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'Margaritaville:' History, Lyrics And Meaning Of The Most Lucrative Song Ever

Music | January 20, 2020

Jimmy Buffet performs on stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana on April 30, 1989. (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)

Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville:" Parrotheads know the song by heart, but even normies can hum at least a couple of lyrics to the lazy tropical anthem. It's one of the songs that cemented Jimmy Buffett as the chill king of the summer -- and all these years later, it’s THE song that everyone knows from Buffett even though he’s got a whole shrimp boat full of mellow hits like "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and "Come Monday." Jimmy Buffett, the songwriter turned pirate owes his career to "Margaritaville," a song that has roots in Florida and Texas. And thanks to the passing of the king himself, Elvis Presley, Buffet has been turning every day into a summer afternoon since the 1970s.

Margaritaville was started in Austin but finished in Florida

source: People

In the late ‘60s Jimmy Buffett was like a lot of young songwriters with stars in his eyes. He thought that the best way to get noticed was to head to Nashville. A talented singer-songwriter, Buffett signed a small recording contract but he didn’t exactly set Nashville on fire. After his initial recordings failed to chart he started playing the southern circuit and found himself in Florida.

While hanging out in Key West, he noticed a large influx of tourists in what was essentially a pirate’s cove, and the idea stuck with him. But the lyrics and melody didn’t come to Buffett until he tried a new (to him at least) drink in Austin, Texas. People have been drinking margaritas for decades, but in the early 1976 the concept of tequila, lime, and little salt was earth shattering for the singer. After downing a few margs at Lung's Cocina del Sur on Anderson Lane (sadly it’s no more) Jimmy and his band knocked out a rough sketch of the song. Back in Key West, Buffett once again found himself lamenting the touristy vibe of the area and finished writing a song he titled “Margaritaville.”

Buffett wanted to give the song to Elvis

source: nashville scene

No one in their right mind thinks that "Margaritaville" isn’t a hit. Even if you’re not a parrothead you recognize the surge endorphins that you get from the mellow melodies of this song. Buffett was regularly touring and releasing albums but he didn’t think that he had the juice to get the song to the top of the charts. In 2010 Buffett appeared on CMT Crossroads with the Zac Brown Band and revealed that the song was set to be recorded by Elvis. As cool as it would have been for The King to record one of Buffett’s songs, it wouldn’t have been the same thing. Presley passed away the year he was going to record "Margaritaville" so Buffett held onto the song and made it is.

We have a woman named Victoria to thank for Margaritaville

source: instagram

In the lyrics to "Margaritaville" there’s talk of a tattoo of a mysterious woman, and while Buffet didn’t get a black out tattoo of a strange gal he does owe his longevity to a mysterious lady. Well, maybe’s she’s not that mysterious. Victoria Reed is a longtime friend of Buffet's who was the inspiration behind the song, or rather her margaritas were the inspiration behind the song.

Buffet explained as much on Instagram in 2018 when he posted a photo of himself and Reed online with the caption: “Victoria made many of the margaritas that inspired the song.” Does inspiration earn you a percentage of a national, easy going restaurant experience?

The song was a hit but now it’s a state of mind

source: margaritaville

We’re still talking about "Margaritaville" decades after its release so it doesn’t even matter that the song went to the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks and broke the top 10 in Billboard’s Hot 100, and continued its success around the world. "Margaritaville" ended up being much more than a hit song. Former Jimmy Buffett band member Greg Taylor thinks some of the success of the song is thanks to the fact that the recording was made by guys who'd been playing together for years instead of Nashville studio musicians. He explains:

By the Changes in Latitudes album, the band was good enough and we were enough of a unit that we went to Miami and did it as a band album. That was one the hit came off of, "Margaritaville." Some of my favorite rocking crazy stuff came off that album. It was a change from that Nashville play-it safe sound. I like the first albums, but they don’t have the energy that Changes had.

The single contributed to Buffett earning his first platinum album and it set the bedrock for the rest of his life. 

You too can experience Margaritaville

source: Craig Davis

In 2016 "Margaritaville" was recognized as being culturally significant by the Grammy Hall of Fame which is certainly a feather in Buffett’s cap, but it’s one of many thanks to the brilliance in the way that he’s managed to turn one song into an empire. There’s a tequila, a casual dining restaurant chain, a radio station, and a collection of short stories based on the idea held within the song, and that’s just for starters. Rather than turn his nose up at his most famous song, Buffett recognizes that he’s managed to pay his bills and create a lifestyle off of a song that’s just over four minutes long. He told the Miami Herald:

I’m as successful as I want to be. I’ve taken my career and a band and built them around my songwriting, to the point where I can be very successful financially and very gratified artistically and do what I do best, which is write songs and play on stage…I’d love to have a No. 1 album, but I don’t conceive of it. I’d have to be a Fleetwood Mac or an Eagles, but I don’t want to be them. I’d have to change my style, and I’m not going to do anything — other than what I do — to get it.

With all the branded merchandise and properties, "Margaritaville" has been Buffett's license to print money -- it's what Bloomberg News called "the most lucrative song ever."

Everyone sing along 

source: classic country music

Now that you’re deep into the world and lore of Margaritaville it’s time to learn the words so you can sing along the next time it comes on, whether you’re on a tropical vacation or stuck in traffic.

Nibblin' on sponge cake
Watchin' the sun bake
All of those tourists covered with oil
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing
Smell those shrimp they're beginnin' to boil
Wastin' away again in Margaritaville
Searchin' for my long lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there's a woman to blame
But I know it's nobody's fault
Don't know the reason
Stayed here all season
Nothing to show but this brand new tattoo
But it's a real beauty
A Mexican cutie
How it got here I haven't a clue
Wastin' away again in Margaritaville
Searchin' for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there's a woman to blame
Now I think hell it could be my fault
I blew out my flip flop
Stepped on a pop top
Cut my heel had to cruise on back home
But there's booze in the blender
And soon it will render
That frozen concoction that helps me hang on
Wastin' away again in Margaritaville
Searchin' for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there's a woman to blame
But I know it's my own damn fault
Yes and some people claim that there's a woman to blame
And I know it's my own damn fault

Tags: 1970s Music | Jimmy Buffett | Margaritaville | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts

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Will Gwyn

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