KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Compilation Or Catalog? – JIMMY BUFFETT

[A brief explanation of my Compilation Or Catalog? series: Although I tend to be a completist, owning everything an artist has released, occasionally the only album I own is a compilation. This can often be a stepping-stone to exploring more of their work, but sometimes a “Best Of” or “Greatest Hits” is the only thing I’ve heard. With this series I ask my readers to let me know if the compilation I have is sufficient or if there are specific albums I should check out. Normally I revisit the entire recorded output of a particular artist over numerous posts, which is the main purpose of this blog, but this gives me an opportunity to learn more about some lesser-known & less-explored artists in my collection]

 

Jimmy Buffett - Songs You Know By HeartJimmy Buffett might be the most successful one-hit-wonder artist in the history of recorded music. I’m not disparaging him by using that term, since he cleverly named his original best-of compilation Songs You Know By Heart – Jimmy Buffett’s Greatest Hit(s) (1985). Although he’s a successful businessman, author and concert attraction, he’ll always be best known for the ubiquitous 1977 hit, “Margaritaville.” Having heard the song countless times during my high school & college years and at every bar throughout young adulthood & beyond, I didn’t think I ever needed to hear it again. Sure, it’s a catchy song that immediately evokes the feeling of guzzling tropical drinks at a beach resort, but after drunkenly singing it with friends throughout my early 20s I felt like I had exhausted my interest in the song. I bought Songs You Know By Heart on CD in the late-‘80s so I could check out the rest of his “best,” yet it’s probably been sitting on the shelf for more than 20 years since the last time I gave it a spin. Last week I heard “Margaritaville” on the radio while I was shaving and found myself enthusiastically singing along (thankfully without any nicks or cuts), so it seemed like the perfect time to revisit this compilation and see how it holds up. I’ve played it a number of times since then and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. There are several songs that capture a similar laid-back tropical island vibe to his most popular number, but a lot of the songs made much more of an impact on me than I had expected.

“He Went To Paris” is a folky, early-‘70s singer-songwriter tune that could be Kris Kristofferson with a smooth voice. Steel guitar gives it a country twang, and the melancholy music & lyrics (about an old man looking back on a life where “some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way”) could work in a number of Jimmy Buffett - Songs You Know By Heart (CD Cover)genres. “Son Of A Son Of A Sailor” has a similar feel with more melancholy lyrics, and the various sound effects and lyrical content display the nautical theme that runs through much of his music. “A Pirate Looks At Forty” is a country-tinged ballad with hints of James Taylor’s soft-rock style. I like the way the music slowly builds while maintaining a subdued atmosphere that perfectly suits the lyrics about a sailing man who wishes he had lived in pirate times. Fans of the upbeat yet laid-back style of his biggest hit are probably drawn to “Cheeseburger In Paradise” and “Fins.” The former has funny lyrics about his love for “a big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat…that American creation on which I feed.” I especially like the percussion/handclap section (“I like mine with lettuce & tomato…”). The latter has cute lyrics equating sharks with men circling a single woman at a bar. The rockin’ harmonica solo would’ve fit nicely on an early Huey Lewis record.

“Come Monday” is one of my new favorites: a country-ish ballad with sweet strings & steel guitar. The melody at “I spent four lonely days in a brown LA haze & I just want you back by my side” is gorgeous, as is the bridge (“I can’t help it honey you’re that much a part of me now”). This could’ve been a hit for Glen Campbell during his commercial peak. “Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes” is another fun, peppy song, displaying a humor through life’s ups & downs (“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane”). The country shuffle of “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” (“and screw”) is a blast if you’re drunk at a bar or seeing Jimmy Buffett in concert, but its appeal is limited on record after the first couple of listens…even though the musicianship is fantastic. “Pencil Thin Mustache” is a super catchy little tune that sounds like a cross between Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” and Leon Redbone.

“Grapefruit – Juicy Fruit” shows a bluesy/jazzy side of Buffett’s personality that I hadn’t expected, especially at “And oh it gets so damn lonely when you’re on a plane alone.” The Jimmy Buffett Photo (mid-70s)music really swings in the instrumental section. The last two songs here, “Boat Drinks” and “Volcano,” are a blast even if they’re minor when compared to the other 11 songs. The former has a Caribbean vibe blended with a melody that recalls The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” while the latter’s calypso feel and goofy, sing-along arrangement could pass for a kids’ song.

All of the songs on this compilation come from six of the seven albums he released between 1973 & 1979. The ones that had the biggest impact on me were mostly from the earlier records, but there was plenty of enjoyable music from the latter records as well. Looking at his discography is a bit intimidating, as he has released more than two dozen studio albums and another dozen live recordings. I’m not sure I’ll ever be a “Parrot Head” (the affectionate description used to describe his most ardent fans), but I’m sure there are plenty of other Jimmy Buffett songs I would enjoy. This is where I’m asking my readers to Jimmy Buffett - Boats Beaches Bars & Balladshelp me out. Are there any particular albums that are essential/definitive? If not, which are the strongest that I can use as a starting point? Perhaps the 4-CD box set from 1992, Boats Beaches Bars & Ballads, would be a sufficient summary of his career for me? Based on some reviews I’ve read, it’s a well-chosen collection that covers all of his best material, broken down into the four themes described in the album title. I’m sure there are fans who think everything he’s released is great, while others probably think Songs You Know By Heart is more than enough. Whatever your level of interest or knowledge of his catalog may be, I’d love to hear from you so I can decide what my next Jimmy Buffet purchase should be. I’m eager to hear your thoughts on the 13 songs discussed here, and I look forward to your feedback on the rest of his catalog. Thank you.

UPDATE, DECEMBER 14, 2013: Since I posted this “Compilation Or Catalog?” entry in April, many passionate Jimmy Buffett fans have chimed in with recommendations on how to further explore his catalog. A handful of people were content with the single-disc Songs You Know By Heart CD that I’ve owned since the ‘80s, but most agreed that the 4-CD Boats Beaches Bars & Ballads box set would be the next logical purchase. Fortunately it was available for a very reasonable price, and I ordered it along with his 2-CD live album from 1978, You Had To Be There, which was suggested by a few people. I also found a copy of Living And Dying In ¾ Time on vinyl during a recent record shopping excursion. The box set covers a broad range of his work through 1989, and the live CD showcases a wonderful (and highly underrated) performer/storyteller with a top-notch band of musicians. I’ve listened to both of these sets twice and already consider myself a bigger fan. If I come across some of his earlier albums on vinyl I will probably pick them up, but for now I’m content with my small Jimmy Buffett collection. Of course, that leaves him somewhere between Compilation and Catalog, but it’s clear to me now that his single-CD Greatest Hit(s) merely scratched the surface and I’m glad I finally checked out more of his work. Thanks to everyone who shared their recommendations, especially those who confirmed that the box set was the perfect next step for me.

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36 comments on “Compilation Or Catalog? – JIMMY BUFFETT

  1. Ivan Goldberg
    April 9, 2013

    Catalogue because of all the wonderful stories this gifted singer / songwriter has given us.

    Like

    • Thanks, Ivan. Can you narrow it down to certain albums I should check out first? Or do you think every record is a keeper? Also, based on the track listing of the box set, do you think that will expose me to his best work without having to check out 25 or more albums?

      Like

  2. Greg
    April 9, 2013

    Greatest hits – I love Jimmy Buffet, but his tropical songs are very similar in nature, catalog would be a waste of time. Saw Jimmy at Tampa Stadium once opening for the Eagles – Jimmy put on an excellent show, the Eagles were so bad we all decided to leave early that day.

    Like

    • Thanks for the feedback, Greg. I’ve heard from a few people on Facebook who think his early albums may be worth exploring, but if I can find the box set for a reasonable price that may be my best option. I agree that his tropical songs are pretty similar, at least based on the few that appear on the Greatest Hits CD I own, but those other folk/country/singer-songwriter tunes each had something unique about them.

      What year was that Buffett/Eagles concert? It’s hard to imagine The Eagles being so bad that you would leave, but I’ve heard that their 1980 tour, when they broke up, was hit-and-miss depending on the show.

      Like

  3. waynelaw
    April 10, 2013

    I am not a parrot head but I have this 3 disk greatest hits record that is pretty good. Live versions of pirate looks at forty and son of a sailor that seem to gain new life with an audience…I think I need to catch one of his shows sometime.

