Today is my 50th birthday. I’m writing this in advance, though, so just in case I died before this automatically posted, well, today would have been my 50th birthday. But let’s assume I’m still here. It just makes me feel better.
Because it’s my 50th birthday, you can bet I’m at the beach. It won’t be a crowded beach, and I’ll be socially distancing just as I have my previous 49 years of going to the beach. There are margaritas flowing, something on the grill, and tropical music — especially a lot of tunes from Jimmy Buffett, who has provided a lot of the soundtrack to my life’s story. He doesn’t know he has provided the soundtrack, which is a good thing because I’m pretty sure I can’t afford his going rate.
In the run-up to this moment, for the past 50 days I’ve posted one of my (current) favorite 50 Buffett songs not named “Margaritaville” on my Facebook page. I’ll be listening to some today, no doubt. Granted, this list changes from time to time, but this is fairly accurate for now. Why is “Margaritaville” not listed? Well, that song is just a given, and I don’t think I would be introducing it to anyone for the first time.
So, here is the 50-song list with a little note from me about each one: (Click the song title to hear it.)
Stranded on a Sandbar: I think we’ve all felt stranded on a sandbar now and then — for better or for worse.
My Lovely Lady: A simple song from his very early Key West days, still sounding quite country like his failed Nashville days.
Schoolboy Heart: There’s a lot of me in this song … without the license to fly.
Migration: Another Key West classic with some name-dropping of his local buddies.
I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever: A light and breezy song from his meandering late-1980s stylings.
Life Is Just a Tire Swing: Jimmy sings about growing up in Mississippi and the simple things in life.
We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About: Yep, we grew up just as they feared … though we’re probably not as bad as they think.
In The Shelter: Early on, Jimmy aimed to be a folk singer in the tradition of Gordon Lightfoot. This is an example of that style.
Manana: “Hangin’ out in a marina when Steve Martin calls, singin’ anybody there really wanna get small?” Well, ain’t that a slice of the late 1970s.
Changes in Lattitudes, Changes in Attitudes: Definitely one of the classics and an easy one to sing along to and play on the guitar for us strummers.
Havana Daydreamin’: It couldn’t really be a Buffett list without a smuggling song now could it?.
Love and Luck: This is from Jimmy’s 4-CD box set and I’ll let him explain from his liner notes: “Zouk” is a popular form of music from the French Antilles, the kind that makes you dance without knowing what the singer is saying. Since the songs are in patois French, this helps. I once received a request for permission to write new lyrics to the melody of Margaritaville by a very famous European singer and thought it was great and was interested to hear their interpretation. Well this is the melody to a song called “kole Sere,” written by my friend Joecely Beroard, the lead singer for a great Zouk band named Kaasav. The lyrics are mine and I hope that they like the way I interpret their music. This was the first song ever recorded at Shrimp Boat Sound in Key West, and Steve Winwood is the guest organist. I thank him for taking time out from his fishing trip.
Floridays: Jimmy’s music was rather eclectic in the 1980s, but this song is probably most typical of that decade’s good stuff.
Lone Palm: Does anything really conjure up the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle more than a palm tree? OK, maybe a frozen margarita.
A Pirate Looks at Forty: This classic ballad off the “definitive” A1A album is one of many people’s favorites, and it’s one of my go-to strumming songs.
La Vie Dansante: Translation — The Dancing Life.
Volcano: Well, here’s a standard you’ve probably heard. It was written about the volcano under whose shadow Jimmy and the Coral Reefers recorded this album on Montserrat. There’s nothing quite like hearing it in a Margaritaville restaurant and having a giant volcano actually “erupt” at the end.
Pencil-Thin Mustache: A nostalgic little tune from the early days.
Quietly Making Noise: The first two words of this song? “Oscar Wilde.” Well, now you know this is going to be a little different.
Distantly in Love: A very simple song with a minimalist approach. A lot of his songs, especially over the past 25 years would be better with a less-is-more approach like this one from the early 1980s.
Smart Woman in a Real Short Skirt: Everybody wants a smart woman, right?
Blue Guitar: This was actually a song his guitarist Peter Mayer wrote, recorded, and often performed when the Coral Reefers did some pre-concert mini-shows. Buffett kept hearing the catchy hook of this one and decided to record it himself with Mayer of course still on guitar.
Changing Channels: Just a great laid-back, reflective song. This one won’t get the party started.
Landfall: The line in this rocking song of “If I had it all to do over again, I’d just get myself drunk and I’d jump right back in,” is classic 1970s Buffett.
No Plane on Sunday: There could be worse things than being stuck on an island and waiting for folks to fix plane, I guess.
One Particular Harbor: Years ago a bunch of us newspaper folks went to downtown Columbus to catch a dueling pianos gig, and I requested on a slip of paper: “The most obscure Jimmy Buffett song you know.” They actually seemed intrigued by the challenge, and this is what they came up with. It’s not exactly obscure to Parrotheads, but I’m sure they get tired of folks requesting “Piano Man” and “Tiny Dancer.”
Lady I Can’t Explain: Just a simple short song off the “Volcano” album. Great harmonica work from Fingers Taylor, the first Coral Reefer, on here.
Banana Republics: This beautiful song was penned by legendary songwriter Steve Goodman, one of Buffett’s buddies.
Come Monday: In the video linked in the title of this great song, Jimmy actually introduces this clip as “One of my 2.4 hits.” The video shows a very not wealthy early Jimmy in the early 1970s with his pickup truck and young girlfriend, who is now his wife, Jane. It’s worth a watch.
Barometer Soup: This is the title track from probably Buffett’s best album of the 1990s.
The Weather Is Here, I Wish You Were Beautiful: This is a sentiment a lot of folks can relate to — escaping the grind of work life for a little stay on the island, and then deciding to make it permanent.
Grapefruit Juicy Fruit: This is one of better songs of his “debut” album. Of course, he had released two folk albums before this, but this marked the beginning of his Key West sound. The line “take it Reefers” was for the instrumental part played by his studio mates — also known as the Coral Reefers, his imaginary band with names like Marvin Gardens and Al Vacado. A few years later, though, there would be a real team of Coral Reefers forever more.
Take Another Road: This album marked the end of Buffett’s 1980s sound which was a little bit of everything. During the second Gulf War, the Ledger-Enquirer embedded one of our reporters with the 3rd Infantry’s 3rd Brigade out of Fort Benning, and we sent him off with a “mix CD” of sorts. “Take Another Road” was my contribution, as he was certainly doing that. He didn’t come back the same.
Wonder Why We Ever Go Home: A poignant song off the same album that spawned “Margaritaville,” this ballad features some of Fingers Taylor’s brilliant harmonica skills. He was an original Coral Reefer and played with Buffett until 2000, when he left because he thought the gig had become too corporate compared to their early days together. He’s now retired and suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease.
He Went to Paris: This one is a classic off that first Key West album. I saw Jimmy in concert shortly after Waylon Jennings died, and he performed this solo acoustic in one of his encores because Waylon not only told him how much he liked the song but also recorded it himself.
Nautical Wheelers: Off what most consider the “definitive” Buffett album, this is just a little slice of Key West life in the early 1970s about a square dance troupe that partied it up every weekend.
The Captain and the Kid: This is a song Jimmy penned during his early days as a struggling songwriter in Nashville. A producer wanted to use it but told Jimmy he needed to change the ending of the song about his grandfather. In typical tempestuous fashion, Buffett cussed the guy out, stormed out and swore (at the time) he’d never write a song for anybody else ever again.
Death of an Unpopular Poet: Another off the first Key West album, but this is definitely Jimmy the folk singer and not Buffett the tropical troubadour.
Coconut Telegraph: This title track is just a fun little ditty about how news travels fast — especially on the island.
I Have Found Me a Home: This is from his first Key West album and is all about finally feeling at home somewhere.
Boat Drinks: “Boat Drinks” is all about cabin fever and needing to get away, something I think a lot of folks can now relate to after “shelter in place” orders.
King of Somewhere Hot: Here’s a breezy song about finding your own little “personal utopia.” Everybody needs a little place where they “can hide away” and preferable a little place that’s not cold.
Mexico: This is a remake of the James Taylor classic, and Taylor actually provides backup vocals on Buffett’s version. This song was the last track on the “Barometer Soup” album, and it’s last few verses reference all the preceding songs — so they don’t make any sense to anyone unfamiliar with the album. Parrotheads get it, though.
My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Don’t Love Jesus: I was 49 years old when I found out some barely known quartet called The Oak Ridge Boys provided the gospel-esque backing vocals to this decidedly un-gospel song. Most folks at some point have been able to relate to the final line “If I don’t die by Thursday, I’ll be roarin’ Friday night.” This also marks the beginning of my last week of being 49.
Tryin’ to Reason with Hurricane Season: This is classic Buffett and one of his best songs. It’s off the “definitive” A1A album. Note, Kenny Chesney does a great version of this song in a duet with Buffett that you can hear at this link.
Son of a Son of a Sailor: This is a song I strum on guitar and my main go-to when singing lullabies to my son, Saylor (of course), 20 years ago. It’s definitely not a typical lullaby, but now my grandsons hear it every now and then, too.
Tin Cup Chalice: Another great song off the “definitive” album and one of my go-to songs when I pick up the guitar and pretend I know how to play it.
Creola: This might be my wife Shellie’s favorite Buffett song, although she’s not quite the Parrothead that I am. It doesn’t get much breezier and lighter than this tune reflecting on the “Creola” that’s been in his blood since childhood.
Cowboy in the Jungle: I’m not even sure why I like it so much. Maybe it’s the verse: “I don’t wanna live on that kind of island/I don’t wanna swim in a roped-off sea/It’s too much for me/Too much for me/I’ve gotta be where the wind and the water are free.” Or maybe “Spinnin’ around in circles/Livin’ it day to day/And still 24 hours or maybe 60 good years/It’s really not that long a stay.”
Pacing the Cage: And I wrap it up with “Pacing the Cage,” a song that isn’t even written by Buffett, but by Bruce Cockburn, and from one of Buffett’s most lackluster albums, “Beach House on the Moon.” I think I want this played at my memorial service … at least before the luau-style fun celebration of life begins. I can’t let the whole thing be fun and games. This song is brutally sad to me for some reason, especially the lines “Sometimes you feel like you live too long/The days drip slowly on the page/And you catch yourself/Pacing the cage.”
Thanks for enduring my self-indulgent Parrothedonism.