When Bob Dylan was asked by a reporter who his favorite songwriter was, he replied “Jimmy Buffett I guess.” The interviewer, probably stunned, followed up that question with the inquiry what Jimmy Buffett songs were his favorites; Dylan answered with two: “Death of an Unpopular Poet” and “He Went to Paris”. [Full interview here]
That’s right, folks — Bob f*%kin’ Dylan is a huge Jimmy Buffett fan. So what excuse do you have not to listen to him?
There are two kinds of Jimmy Buffett fans out there: the kind that only admire his post-’80s releases, getting drunk at every concert, the cheap beer helping to sing along to all his country hits and/or popular singles… or the Buffett fan that acknowledges he has been making music since the late 60’s and his underground early releases are damn incredible, but hey, some of his recent stuff isn’t too bad either.
I consider myself the latter type of Buffett fan. To me, Jimmy Buffett is one of the most talented, soul-touching songwriters to ever exist. Or at least he was pre-1980’s. Let’s dive into the sea of Buffett releases of the ’70s, shall we?
9 PERFECT JIMMY BUFFETT RELEASES IN THOSE FIRST 10 YEARS. NINE.
1. Down to Earth – 1970
This is the album that changed my life. (Well, this and The Who’s Tommy). Let me explain. Growing up I was only exposed to the same classic rock hits played time and time again on the radio… or whichever Greatest Hits album my dad decided to play that morning en route to Sunday church. One of those early mornings however, rock-only dad surprised us all by popping in the CD player Meet Me In Margaritaville — a Buffett Greatest Hits. My mind imploded. What was I hearing? This was a musical blend previously unbeknownst to me, and I was immediately intrigued. Was this country? Folk? Rock? IDK.
Upon rushing back home from church that day, I decided to delve into this uncharted music frontier from the magic of the Internet. Yes, that’s right, thankfully Internet was already in full-swing my late youth. Deciding to download from one of those sketchy file sharing sites, I downloaded his entire discography up to that point and started listening. Naturally, I began with his first release Down to Earth.
Hot damn; Jimmy Buffett is a folk god! With the very opening track “The Christian” Buffett was already speaking into my world, singing similar thoughts that I had always kept to myself:
“It’s a hell of a time to be thinking about heaven
Didn’t you forget the golden rule
You’ve been acting like Jesus owes you a favor
But he’s a little smart for you to foolYou were right there when the plate was passed last Sunday
That’s the second time you’ve been to church all year
Could you really call yourself a Christian
If charity cost half as much as beer”
Every track on Down to Earth is a folk-y godsend, riddled with simplistic acoustic guitar and percussion, the main focus point being Buffett’s angel-like voice and remarkably personable lyrics. For example “The Captain and the Kid” made me cry the first time I heard it. It tells the true story of his grandfather teaching him how to sail as a child, and the aftermath of his passing. When Buffett first tried to release the song, the record executive told him to take out the part of The Captain dying, Buffett refused because “in the real world he did.”
2. High Cumberland Jubilee – 1971 (released in ’76)
Referred to as Buffett’s “lost album,” High Cumberland Jubilee is an extension of the same folk magic found on his debut, with a little more fun to be had. Tracks like “Travelin’ Clean” and “The Hangout Gang” are exquisite little tunes combining his excellent songwriting into his blooming song crafting style that really show his unique flare.
“Livingston’s Gone to Texas” is a highly relatable track — in typical Buffett story-telling fashion, it shares a tale of what it feels like to miss an opportunity in life, to be chasing that one thing you so desperately long for. The song shows up on Living and Dying in 3/4 Time with cleaner production styling, both versions are great.
3. A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean – 1973
Here we go, lovelies: this is the first major release of Jimmy Buffett and is essentially what jump-started his massively successful beach bum/rock star/country-whatever career. Also the first time us Parrotheads would be introduced to his one-and-only backing band, The Coral Reefers. (The list of Coral Reefer Band members throughout the years is even longer than drummers for Spinal Tap, so sadly I won’t be listing them).
