Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood co-founded Drive-By Truckers in 1996, but their friendship began years before, when they were roommates at the University of North Alabama. Though distinctly different singers and songwriters, the two seemingly united with a common goal: just make unadulterated rock 'n' roll, man. And from about 2001 to 2007, Jason Isbell joined the crew with the same goal.
Since their debut record, Gangstabilly, released in 1998, the Truckers have released a total of 13 studio albums, a number of live albums and a couple of compilations, too. As you might imagine, trying to whittle down their career into a list of their best songs is impossible, but we took it upon ourselves to take a shot.
Check out our picks for the Top 10 Drive-By Truckers songs below:
This list was originally written by Chuck Armstrong and updated by Blake Ells.
"Runaway Train"From: 'It's Great To Be Alive!' (2015)
“Runaway Train” was a song originally released by Hood and Cooley’s first band Adam’s House Cat. In recent years, the band has been revived with a formal re-release of that Town Burned Down, and the band even opened for… themselves. The song title predates the rock hit by Soul Asylum by several years. In many ways, it's likely Hood and Cooley’s collaboration would have never seen nearly a dozen stages of evolution before landing on Drive-By Truckers without it.
“Thoughts and Prayers”From: 'The Unraveling' (2020)
From 2020’s The Unraveling, “Thoughts and Prayers” is a protest song about America’s gun culture. It speaks of the difficulty of describing tragedy to our children and hoping for their better future, all bundled under the notion of the familiar refrain from many politicians when mass shootings occur.
"18 Wheels of Love"From: 'Gangstabilly' (1998)
"18 Wheels of Love" is a tale inspired by Patterson Hood’s mother, who worked for a trucking company. One day, she shared her secret attraction to one of the employees with him. The track, featured on the Truckers' 1998 debut album, a song best heard live, where Hood shares the full story of their romance unscripted.
"TVA"From: 'Ugly Buildings, Whores and Politicians' (2011)
Often considered the companion piece to Cooley’s “Uncle Frank,” Isbell’s “TVA” was formally released on the b-sides compilation Ugly Buildings, Whores and Politicians in 2011. The song is about how the Tennessee Valley Authority changed life for people in North Alabama who previously hadn't had many opportunities to make a decent wage. Woven with the tales of teenagers taking their dates to the empty trails along the dam, it’s a flawless picture of life in rural Northwest Alabama.
"Zip City"From: 'Southern Rock Opera' (2001)
In the song, the narrator introduces up to “Zip City" and his 26-mile treks back and forth to visit one special woman. The song from Southern Rock Opera is about feeling bigger than your hometown, but Cooley articulates that emotion, rooted in rural America, better than most.
"Never Gonna Change"From: 'The Dirty South' (2004)
An Isbell tune from his second record with the band, “Never Gonna Change” is an anthem about headstrong Southern men, filled with references to places near the Tennessee state line that have a gothic mythology -- a nod to the album’s theme.
"Used to Be a Cop"From: 'Go Go Boots' (2011)
From the 2011 album Go Go Boots, "Used to Be a Cop" is about the guy who never left your hometown, reminiscing about the old days and trying to find ways to stay relevant.
"Women Without Whiskey"From: 'Southern Rock Opera' (2001)
Like so many Drive-By Truckers and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit songs, "Women Without Whiskey" is a song about acknowledging things that you need to improve about yourself but being unable to end a cycle.
“If I make it through this year I think I’m gonna put this bottle down / Maybe as time goes on I’ll learn to miss it less than I do now”
"Outfit"From: 'Decoration Day' (2003)
“Outfit” was written by Jason Isbell for his father, and is centered around the advice fathers give to their sons as they grow into adults.
“Don’t tell them you’re bigger than Jesus / Don’t give it away”
"Let There Be Rock"From: 'Southern Rock Opera' (2001)
Southern Rock Opera was an ambitious double album that was centered around themes and stories tied to Lynyrd Skynyrd. "Let There Be Rock" laments Hood’s inability to ever see Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert with the original lineup, but celebrates the bands that he did see.
“And I never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd but I sure saw AC/DC / With Bon Scott singing / Let There Be Rock Tour”