Life in the Factory”
“Ronnie and Neil” is a centerpiece of 2001’s Southern Rock Opera, and nicely describes, as Hood puts it elsewhere on the record, the “duality of the Southern thing.” The only problem with the song is, that like life, it has a pretty down ending for Ronnie. Better to focus on happier times for the band. “Life in the Factory” traces Skynyrd’s early years, and tells of the band’s triumphant rise from the “Hell house,” a tin-roofed shack in the swamps of Florida to the height of rock stardom. The end of the song even touches on some of the same themes as “Ronnie & Neil,” as Hood bemoans the fact that “legend overshadows the songs and the band.”
Track Four: “Zip City”
B-Side: “Women Without Whiskey”
“Zip City” is Mike Cooley’s signature tune and a great instance of the Truckers thundering through a guitar line, but there’s something to be said for his quieter moments as a songwriter. “Women Without Whiskey” is Cooley writing in a more mature voice. Instead of a peevish teenager, the voice in “Women Without Whiskey” is of a man who has lived some tough years. The song is better for it.
Track Five: “Let There Be Rock”
B-Side: “The Company I Keep”
“Let There Be Rock” is the other indispensable track from Southern Rock Opera, and Hood’s take on the rock anthem. “The Company I Keep” is written in a similar musical vein, but once again replaces the central theme of the Lynyrd Skynyrd tragedy with a shout-along chorus about being mangy, no-good barflys. And at an epic seven minutes, it gives plenty to have a fist fight or order another round before the last chorus.
Track Six: “Marry Me”
B-Side: “Ghost to Most”
One of Mike Cooley’s gifts as a song songwriter is his playful use of language. “Ghost to Most” is a showcase for this, as Cooley navigates more lyrics in four minutes than were contained on the Black-Eyed Peas last album. Deciphering the meaning is left to listener, but Cooley backs his rapid-fire delivery with a ripping guitar line. And given that “Zip City” was replaced for a quieter track, this shows a more upbeat side of his songwriting.
Track Seven: “Sink Hole”
B-Side: “The Deeper In”
Patterson Hood has always devoted a portion of his songs on any DBT album to writing about causes that are dear to his heart, mostly the disenfranchisement of the modern Southerner. “Sink Hole” is in this tradition, and juxtaposes a treatise on Southern manners and malaise with a revenge fantasy. More challenging, and ultimately more rewarding, is “The Deeper In,” where Hood takes a sympathetic look at a Michigan incest case. It’s easy to root for the farmer; that Hood can put you on the side of the couple in “The Deeper In” is something pretty special.
Track Eight: “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac”
B-Side: “Self Destructive Zones”
“Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” Mike Cooley’s love letter to Sun Records, is gold from beginning to end and gives Perkins, the forgotten member of Sam Phillips’ “million dollar quartet,” his due. “Self Destructive Zones” is written in a similar vein, but Cooley is writing about the death of hair metal, a subject that he observed first-hand. The story of a dragon attacking Muscle Shoals is worth the price of the song alone.
Track Nine: “Outfit”
This is a case of one under-appreciated song replacing another. “Outfit” was Isbell’s first great contribution to the band, but it flew under the radar as the “new guy’s song.” “Daylight” has suffered a similar fate, if only because Blessing and a Curse has suffered in comparison with the Truckers’ other records. “Daylight,” however, is the purest indicator in Isbell’s Trucker work of the musician he would eventually become on his solo recordings.
Track Ten: “The Righteous Path”
B-Side: “Do It Yourself”
“The Righteous Path” is another of Patterson Hood’s takes on the difficulty of making it in the modern South. By the time this song appeared on Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, Hood had been to the well quite a few times. “Do It Yourself,” from Decoration Day is a rawer take on the subject. While “The Righteous Path” is more easily relatable, “Do It Yourself” has a way of sticking around in a listener’s thoughts for days.
Track Eleven: “Gravity’s Gone”
B-Side: “Perfect Timing”
It seems that the louder Mike Cooley turns up his amp, the more bitter he gets. “Gravity’s Gone,” even though it was on the album that was supposed to break the band to mainstream radio, is about as bitter a three minutes as has ever been put to tape. The groove is there, but the vitriol can wear a person out, especially when it’s highly unlikely most of us listening will have to deal with the perils of success in the record business. “Perfect Timing” shows the rare sweet side of Cooley, who, even at his most wistful, engages in equal parts self-deprecation and humor.
Track Twelve: “Never Gonna Change”
B-Side: “The Day John Henry Died”
This is perhaps the most surprising exclusion on the record. “Never Gonna Change” is full of the Buford Pusser swagger of The Dirty South, but “The Day John Henry Died” is Jason Isbell’s most rocking contribution to the band’s catalog. It’s a given that the lyrics don’t make a whole lot of sense on repeated listens, but the pure energy captured in the album recording bulldozes anything minor, including coherence.
Track Thirteen: “Three Dimes Down”
B-Side: “Love Like This”
When he’s not heaping dense lyrical webs over huge guitar riffs, Mike Cooley has the soul of a romantic. Replacing the wink and nod barroom romance of “Three Dimes Down” is the knockdown, drag-out love affair of “Love Like This.” While the relationship described is about three miles south of functional, Cooley is able to tenderly remind listeners that
Track Fourteen: “Lookout Mountain”
B-Side: “Steve McQueen” (live from Alabama Ass-Whuppin’)
“Lookout Mountain” is a song that has evolved over time with the band, gives an example of Patterson Hood as the angry young man, and contains another thunderous riff. “Steve McQueen” from the Truckers early live record, is similarly loud but also hilarious (Hood casts aspersions at Alec Baldwin for starring in the remake of The Getaway), and contains a three-minute break of “Gimme Three Steps.”
Track Fifteen: “Uncle Frank”
B-Side: “One of these Days”
“Uncle Frank” is another Cooley story, this one where the titular uncle basically ends up like Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption. It’s a good tune, but loses a little bit of impact when not paired with Isbell’s “God Bless the TVA.” “One of these Days,” on the other hand, stands alone and merits inclusion for its rare glimpse into the psyche of Cooley. The world knows how Patterson feels about the early years of the band, but his partner has been more reticent. To hear his
Track Sixteen: “A World of Hurt”
B-Side: “Home Field Advantage”
Prefix loves Shonna Tucker, and this song showcases her vocal talents and songwriting skills. Though Tucker has continued to contribute to the band, and some of her strongest songs are on the Truckers’ most recent albums, “Home Field Advantage” is a real-life of version of Lurleen Lumpkin’s “Bagged Me a Homer” on The Simpsons. If that doesn’t merit inclusion on a greatest hits album, what does?
This proposed collection of b-sides wasn’t prepared scientifically, but from a fan’s point of view. If your favorite was somehow missed, include it below in the comments section.