Featuring the two Bob Dylan-honored tracks as well as the concert fan favorite “Why Don’t We Get Drunk,” A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean is the breakthrough album that held a major stylistic change beginning his “gulf and western” genre tagline. So much instrumental flavor is sprinkled in here: steel guitars, maracas, synthesizer, congas, harmonica, piano… even beer cans were used. The Coral Reefer Band would never stop delivering unique mojo flavoring following this release either, becoming an indomitable entity entirely of their own.
Opening track “Great Filling Station Holdup” is a country-western song written from the newspaper article Buffett saw detailing two robbers caught buying beer in a honky tonk with the money they stole from previously holding up a gas station. With this and Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy,” more musicians clearly need to take note and start reading the newspaper for inspiration!
4. Living and Dying in 3/4 Time -1974
Right off the bat, Living and Dying in 3/4 Time makes the Parrothead in me smile. Just look at that album cover?! Aside from the humor of the album art, what lies inside is even more comical. The tracks on here mark another landmark in Buffett’s songwriting holding the message: life is short, so why not laugh a little?
For example with opener “Pencil Thin Mustache,” in which he states his wish to have a ‘Boston Blackie.’ Because, why not?
Living and Dying in 3/4 Time is a meta album in a lot of ways as well, telling of Buffett’s own music career.
In “Come Monday” he says in a cafard manner “I guess I was never meant for glitter rock ‘n’ roll”. Indicating he at least initially wanted to be a rock musician. In “Saxophones” this is mentioned again only pointing out his folk direction: “Tho I love rock and roll the acoustic guitar was the only way I had of becoming a star”. Perhaps most convincing of the meta-ness is track “Brand New Country Star.” Buffett not only calls out his genre defying music, but sings about a man being systematically groomed by his record label and how the music changes… “he can either go country or pop”. Jimmy you sly dawg.
5. A1A – 1974
A1A IS THE QUINTESSENTIAL BUFFETT ALBUM.
Jimmy Buffett up till this point was still experimenting with his ‘Caribbean drunken rock ‘n’ roll’. Not only does he bring some of the strongest pieces of songwriting onto AIA, but he ultimately peaks in nautical perfection.
“A Pirate Looks At Forty” is the best Jimmy Buffett song ever recorded. Let’s just admit it. It embodies everything he is whilst simultaneously managing to hit on one of all of our greatest fears: becoming obsolete. It never fails to give me goosebumps either, sometimes tears. Bob Dylan covered this song in concert once with Joan Baez (AGAIN DYLAN WORSHIPS HIM, YOU SHOULD TOO).
“Nautical Wheelers” references his previous album in the lyrics and is also one of the many tracks on AIA to show Bufffett’s philosophy on living: take ease, eat, drink and be merry. Sound familar? Well it may be no coincidence Buffett shares a birthday with Jesus…
“Where the jukebox is blastin’ and the liquor is flowin’
An occasional bottle of wine
That’s ’cause everyone here is just more than contented
To be livin’ and dyin’ in three-quarter time”
6. Havana Daydreamin’ – 1976
Buffett was well into his groove by Havana Daydreamin‘s release, and the result is one of his most fun and interesting albums. It also has a strange background, as it is rumored there are copies of the record to exist holding tracks never released elsewhere, such as “Please Take Your Drunken 15 Year Old Girlfriend Home” and “Train to Dixieland.” Regardless of whether or not these claims are true, the finished product is swell enough not to need the hidden tracks. However, on second thought… while I agree on the exclusion of “Train to Dixieland,” the other track is worthy of more fame:
Havana Daydreamin‘ made the #21 spot on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. Country. If that is the case why can’t all country music be this cool?
Highlights on here include “Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street” (cover of Steve Goodman’s), title-track “Havana Daydreamin'” and the ever so sweet ballad “Something So Feminine About A Mandolin.” The rest of the tracks are mostly comical and jovial, not holding the heavier sentiments found in the aforementioned songs. Oddly not many of the songs on Havana Daydreamin‘ are performed often live —and that is a damn shame.
7. Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes – 1977
For many Parrotheads, this is the best Buffett release of all. It certainly is his most successful release, being the best-selling album of his entire career. It also contains his biggest single “Margaritaville” which still haunts every radio station conceivable daily. There are the usual gulf-western sounds on Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes but with one major stylistic diversion — the loss of former producer of his past major albums, the Key-West inspired Don Gant.
Every track on here is a gem however, new producer Norbert Putnam sailing the record in the same direction the album name suggests. String arrangements on the title-track as well as the extremely mousy, vulnerable “Biloxi” (written by Jesse Winchester) are well worth admiring.
“Wonder Why We Ever Go Home” is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, the lyrics are so relatable your heart aches from listening to it.
“Years grow shorter, not longer,
the more you’ve been on your own.
Feelin’s for movin’ grow stronger’
so you wonder why you ever go home,
wonder why you ever go home.
People are movin’ so quickly.
Humor’s in need of repair.
Same occupations and same obligations,
they’ve really got nothing to share,
like drivin’ around with no spare.
River gets deeper not shallow,
the further you move down the stream.
Wonderin’ if I can keep her as I
race to keep up with my dreams.
How they shine and glitter and gleam”
8. Son of a Son of a Sailor -1978
Again touching on his ocean sailing beginnings reminiscent of “Captain and The Kid”, Buffett sings about his life and how he views himself: the son of a son of a sailor. Summing up the title track and his very existence, the lyrics Buffett croons could not be more accurate: “The sea’s in my veins, my tradition remains”.
In my opinion, “Cowboy In the Jungle” should play on the radio as much as “Margaritaville.” In the same thought vein as “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” it runs on the theme of feeling lost, feeling out of place. We have to learn to roll with life’s many punches and to trust our intuitions if we are going to make it through with a smile.
Another major success to go platinum, Son of a Son of a Sailor proved Jimmy was showing no signs of slowing down. To every Parrothead’s delight it produced another fan favorite and single, “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
So grab a big kosher pickle and a cold draught, because this album is just as pleasurable as that ice cold beer you should be drinking.
I guess it’s true, all good things must come to an end. The last of Buffett’s best, Volcano was the end of an era for his career. After this 1979 release, Buffett’s music would never sound exactly the same as it did in his golden years of the 1970’s.
“Fins,” “Boat Drinks” and “Volcano” are the true beauties here. The rest of the album is a sad foreshadowing of Buffett’s forthcoming ’80s releases (dear God how most of them suck). Regardless of the fact this is a mediocre album, it is still one of a kind. There is a certain calypso flare to Volcano Parrothead’s would not hear again until some time later in his career. It is the ultimate symbolism of what sounds he would be leaving behind as well as what new direction he would be steering his (musician)ship.
All in all, Buffett released more great music in one decade than most musicians achieve in a lifetime. Yet, this doesn’t mean the rest of his discography is not worth checking out!
Other Jimmy Buffett releases to have in your collection:
Last Mango in Paradise- 1985. The best of his releases this decade. Fairly solid, a few hits and the hilarious “Gypsies in the Palace”.
Christmas Island -1996. Who can hear “Mele Kalikimaka” without picturing Cousin Eddie diving off that diving board whilst chugging a beer? (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation).
License to Chill – 2004. An honestly solid country record that proves his ability to be ALL country with a nautical twist. Some great guest vocals here too.
Buried Treasure Vol. 1 – 2017. Demos discovered in a closet at a past recording studio, these are previously unreleased tracks before his first album Down to Earth. Downright perfection in its simplicity; an unknown guy with a blond pornstache just making music to be making music. Cannot wait for more volumes!
In the end, who wouldn’t worship a guy who created extremely successful businesses out of two of his hit songs?! “Cheeseburger In Paradise” grew into a hip burger joint (with excellent fried pickles, btw) and “Margaritaville” became a restaurant chain and a retail outlet. Lest not forget he has his own island lager, Landshark. INCREDIBLE, I TELL YOU.
Feature Image Credit: https://apolloxi.deviantart.com/art/Jimmy-Buffett-25045793
Avid reader. Mushroom hunter. Gamer. Vinyl spinner. BA in Religious Studies.