Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
The #1 song in the country this week was Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville", forty-six years after its original release. This is mostly to celebrate the life of one of the legitimately "good guys" in the music industry. An occasional pot smoking, cocktail swilling dad rocker who owned several businesses and by all accounts stood behind his employees in a way that should be taught to the soulless pieces of shit who own 90% of the businesses in The United States. Look up Jimmy Buffet and Hurricane Katrina for a ton of feel good stories.
He's mostly known for his songs from the 70s and early 80s, when his tropically inspired rock was at its most marketable. But the truth is, he never stopped being an interesting songwriter, and his band only ever got better as it aged.
I imagine most people, if they were going to make a multi album discography of Buffett would either lean in to this early work or else simply do their own personal version of "Songs You Know By Heart" (hey, I did that!) and then make a second album of everything after that.
I understand that urge, and will probably make just three albums, the third being everything after 1996. This album exists because it contains the albums that came out during my high school and early college years when I was most easily influenced. I bought "Songs You Know By Heart" in high school because I had several friends, some coworkers from Cape Cod, some school friends from around the world, who loved him and exposed me to his most popular songs. I think that whole album was on the jukebox in my high school snack bar/performance venue. Then, a coworker took me to one of Buffett's live shows, and then I went to college in Florida. So this is the era I most listened to Buffett and am, thus more knowledgeable about it than any other point in his career. And I loved these albums. So please accept this as my "Songs I Know By Heart And Wish More People Knew All The Lyrics To."
1. After getting into Buffett mainly through the Songs You Know By Heart album, I hesitantly bought the first album released after I "discovered" him, Fruitcakes. Everybody's Got A Cousin In Miami is the delightful first song on the album that convinced me I was going to like his new work as much as his classics. It was bright and silly and made me wish I was drinking a virgin cocktail (I was underage.) It's kind of the perfect "Oh, did you know his career continued after his Greatest Hits album?" opening track.
2. The title track for this imaginary album isn't one that's stuck with me over the years. The lyrics are a little stupider than I usually like (I mean, what do you expect from a song called Mental Floss?) but they're refreshingly common man for someone who was incredibly wealthy by the time he wrote them. The harmonica playing off the steel drums is such an unusual combination that it adds a complexity that the song doesn't lyrically warrant.
3. Ballad Of Skip Wiley was made to sound famliar. The baseball stadium organ playing, the 1970s stage musical background vocals and riffs, the vocalist speaking over the bridge rather than singing. Surely, you've heard this song before, even if you don't know any of the words. This song is based on a novel from the 1960s about a reporter who loves his home state of Florida so much that he goes to extremes to protect its honor. I may have to track that book down.
4. I didn't include any of the songs from Buffett's Christmas Island album because I'm just not a fan of holiday music 360 days of the year. But I'm sure Buffett's take on December holiday songs are at least different from most rock or pop stars'. This isn't a December Holiday song, though. This is Buffett reminding you that you need to take some time off from work, and you should probably do it somewhere warm near an ocean. This might be the earliest reference Buffett makes to The Internet, which he suggests you take a break from. Musically, it's middle of the road Buffett, not a ton of creativity but the trumpet solo leading into the steel drum solo is a refreshing breeze of nostalgic air.
5. The early 20th century symphonic swell at the start of this song quickly quiets down to just guitar plucking, piano twinkling, and steel drums for Blue Heaven Rendez-Vous, which certainly has "My Blue Heaven" vibes, which I've been a proponent of ever since I fell in love with the same titled Steve Martin/Rick Moranis/Joan Cusack film that probably hasn't aged very well. This is just a simple mid-late twentieth century lounge number that could be found in any mediocre 80s or 90s romantic drama ... or a restaurant scene in a Muppets movie. I would love to hear Rowlf cover this.
6. Some soft drumbeats and guitars climb into this tropical soft rock declaration that Buffett never wants to be too famous so he's been Quietly Making Noise to achieve the level of fame he's most comfortable with. It's a sweet country fair sing-along style track.
7. The next track is a meditation on the importance of Buffett's songwriting, which makes it a good follow-up to "Quietly Making Noise." It also has some lyrics that remind you that no matter how wealthy and white Buffett and his followers tend to be, his politics are surprisingly liberal, if often absent from his work. Here he muses Are we destined to be ruled by a bunch of old white men/Who compare the world to football and are programmed to defend? Only Time Will Tell.
8. Fruitcakes is the longest track on this album, just a shade longer than the opening track. It's one of his songs referencing his book Where Is Joe Merchant?, specifically the rocket scientist, Desdemona. This is a delightfully silly song bemoaning political, religious, romantic, and scientific excess. It's also a powerful revolutionary song demanding the return of Junior Mints to theaters.
9. If there's a Whiter, Soft Rockier concept than Jimmy Buffett covering a James Taylor song, I haven't heard it. I was unfamiliar with the original until I heard this version. It's a daydream about life would be like in Mexico as imagined/written/sung by someone who's never been there, but would like to. It's then infused with a bunch of references to Buffett songs and stories.
10. I remember hearing the story of how Jimmy Buffett, Bono, and Bono's family were in a plane in Jamaica that was shot at by police who suspected it was a drug-running plane. Jamaica Mistaica is Buffett's processing of the event from his perspective with a chorus from the perspective of the apologietic Jamaican police begging them to come back/come back/come back to Jamaica, promising that the next time they fly there they won't shoot (them) outta the sky.
11. The Night I Painted The Sky is a piano ballad about being a kid and watching a Fourth of July fireworks display. Super simple, and sweet. With a harmonica solo.
12. Lage Nom Ai is a song I loved from the first time I heard the Barometer Soup album, but whose name I could never remember. The title is an integral part of the chorus, and is from the French Caribbean Patois, meaning "the man who gave up his own name", which the song reminds the listener repeatedly.
13. Shortly after Buffett's passing, I saw a couple of his videos where his daughter, Delaney, interviews him about some of his lesser-known songs. The first video I clicked on was him reminiscing about Delaney's childhood where he specifically talks about how she chase(d) cats through Roman ruins/stomps on big toadstools, and about a party where Delaney Talks To Statues and otherwise behaves like an endearingly weird child. It's like a slightly less saccharine version of Billy Joel's "Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel)."
14. The second cover on the album is a steel drum version of The Grateful Dead's Uncle John's Band. It's to his credit that I like this song, as I'm not a big fan of The Grateful Dead's music. But this is a direct, lyric-centric cover of one of the jam band's most famous songs.
15. The 90s were the decade of The Hidden Track at the end of the CD. Treetop Flyer is Buffett's hidden track from Banana Wind. It's a Stephen Sills solo track (I didn't know Stills had solo albums until I did a deep dive on this track) from his debut album. It's slightly more country rock than Buffett usually leans but the lyrics about flying low to not get caught certainly harkens back to "Jamaica Mistaica," which was on the same album.
16. Lone Palms sounds like it would be more at home on Songs You Know By Heart. It's a smooth ballad about tropical living. It doesn't stretch Buffett's 70s/80s sensibilities. Even the lyrics seem more like his stoic 20s & 30s then the material he was writing in the 90s.
17. We close out the album with one of Buffett's favorite tropes from the era, writing about missing his childhood, discovering your heart/again and again. Jimmy Dreams is also a sweet memorial to him with just the right touch of steel drums.