    Like

    • I really appreciate the feedback. I’ll look into the 3-disc compilation and compare it with the box set. If I’m going to get a multi-disc set I might want to opt for the box since it’ll most likely have more packaging & liner notes (and I just love a good box set). I still might want to check out some of his individual albums, at least the early ones. His concerts must be a blast. I never thoughts I’d be interested, but after listening to this single-disc compilation so much I’m starting to realize how good he is.

      Like

  4. Dale Masker
    April 12, 2013

    It’s all good….A1A is an outstanding album and the box set gets most of the best….

    Like

    • Thanks, Dale. Based on feedback here and elsewhere, I decided to get the box set as well as the 2-CD live “You Had To Be There” album (originally from 1978). I think that should suffice for a while, and if I find myself really enjoying those releases I might seek out some individual albums in the future. Considering that two weeks ago I hadn’t played the Greatest Hits CD in many years, it’s amazing how quickly I’ve decided to delve further into his back catalog. I also need to see him in concert.

      I appreciate your input.
      Best…
      Rich

      Like

  5. Maureen
    April 12, 2013

    Meet me in Margaritaville is worth the listen. It’s part of my road trip CDs.

    Like

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Maureen. That’s the 2-CD compilation, right? I wonder if I’ll need it after getting the box set (which I just ordered today) along with the 1978 live album. I’m looking forward to exploring more of his music on those two collections, and I need to get to a Buffett concert one of these days.

      I appreciate your input. Enjoy the weekend.
      Rich

      Like

  6. daniellesussingham
    May 27, 2013

    Jimmy Buffet was my first concert at Jones Beach when I was 8, I grew up listening to all his music, have all his albums on vinyl and to this day there is nothing like sitting on the beach relaxing to his music. I’m happy you gave other songs by him a chance because in my opinion he has a lot of hits!

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    • Hi Danielle. Nice to hear from you. Ironically, I was just listening to the Jimmy Buffett live album, You Had To Be There, on my way to work this morning. The responses I got from this post were extremely helpful, as I went from only owning the single disc Songs You Know By Heart to now having the live CD and the 4-CD box set. My next goal is to see Buffett in concert, and eventually exploring some more of his discography. I doubt I’ll ever be a completist with his music, but I do want to hear more of it.

      Best wishes,
      Rich

      Like

  7. John
    August 20, 2013

    Jimmy Buffett is an artist I am really conflicted about. Growing up in the 70’s he was one of my favorite artists for most of my High School Years (I graduated in 1979) and in college. Somewhere in the 80’s I gradually lost interest, around the same time that his popularity (and business empire) grew. To me, he sort of reached the point where he is making product to satisfy his “parrotheads” as opposed to making music. I can’t make myself listen to any of his newer stuff…

    Having said that, I still listen to the old ABC/Dunhill records. They are pretty much all good, each one has a number of good songs, and some filler. I really believe he hit his stride with “Changes in Lattitudes, Changes in Attitudes” album. I love that record. Its probably on my desert island disc list. I would wholeheartedly recommend it. “Son of a Son of a Sailor” is good too, but there’s some definite filler there. But I’d really get “Changes” in addition to the Box Set (which I think is the best compilation).

    Like

    • Thanks for the feedback, John. We obviously had different exposure to Buffett’s music over the years, and your insight is greatly appreciated. I’m so glad I got the 4-CD box set, which I’ve listened to a couple of times already. I also got a copy of “Living And Dying In 3/4 Time” on LP that I just played two nights ago, as well as the “You Had To Be There” 2-CD live set. I haven’t been terribly interested in his recent material, but based on my favorite tracks so far I think I would like most of his early albums. I’ll keep looking for used LPs, and “Changes In Latitudes…” will be at the top of my wish list thanks to your comment.

      Cheers!
      Rich

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  10. GE
    February 19, 2014

    Hey Kamertunes – just realized I have a WHOLE bunch of Buffett albums (11 plus the “Songs You Know by Heart – Greatest Hit(s),” and the “Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads” box set. I have really come to appreciate him as I got older… Jimmy’s an average singer, mediocre guitarist but fantastic entertainer, great sense of humor & superb story teller – – and smart enough to surround himself with great musicians who he must treat fairly well, cause they seem to stick with him for years and years!

