Arts, Music, Column

Songs from the Starboard: the Best of Jimmy Buffett

For the last week of the semester, I have chosen to deliver on the semi-promise I made last time: My Jimmy Buffett column.

Jimmy Buffett is and has always been one of my favorite singers. I remember sitting in the backseat of my dad’s truck, driving around and listening to Jimmy Buffett songs. Going to the beach, being picked up from activities, spending the day at work with him, all of the travel was set to the soundtrack of Buffett. My dad had three of the four CDs in Buffett’s compilation album, Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads. I always preferred Boats and Beaches, but there is some good stuff on Bars. Anyway, this reminds me that I should write a similar column about Hall & Oates—that was the soundtrack for car rides with my mom.

Buffett is an incredibly unique artist. He isn’t reggae or ska, but he is somehow very island-y. He certainly takes influences from those genres, as well as from calypso music with his employment of the steel drum. He isn’t country (although he started as a country singer), but I think that Buffett’s music would be the “country music” of beach towns. Growing up in Florida, Buffett was always a welcome choice for beach music, and if you ever went to a restaurant within 10 miles of the ocean, you can guarantee there would be live entertainment singing Buffett. What’s stranger is that it seems like it was always the same guy singing anywhere you went—skin tanned into leather by the sun, a few shocks of blonde and gray hair, gray fuzz masquerading as a mid-afternoon beard, an untucked short-sleeve button-down (usually floral patterned), flip-flops, and a battered old guitar. It was the best.

Anyway, Buffett has a lot of good songs and, aside from a few key placements, ordering this column was very difficult. I found myself constantly changing the order back and forth, and I’m still not really satisfied. But, here it is. Also, I’m not counting “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” because, while that is a great song, it was Alan Jackson’s song, not Buffett’s.

  1. “Margaritaville” – An amazing song. See my previous column.
  2. “Son Of A Son Of A Sailor” – This song is my second favorite (and a fan favorite) for a reason. It’s a light and airy little ballad, which Buffett excels in singing.
  3. “A Pirate Looks At Forty” – A semi-sad song from Buffett, in which he describes the way he has become enchanted with the idea of a pirate’s life, but realizes that the time of pirates has come and gone. He feels compelled to live out this life, but he can’t achieve it. Instead, he finds himself drinking his life away, trying to stay happy.
  4. “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” – In this song, Buffett proclaims a motto of relaxation and acceptance. “These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes / Nothing remains quite the same. / Through all of the islands and all of the highlands, / If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” True.
  5. “The Captain and the Kid” – This is the saddest song on this list. “The Captain and the Kid” describes a father-son relationship, in which the son would pretend that he and his father were going on adventures. His father had been a sailor, and was trying to adjust to life on the land with a family. Then, it rips your heart out with a verse. “He died about a month ago while winter filled the air / And though I cried I was so proud to love a man so rare / He’s somewhere on the ocean now that’s where he oughta be / With one hand on the starboard rail he’s wavin’ back at me.”
  6. “Havana Daydreamin’” – Another molasses sweet and slow song, Buffett coasts through the music, simply dreaming of Havana and the life on a Caribbean island.
  7. “Mañana” – In a uncharacteristically political move, Buffett calls out Anita Bryant in this song—which is a great song of its own accord. He says “And I hope Anita Bryant never does one of my songs.” Buffett is throwing shade at Bryant here, after she began a public and visible crusade against gay rights. Buffett maintains his status as a really cool guy and Bryant turns out to be an asshole.
  8. “Nautical Wheelers” – Another classic Buffett song, “Nautical Wheelers” is a smooth ballad about the wonderful life of those rich people who dance and sail around the world. If only.
  9. “Volcano” – Buffett moves back into upbeat light songs, with a repetitive chorus-heavy track.
  10. “Fins” – Buffett continues with chorus-heavy upbeat songs. Here the guitar and drums bely his influences from rock and country music of the time.
  11. “Jolly Mon Sing” – An island song through and through, Buffett recounts the tale of a happy-go-lucky singer who makes his way from one situation to the next through the use of his voice, a sound that everyone loves.
  12. “One Particular Harbour” – This song begins with lyrics in Tahitian, which were written in concert with Bobby Holcomb, a Hawaiian-born Tahitian musician. The song laments the age of the world and expresses a desire to care for nature, at the same time as Buffett romanticizes the place he hopes to arrive at when his journey is complete.

Featured Image by RCA Records

May 2, 2018

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