Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The 10 Best Songs of Jimmy Buffett

Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, I never heard of Jimmy Buffett.  But when my family moved in 1988 to Cincinnati, a city that has long had a love affair with him, I was very quickly introduced to the man, the music, and the myth.

I didn't take his music very seriously at first (my musical tastes at that time were almost exclusively used up by Guns n' Roses and a few other hard rock bands), but he slowly began to grow on me, particularly after his 1990 live album, "Feeding Frenzy," became a staple on the family CD player.  

By the time I graduated from high school in 1993, I had begun buying all of his back catalogue and completed it within a year or two.  Since that time, I have counted Buffett among my very favorite artists.  

After posting a list of the 10 best hard rock songs of all time, a friend of mine - who used to hear me playing Buffett nonstop through the walls of our adjoining dorm rooms in college - jokingly said he'd like to see a list of my 10 favorite Buffett songs.  I decided to take him seriously and make it happen. What follows is the result.

It's important to note that, in making this list, I did not take into consideration how popular or widely-known a given song was.  I have simply chosen the ten songs that I think demonstrate Jimmy Buffett at his very best.  

10. Livingston Saturday Night

This song first appeared on Rancho Deluxe, which was a movie soundtrack Buffett did in 1975. He then rerecorded the song (rewriting some of the lyrics to make it a bit less raunchy) and released it on his 1978 album Son of a Son of a Sailor. I've always said this was the closest Jimmy Buffett ever came to doing southern rock - and that's also why I like the song so much.

9. Tryin' to Reason With Hurricane Season

This is one of the few well-known Buffett songs that gets anywhere near my top 10.  A classic beach bum song from his best album, A1A, this was one of my first Buffett favorites.

8. L'Air de la Louisane

As the title implies, this song is sung entirely in French.  It's not an original Buffett composition, but was instead written by a singer/songwriter named Jesse Winchester, who is, apparently one of Buffett's friends.  Buffett has covered a number of his songs, and this one is easily the best.

7. School Boy Heart

From 1997's Banana Wind, this is one of Buffett's many autobiographical songs, and it has a great chorus and lyrics that have always inspired me.

I've got a school boy heart
a novelist's eye
stout sailor's legs
and a license to fly

6. Railroad Lady

This song is from Buffett's first major label album, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, and it was later covered by Willie Nelson.  It's the only Buffett song that mentions Kentucky, but that's not why I like it.  It's a perfect example of acoustic country western music from the 1970's.

5. I Heard I Was In Town

This is a song from the mid-80's in which Buffett sings about going back to Key West after having lived there for a time in the 1970's.  As the title implies, it's an introspective look at coming back "home" after becoming famous.  This has always been the quintessential Key West song for me.

Changes have come like the storms of the season
but time here still moves slow

4. Tin Cup Chalice

One of three songs on this list from A1A, this song is quite simply the definitive beach bum song.

Give me oysters and beer
for dinner every day of the year
and I'll feel fine

3. Coast of Carolina

Easily my favorite Buffett song of the 21st century, and (obviously) one of my favorites of all time. 2004's album License to Chill wasn't a great Buffett album, but this song blew me away from practically the moment I first heard it.  In it, Buffett reminisces about his long relationship with his wife, and the lyrics have always hit home deeply with me.  If I let myself, I can actually choke up listening to this song.

From the bottom of my heart
off the coast of Carolina
after one or two false starts
I believe we've found our stride

2. Migration

This was the song that made me a Jimmy Buffett fan.  Back in the late 80's and early 1990's, I had, of course, heard all his standard hits, but when I heard this song from A1A, I realized that I really, really liked Jimmy Buffett.  Forget Margaritaville...for me, Migration is Buffett's signature song.

1. Brahma Fear

This song is sort of a dark horse winner.  It's not a widely-known Buffett song, nor is it one you hear discussed very often even among diehard Buffett fans.  He virtually never plays it in concert. It's just a plain old song buried deeply on his second album, Livin' and Dyin' in Three-Quarter Time, from 1974.  But it is, and has been for a very long time, my favorite Buffett song.  There's nothing spectacular about it, and the lyrics are typical of the kinds of songs he wrote during that era, but somehow this song just has a perfect sound, a perfect representation of acoustic, folksy, beach bum music from the 1970's that Buffett did, does, and always will do, better than anyone. In my opinion, Brahma Fear provides the best blend of all the unique elements that have made Buffett famous.  


Anonymous said...

So what's your list of favorite Jimmy Buffett albums?

Scott said...

As a general rule, I like his earlier albums better than his later ones (70's and 80's vs. 90's and 00's) but my top ten would certainly have representations from every decade. A1A would undoubtedly be #1. White Sport Coat would be up there, as would Floridays, and Weather With You. Fruitcakes is pretty strong. Changes in Latitudes. Feeding Frenzy live album.

Bottom dwellers would be Beach House on the Moon and Licence to Chill.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Louisville...a few years ahead of you and I'm surprised you didn't hear of Buffett. Maybe it was just a matter of timing.

I saw him at Bellarmine, Cardinal Stadium, the Louisville Palace and the old Armory. (All the late 70s into and 80s.)

Scott said...

It was probably first a matter of age (we moved from Louisville when I was 13), combined with a somewhat (although not completely) sheltered Southern Baptist upbringing. We did listen to "secular" music, but I simply never came across Buffett.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe that you too know that brahma fear is jimmys best song ever recorded. Beautifully written, with his first three chorus word play, you have reached enlightenment. Being a buffett fan means you get it, but knowing Brahma Fear, Wino and I know, Migration Nautical Wheelers, great filling station holdup et al means you have transcended the experience

Scott said...

Yes, I long ago grew beyond Margaritaville and Cheeseburger in Paradise. That's what most people think of when they think of Jimmy Buffett, and they don't realize the glory they are missing out on.

Unknown said...

I also enjoy Cuban Crime of Passion, Take it Back, and He Went to Paris.

Scott said...

Those are good ones too. Of course, I think they're ALL good ones. Take It Back is definitely a rare one, but not if you have his boxed set.