The legendary Jimmy Buffett passed away earlier this month, and we still can't belive it. While on earth, Buffett didn't just create several hit songs - he also fashioned a laid-back lifestyle that his Parrot Head fans adopted. Jimmy Buffett tracks are sunny stress-relievers, for sure!
Buffett was born on Christmas Day, 1946 in Pascagoula, Mississippi. He was raised in the port town of Mobile, Alabama. He eventually moved to Key West, Florida, where he found his unique musical style. Mixing country with Caribbean sounds, he had enough material to fill 32 studio albums. During his lifetime, Buffett was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, won two Country Music Association awards during his career, and was nominated twice for Grammy Awards. He was also a savvy businessman and created restaurants, casinos, retirement communities, bestselling books, a resort in Times Square, and a Broadway musical all inspired by his music career.
In honor of Buffett's life and legacy, we're sharing our Top 10 favorite songs from the tropical troubadour. We've only included Jimmy ORIGINALS; songs where he's been featured as a guest artist have been excluded. (Sorry to "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" fans.) Grab a cheeseburger, your lost shaker of salt, and a drink or two as you cruise down the list!
We love how this lava-flowy song sounds similar to the Creole/New Orleans bop "Iko Iko". The happy-go-lucky "Volcano" is the title track from Jimmy's 1979 studio effort. It was written by Buffett, Keith Sykes, and Harry Dailey and reached #66 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as peaking at #43 on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart.
This calypso/reggae-inspired song came to be because of Buffett's travels. In a song note on BuffetWorld, Jimmy explained: "One of the wildest times I’ve ever had in my career was an expedition to the Caribbean Island of Montserrat to record an album. The events which took place could fill a book, and one day they just might. The whole time we were there, the volcano above the studio seemed to be waiting for us to do it justice. One day Keith Sykes came into our house strumming his little Martin, singing the chorus. I took it from there, and the gods of the volcano appeared to be satisfied."
9. "Boat Drinks"
The atmosphere Jimmy lays down in "Boat Drinks" is an atmosphere we would like to be a part of. Another track from Volcano, this song is about going stir crazy from sitting inside during the winter months. Jimmy dreams of boys in the band ordering boat drinks.
Things we love about this song? The Star Trek reference ("Could you beam me somewhere, Mr. Scott?"), as well as the lyrics, "Oh, I know I should be leaving this climate / I got a verse but can't rhyme it." Like, did Jimmy intentionally make that joke, or was he really stumped on words that rhyme with "climate"? Either way, we love it. Oh, and we also love the way he shouts "WARM!" in the outro. It's like a wake-up call for the folks who aren't paying attention.
8. "Son of a Son of a Sailor"
Coming from the 1978 album of the same name, "Son of a Son of a Sailor" is a laid-back tune about the benefits of adventure on the sea. It was produced with the help of Norbert Putnam and has been hailed as a fan favorite. It didn't become a concert staple until the 2005 Salty Piece of Land tour.
There's not much to say about this song, so we'll give you a little fun fact: Buffett and the Coral Reefers chose to play "Son of a Son of a Sailor" during their only appearance on Saturday Night Live. Actor Richard Dreyfuss hosted the show on May 13, 1978. During the performance, Buffett's leg was broken. So he sat on a chair, while his leg cast rested on a boat.
7. "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes"
Are people naturally friendlier in warmer climates, or do we just perceive life in a better way when we're away from home? That's the big question Jimmy asks in "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes". This song is chock full of expert rhyming and wordplay. For example, the opening line, "I took off for a weekend last month / Just to try and recall the whole year" includes three markers of time. (Weeks lead to months, which lead to years.) Additionally, the instrumental introduction resembles the chorus of "Yellow Bird": a 19th-century Haitian song which gained popularity in the U.S. through a Hawaiian-flavored instrumental by the Arthur Lyman group in 1961.
"Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes" is also the title and opening track of Jimmy's 1977 studio album. While this song didn't climb the music charts very high because it was deemed too "country" and not "rock" or "disco" enough for the 70s (it reached #37 on the Billboard Hot 100), it has always been beloved by the Parrot Heads.
6. "A Pirate Looks at Forty"
Did you ever stop and think about your missed potential of being a seafaring pirate? Jimmy Buffett has. "A Pirate Looks at Forty" comes from the 1974 album A1A and covers topics such as aging, being born in the wrong generation, and feeling the call of a certain place in nature. (In Jimmy's case, Mother Ocean.)
This unique, bittersweet ballad feels so personal to Buffett - as if it came right out of his diary. We also adore how the lines, "And in your belly, you hold the treasures few have ever seen / Most of 'em dream, most of 'em dream" hold double entendres. The first interpretation is literal: there are treasures in the ocean that most people can only dream about, since they're deep down and cannot be reached. The second meaning is that these treasures could mostly be dreams that people discarded into the ocean. Considering the melancholy nature of Jimmy's musings, this interpretation fits in well with the rest of the song.
