Jimmy Buffett. Yes, I hear the collective groans out there. Patience, class.
Almost 40 years ago Jimmy Buffett caught lightning in a bottle with the song Margaritaville. (Yeah, it’s been 38 years. Trust me, I feel your pain.) Buffett was able to parlay that one song into an empire: annual sold out concert tours, a string of incredibly popular Margaritaville Cafes, Bars, merchandise, bestselling novels and an autobiography, A Pirate Looks at Fifty, that went to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. It was almost like the universe was making up to Buffett for having to share his birthday with Christmas, his having been born on December, 25, 1946.
Born in Pascagoula, Mississippi, Buffett recorded his first album in Nashville in 1970. With the untimely death of his friend and mentor, Jim Croce, in 1973, Buffett was tapped by their recording label, ABC Dunhill, to fill Croce’s place. The following year the song Come Monday, off Buffett’s Living and Dying in ¾ Time album, reached number 30 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. In 1977, Buffett’s seventh album was released, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes. That summer, the song Margaritaville off that album was coming out of every radio.
Buffett caught the imagination of college students in the seventies. With his story songs about life next to the ocean, and winking references to alcohol, marijuana, sex, and the occasional profanity in his lyrics, Buffett soon became a favorite of the second wave of baby boomers born in the 1950’s. His popularity on the college club circuit soon metamorphosed into sold out concert venues. Today his concerts are as popular as ever, as are those songs from the seventies that allow the now 50 somethings to reconnect with their college years. But like Buffett’s long missing hair, nothing lasts forever. If his final, farewell concert tour hasn’t been penciled in yet, it’s surely sitting out there just over the horizon.
But forgotten today, and largely lost among Buffett’s rowdy party songs are some beautifully softer, more sensitive songs. One of the most lovely of these is the song Coast of Marseilles. Appearing on the album Son of a Son of a Sailor in 1978 (and co-written by Keith Sykes), from it’s opening with waves against the shore, to the haunting harmonica that underscores the almost physically painful lyrics, it is one of most poignant songs of lost love that I’ve ever heard. Here is Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band, and the song Coast of Marseilles: