When musician and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett sadly died earlier this month at 76, fans around the world mourned not just his musical legacy but the ultra-chill lifestyle he represented. From the ’70s onward, the “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” singer mixed elements of country and folk music with island flavor to create Jimmy Buffett songs that became soundtracks for many a blissful summer day.
Buffett ultimately won over a devoted fanbase (affectionately known as “Parrot Heads”) who created a lively tailgate scene at his sold-out shows and actively embraced his brand. Years before musicians becoming “influencers” and dabbling in branding became trendy, Buffett was at the forefront, opening his first Margaritaville store in 1985 and creating an empire that soon included restaurants, resorts and more. He may have become more than just a musician, but his fabulously transporting songs shouldn’t be overlooked.
Here are eight of his classics (known as “The Big 8” by the Parrot Heads) to listen to while you sip a margarita.
1. “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” (1973)
While Jimmy Buffett became a musical icon, he didn’t get famous right off the bat. In fact, his 1970 debut album, Down to Earth, reportedly sold only 324 copies. A few years later, in 1973, he’d make more of an impression with his amusingly titled A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean. This album featured the novelty song “Why Don’t We Get Drunk,” a bawdy tune that Buffett originally wrote as a joke. The song proved somewhat controversial, due to its naughty lyrics, but it had major staying power, becoming an early staple of his live shows.
2. “Come Monday” (1974)
“Come Monday” was the first of the Jimmy Buffett songs to hit the Top 40. While Buffett is well-known for funny songs meant to be enjoyed while sipping a margarita (or three), he also has no shortage of lovely, country-tinged ballads. Buffett wrote the song for his soon-to-be wife, Jane Slagsvol, while he was touring in LA and she was back in Florida. Slagsvol even appeared alongside Buffett in the ultra-’70s boho music video for this sweet song, and the couple would be married from 1977 until his death.
3. “A Pirate Looks at Forty” (1974)
Like many country greats, Buffett had a knack for evocative storytelling in his lyrics. While the lyrics of “A Pirate Looks at Forty” may seem autobiographical, given Buffett’s years of indulgence and island life, this poignant song was actually written for his friend Phil Clark, a charismatic but troubled bartender he befriended in Key West. The song became one of his standards, and has been covered by artists including Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews and Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
4. “Margaritaville” (1977) Jimmy Buffett songs
“Margaritaville” is one of Jimmy Buffett’s biggest, best-known hits and the song spawned an empire dedicated to all things chill and tropical. This tune mixes upbeat, sunny instrumentation with lyrics about a slacker dedicated to drinking at a beach resort — and it’s impossible to listen to it without wanting a cold, fruity cocktail (we recommend a sweet and satisfying pineapple margarita!). From this simple premise, “Margaritaville” would become “the most valuable song of all time,” thanks to the resorts, restaurants and merchandise it inspired. Not bad for a song Buffett said he wrote in just five minutes!
5. “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” (1977)
“Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” may have lyrics about “drinkin’ all night,” but it’s a bit more philosophical than “Margaritaville,” while maintaining a similar sense of breeziness. The rollicking tune embodies Jimmy Buffett songs signature so-called “Gulf and Western” genre (a country-meets-beach blend that’s a pun on the name of the conglomerate company), while the line “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane” serves as a potent reminder to not take life too seriously.
6. “Cheeseburger in Paradise” (1978) Jimmy Buffett songs
Only Jimmy Buffett could write a song with the title “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and get away with it! While there’s been much speculation about the setting and burger that inspired this energetic song, Buffett told The New York Times that he wrote it in the island of Tortola in 1972, when he first sailed there (the man’s life truly mirrored his art!). While the song opens with a line about how he “Tried to amend my carnivorous habits,” it soon goes into detail about just how tasty a cheeseburger would be. (Want to enjoy a low-calorie take on a classic burger while you listen? Try a lettuce-wrapped burger!).
7. “Fins” (1979) Jimmy Buffett songs
Fins to the left, fins to the right! While the sea creature imagery here is classic Buffett, the song is about not sharks, but beach bums who flirt with an unsuspecting woman. In concert, Buffett would often begin the song by playing the opening notes of the score from Jaws, and the fans would instantly know what was coming and start to hold their arms above their heads in fin shapes. The song is also played at Miami Dolphins games — in 2009, Buffett even wrote a new version of it just for the team.
8. “Volcano” (1979) Jimmy Buffett songs
Like many of Buffett’s classics, “Volcano” is about living in the moment and facing hardship with a sense of humor. Over a reggae-inspired beat, he sings “I don’t know where I’m a-gonna go when the volcano blows,” sounding downright jaunty about a potentially terrifying situation. Could anyone else make a volcano sound this chill? We think not.
A margarita toast!
So there you have it — as a whole, “The Big 8” Jimmy Buffett songs are all about kicking back, drinking and finding the romance and magic in the everyday. His legendary positive vibe will be missed, but the catchy songs live on — and we’ll certainly drink a margarita to that!
Read about more of your favorite country songs here:
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