Take the shark horror of Jaws, spin it into a narrative about the struggles of being a woman and add an energetic melody underneath, and you've got "Fins". This respected Buffett song is another hit from Volcano and is one of Jimmy's more rock-heavy songs. He tells the tale of a woman who moves to a town by the ocean all the way from Cincinatti. She does so to escape her problems, but soon realizes that all of the "fins" circling around her (aka, men) are just causing more problems.
On Buffettworld, Jimmy revealed the story that inspired "Fins". "I was in a bar somewhere up near Daytona Beach and saw a group of guys crowded around some girls who were obviously in town for a beauty contest," he said. "I sat back and listened to their conversation and took notes. For a moment I pictured that these guys had fins coming out of their backs as they hit on the girls. It was a pure feeding frenzy, and I scribbled down pieces of their conversation and wrote the song. Now it seems the 'land shark' population has increased tremendously."
4. "Come Monday"
The big 70s hit that put Buffett on the map! Yes, "Come Monday" was the artist's first commercial success and comes from his LP Living and Dying in ¾ Time (1974). It's a romantic romp about the joys of coming home to your sweetheart. In the song's narrative, Buffett makes it clear that he's in something of a long-distance relationship with his lover, and he's finally going to be with her again soon. Come Monday, they'll reunite!
Jimmy wrote the song about his future wife while he was busy on tour. She appears in the adorable low-budget music video for the track! "Come Monday" is one of Buffett's most popular songs, and is part of "The Big 8" that he played at almost all of his shows. He would typically change the line "I just can't wait to see you again" to "It's so nice to be in...(location of show)...again".
3. "He Went to Paris"
Perhaps the best narrative song Jimmy has created - and a very underrated song in his catalogue - is "He Went to Paris". It appears on his 1973 studio album A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean. Buffett wrote the song about Eddie Balchowsky, a Spanish Civil War veteran he once met. It’s a life-story song, sung in the third person narrative.
To sum up the story: After Eddie fought in the Spanish Civil War, he relocated to Paris and relaxed there for four or five years. He then moved to England, and lost his wife, his kid, and his eye due to bombings in World War 2. Eddie then moved to the Caribbean, met Buffett, and told him his story. Although "He Went to Paris" never placed on the music charts, it's become one of Buffett's most adored songs, having appeared on several of his greatest hits compilations.
2. "Cheeseburger in Paradise"
This song makes us really hungry every time we listen to it. Another track from Son of a Son of a Sailor, "Cheeseburger in Paradise" is about craving your favorite junk food while on a diet. Maybe the plot of this song is silly, but it's definitely resonated with starving listeners. It peaked at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1978, charted for 11 total weeks, and was one of Jimmy's concert staples. Jimmy also opened a restaurant chain with the title of this song!
Buffett said this song was inspired by a long trip on his first boat. "We had run into some very rough weather crossing the Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico and broke our new bowsprit. The ice in our box had melted, and we were doing the canned food and peanut butter diet. The vision of a piping hot cheeseburger kept popping into my mind. We limped up the Sir Francis Drake Channel and into Roadtown on the island of Tortola, where a brand new marina and bar sat on the end of the dock like a mirage. We secured the boat, kissed the ground, and headed for the restaurant. To our amazement, we were offered a menu that featured an American cheeseburger and piña coladas...The overdone burgers on the burned, toasted buns tasted like manna from Heaven."
Of course, we had to put Jimmy's signature song at #1. There's truly no other song on earth with the idiosyncratic sounds and soothing vibes of "Margaritaville". With its pretty tropical rhythms and melodies mixed with a pop base, it's the best representation of Buffett's Gulf and Western musical style. "Margaritaville" became his best charting single, peaking at #8 on the pop charts in 1977.
Jimmy came up with the idea for "Margaritaville" after a day spent in Key West. He was coming home from a bar and lost one of his flip-flops, then stepped on a beer can top and couldn’t find the salt for his margarita. Producer Norbert Putnam thought it was a terrible idea...until Jimmy played the finished song in the studio. “Margaritaville” was initially a made-up location; it was symbolic for the mental state in which the singer exists during the perpetual drinking of margaritas. But after “Margaritaville” the song became a hit, Buffet launched a restaurant named after it, which soon grew into a very successful restaurant chain that still exists today.
For some, "Margaritaville" isn't just a song or a location: it's a peaceful way of life. Rest in peace, Jimmy Buffett! We hope you're nibblin' on sponge cake and strumming your six string wherever you are.
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