    All the 70’s albums are a good mix of country/folk/tropical/”Gulf & Western” – as is has come to be called.. I think the 80’s albums blow – but check out Buffett’s 90’s albums: “Fruitcakes,” “Barometer Soup,” and “Banana Wind” & “Beach House on the Moon.”

    There’s some great tunes on there & nice orchestrations on those, w/horn section, beefed up latin percussion, etc…

    Like

    • My good friend GE. Thanks for stopping by & sharing your insights into Jimmy Buffett’s music. That’s actually really helpful. So far I’m very happy with the 4-CD box set, the ’70s live album and the Living And Dying in 3/4 Time LP I got last year, but I know that at some point I’ll probably want to expand my collection of his music and it’s good to know that some of his ’90s releases are worth getting.

      Your comments about his musical abilities and how he surrounds himself with great players is so true. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I also never heard the term “Gulf & Western,” which I really like.

      My goal now is to see him in concert one of these days, sooner than later since he’s not a spring chicken anymore. Everything I’ve read about his live performances makes me think it would be an amazing way to spend an evening. Have you ever seen him live?

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      • GE
        February 19, 2014

        Never did see Jimmy – let’s do it! Before we turn 60… ha ha – – and Jimmy would be close to 80!

        I am currently reading his book, “A Pirate Looks at Fifty” (a play on the title of one of his songs “A Pirate looks at Forty”) – which is fitting, since I too am soon going to “look at fifty.” It is a neat autobiography he wrote some years back, describing lots of fishing, boating, seaplane adventures & some music stuff here and there – at least, I hope… mostly fishing and flying so far!

        My son got it for me when the local library had a “all the books you can grab in one bag for 5 bucks” sale – as they do sometimes to weed out their collection. I guess Jimmy’s book was not a popular “withdrawal” and they wanted to dump it… kinda like the library’s version of the “cut out” bin for records or CD’s – d’oh!

        I read it here & there in odd momemnts: when waiting for the kids – pickup from play rehearsal, jazz ensemble practice, ski club trips, piano/drum lessons, etc…

        Email or call me when you have a chance, dude.

        Like

      • Sounds like it would be a fun read. I wish I had more reading time. I’ve been working my way through the Keith Richards autobiography for nearly 2 years, and I’m barely halfway through. I do read lots of music magazines regularly, which keeps me informed about what’s out there, but book reading is another story.

        I keep planning on calling but then work or something else gets in the way. It will happen soon…and I’ll be there to celebrate as “A Gig Man Looks At 50.” Haha.

        Like

  11. GE
    February 19, 2014

    ..oh – and I forgot to mention that the great drummer Russ Kunkel (of Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt fame…) produced a number of Jimmy’s albums in the 90’s!

    Nice clean mixes, really well done – the drums are nice and wooden, earthy, punchy when needed.

    Like

  12. GE
    February 19, 2014

    Ha – Gig Man looks at 50…

    I read the Don Felder autobiography in the fall and also went to see him in October – was great!

    Finally got the Eagles documentary on DVD for Christmas, fantastic. Also got a book about The Eagles called, “The Eagles – An American Band” by Andrew Vaughan –
    http://www.amazon.com/The-Eagles-An-American-Band/dp/B0058M528A

    …which is really cool – great stories & tons of cool pictures.

    Like

    • You’ve read a lot more music books than I have, at least in recent years. That Eagles documentary was great. It doesn’t paint Henley & Frey in the best light, but I don’t think they give a crap. They have everything they care about: money, money & more money. And Henley still has that one-of-a-kind voice.

      Like

      • GE
        February 19, 2014

        Yah – Henley does have that incredible “smokey” voice…

        But Felder’s book REALLY paints Henley & Frey out to be mean a**holes & control freaks. But the documentary paints Felder to be a bit of a whiner who should’ve just been happy to be along for the ride. The truth is probably that both sides are right!

        Felder sang at his show in Morristown, NJ this past October – and sounded great… he did Hotel California, Life in the Fast Lane, Victim of Love and other “Henley” tunes – as well as “New Kid in Town” and other songs Frey would sing. He only did a few of his own solo tunes & a couple covers – the rest were Eagles songs & the crowd loved it, of course!

        In fact, Felder sounds almost identical to Henley only not as powerful and not quite as “smoky” – – which is probl’y why Henley and Frey didn’t want Felder to sing in The Eagles – he was like a “Don Henley Lite” that they just didn’t need.

