Why “Outfit” May Be the Greatest Song Ever Written

Trucker week rolls on...

I wasn't the first to consider the greatness of "Outfit". I exchanged emails with Ben a few weeks ago and he made the "greatest song ever written" comment. (Ben is a friend from college and bass player for Atlanta-based honky-tonk outfit National Grain. I highly recommend their latest record.)

After careful deliberation, I'm happy to declare that "Outfit" is indeed (one of) the greatest song(s) ever written.

Jason Isbell wrote "Outfit" for "Decoration Day", which is arguably the Truckers' best overall record. You can hear a brief snippet of the song at Amazon.com. I recommend that you just buy the entire record from iTunes.

His thoughts on the song from the DBT site:

"This one focuses on the advice I got growing up, mostly from my father. We recorded the song just before Father's Day and I gave Dad a copy as a present.
I'm really fond of Cooley's psycho solo and Patterson's guitar harmonies toward the end."

A few selected lyrics from the song:

Well, I used to go out in a Mustang, a 302 Mach One in green.
Me and your Mama made you in the back and I sold it to buy her a ring.

Don’t call what your wearing an outfit. Don’t ever say your car is broke.
Don’t worry about losing your accent, a Southern Man tells better jokes.
Have fun but stay clear of the needle. Call home on your sister’s birthday.
Don’t tell them you’re bigger than Jesus, don’t give it away.

Six months in a St. Florian foundry, they call it Industrial Park.
Then hospital maintenance and Tech School just to memorize Frigidaire parts.
But I got to missing your Mama and I got to missing you too.
So I went back to painting for my old man and I guess that’s what I’ll always do

So don’t try to change who you are boy, and don’t try to be who you ain’t.
And don’t let me catch you in Kendale with a bucket of wealthy-man’s paint.

So why is it great? Because it is dripping with authenticity. The father-to-son dynamic has certainly been done before. However, I can't think of another instance in which a singer expresses "don't make the same mistakes I did" so eloquently in song. Rich details - the Mustang model, tech school classes, and painting in Kendale - color the song and add to the sense of reality. Did Jason's father utter these exact words? I, for one, do not doubt it.

Furthermore, the song is universal. Everybody gets this kind of advice from their father, mother, mentor, etc., particularly in the South. Everybody knows the story of the unplanned pregnancy that derails one's life plans, for better or worse. "Outfit" encapsulates everything that is true and beautiful in American South. Parents struggling to make a better life for their children, praise for the blue collar man, calling home, Jesus - its all in there!

Musically, aside from the great vocals and guitar work, there really is not a lot of complexity. Straight I, IV, V, vi chords and straight melody and harmony. In my opinion, the simplicity serves the song. The lyrics and the singer are front and center and both stand on their own.

Also - the song is easy to strum and easy to sing. Just ask my wife...