Loved beyond the majority of “Parrothead” for the plush, tropical island vibe of 1977’s “Margaritaville,” Jimmy Buffett’s music and lyrics had an eternally lonely, laissez-faire literary eclipse. Yes, there was a ready-made escapist sense of humor in his witty sharp expressions, tinged with the smell of hash and the taste of Mezcal. However, just beneath her hazy clouds and drunken romance lay the heart of a contemplative, highly countercultural short story writer. Think of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, “Hills Like White Elephants” topped with a cocktail umbrella and a long, country musical or sinsemilla accompanied by a song, and there you are.
Here are Jimmy Buffett’s ten most memorable musical moments that aren’t “Margaritaville”:
Buffett’s debut on Andy Williams’ Barnaby Records label may not be his favorite record, or the one that sold a lot of copies when it first came out. But with songs like “Truckstop Salvation” and “Captain America,” Buffett’s sense of the Nashvillian tune really blossomed on “A Mile High in Denver.” Buffett’s soon-to-be-signature song “Mile High” offers hilarious shifts in familiar tropes, combining restless character-driven lyrics and warm, stony monologues with his vision of the frost-covered bare trees of the Colorado mountain range.
Taken from “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean” (a silly, complex riff from Marty Robbins’ “Pink Carnation”) and recorded at Tompall Glaser’s studio in Nashville, Buffett features Coral Reefer Band’s Greg “Fingers” Taylor and Michael Utley’s flexing pedal steel choices poetically write about the struggles of a man who settles into a life “some magical, some tragic.”
A tickling electric piano and flamboyant strings give way to one of Buffett’s sweetest tunes, leading to a simple acceptance of the self with clumsy romantic lyrics like “I get my Hush Puppies on ‘ roll / And honey, I didn’t know I was going to miss you this much. This track, produced by Don Gant, became Buffett’s top 40 hit single.
The greatest Tom Waits song Jimmy Buffett has ever written begins with “He’s got a ballpark figure / He’s got a ballpoint pen / They travel for weeks at a time / They write descriptions of where they’ve been” and continues its way into film noir theology.
Produced by bassist and string arranger Norbert Putnam, the sound of Buffett’s 1977 album “Margaritaville” was diamond-clear and warm, with a distinct percussive vibrancy to match the singer’s rhythmic tones. Yet what makes songs like “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” hum (rather than portraying not-so-good friends) is the development of a cheerful, cold, and eternally drunken character for himself. Here, a friendly Buffett “meets a friend with a bottle of rum” and doesn’t leave the bottle or the road until the end of the album. Then the next album. And next.
The fluid nature of time, fatherhood and music meet in one place. This is one of Buffett’s most elegant and simple pieces of prose and melody.
While 1979’s “Volcano” may seem like it was stretching the seams of his drunkard, giddy, and self-professed messy personality, “Survive,” co-written by Buffett and longtime Coral Reefer Mike Utley, is a heartbreakingly emotional ballad. He tells his usual subjects (smoking, banter, long-distance romances, frenzied crowds) with his usual sense of humor, but adds another poignant element to the mix: seriousness. It works so well you wish Buffett had tried naked intimacy more often.
“One Particular Harbor,” co-produced by Buffett (a first) and co-written by Bobby Holcomb, takes the singer-writer’s tropes of the island to another, more energetic and anthem-like level; something that has definitely not been left behind.
Co-written with popular ’80s songwriter Will Jennings and Eagles’ Glenn Frey (who also sang vocals on the track), Buffett tells the story of two sneaky beer-making entrepreneurs (one named “Snake”) – cluttering a rock star’s house on the go, but returning home. to see them leave in better condition than when they returned. With a humorous take on the “Cheeseburger in Paradise” style, Buffett brought emotional excitement to his “Gypsies”, giving a lively tonic to his usual cold melody.
Writing a Broadway musical should have been a very simple task for Buffett; especially for based the 1994 film “Don’t Stop the Carnival” on war novelist Herman Wouk’s 1965 book of the same name and hired Wouk to write it. . After the famous bombing during a preview run in Miami in 1997, Buffett turned the show into an album in 1998 and took the reality-focused augmented lyrics to new heights on dashing tracks like “A Thousand Steps to Nowhere.” If this lively picturesque song by Buffett is any indication, the Broadway producers should immediately seek a revival.
For a friendly guy, Buffett was often an island when it came to his famous playmates. So, aside from the previously mentioned Glenn Frey co-writing, Buffett of recent times hooked up with R&B vocalist and composer Bill Withers for this decidedly politically incorrect piece woven by an upbeat Cujunto arrangement and bold beats. Curious indeed, but Buffett’s desire for various collaborations this late in the game is remarkable.
By the time of his 30th studio album, “Life on the Flip Side,” Buffett had not given up on the ghost of poetically-directed good times and silly, intermittent reflections. With co-author Mac McAnally, Buffett embraces the beyond with the need for “cats have nine lives and a lot of time to play”, “cosmic hours” ticking and ticking and “catching one last cheap thrill… sing karaoke and sip some roses”. before they’re all gone. Bravo.
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