        But in any other band, Felder could definitely have been the lead singer.

        Like

      • I have one Felder album from the early ’80s called Airborne. I remember liking his voice and of course the guitar playing was great, but it was partially done in by that ’80s production. You’re right that the true story about his departure from The Eagles is somewhere between his version and theirs. Even though those guys are a-holes, he was stubborn & should have accepted that the majority of people only care about henley & Frey when it comes to the band. He would’ve made a ton of money if he stayed with them, which was the approach Joe Walsh took (and he was in a position to negotiate for more since he’s also a successful solo artist).

        Like

  13. GE
    February 19, 2014

    True ‘dat –
    According to the Eagles documentary, Joe Walsh would have probably drunk himself to death or OD’ed on cocaine if not for the Eagles reuniting in the 90’s, that was what got him clean and sober and realizing that he needed to stay that way.

    Like

    • I know you have a connection to Joe Walsh based on the phone conversation you had with him all those years ago. Such a cool story. How did we get from Jimmy Buffet to The Eagles & Joe Walsh? Not that it matters. It’s all good music.

      Like

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  15. James Hollingsworthoctopussy
    February 15, 2017

    In my experience of Jimmy Buffet, I am not sure there is one single album to get but I do know there is much better stuff than the sometimes annoying tracks from the singles collection that bring back happy but adolescent memories of under-aged drinking around a campfire in the woods. He is so much more than that and is musically much under-rated. If I was to just take one album of his to a desert island though, it would be ‘Banana Wind’. However, whenever I pack my bags for some Florida sunshine, I take my two cd compilation that I made from itunes downloads and the CDs I own. I think it is the perfect slice of Caribbean Americana without a single bad or annoying tune on it. I will post the track list when I have a moment.

    Like

    • Hi James. Thanks for the feedback on Jimmy Buffett. After writing this post and receiving some excellent responses, I ended up buying a few of his albums on vinyl as well as a 2-CD live set from the ’70s and the 4-CD career-spanning box set. I never thought I would own…and love…that much Jimmy Buffett when all I knew were the couple of songs that have gotten radio play, but now I know those tunes only scratched the surface of what makes him great. I still need to see him in concert. Let me know if you find the track list for your compilation. I’ll be curious to see how many of those songs are now in my collection.

      Like

      • Ivan Goldberg
        February 16, 2017

        I am a big fan so for me it is the entire catalogue. Just my two cents worth.

        Like

      • Thanks, Ivan. I had no idea you were such a big fan. I can see myself picking up some more of his ’70s & early ’80s albums if I find them at the right price, but I’m not sure I’ll ever go full catalog with him. There must be some clunkers in there, right?

        Like

      • Ivan Goldberg
        February 16, 2017

        His later catalogue is what I would call Lazy in that he just kept doing his formula. Once a “Parrot Head” sort of deal.

        Like

      • Good to know. I figured that was the case. I really need to see him in concert while he’s still out there. I’ve heard his shows are always a blast.

        Like

      • jcbradleyjr
        February 16, 2017

        Jimmy Buffett has fallen further out of favor for me than just about any artist I can think of (off the top of my head). I was a HUGE fan of his in the 70’s while in High School. A friend of mine loaned me the White Sports Coat LP and I was immediately hooked. He was really an “under the radar” artist at that time and there really weren’t a lot of people into him (I’d heard Door Number 3 and Come Monday on the radio but they had not registered with me). Of course with Changes in Latitude and the single Margaritaville all that changed and suddenly he was a “thing.” That is probably my favorite of his records and any “top ten” list of records I compiled would probably have that in it. I absolutely love that album.

        From that point on it was sort of diminishing returns thing for me. I continued to go see his shows, and continued to buy his records, but every record I liked less and less. I guess One Particular Harbor was the last record I bought other than the box set. I agree that he sort of got pinned into his formula and “lifestyle” songs – sort of pandering to his audience.

        I still love all of the records – up through One Particular Harbor. The box set is an excellent career retrospective of his career that I liked the best.

        Like

      • I can see how your opinion about him would be affected by the law of diminishing returns since you were a fan going way back to before the “big hit.” I’ve had similar situations with several artists. I always remain loyal and hold out hope that another gem is on the way, but usually that’s not the case. As long as the decline doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the music you already love.

        Like

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