A Non-Biased Review of the Best Album in the World

Who doesn’t know and love Jimmy Buffett’s classic album A-1-A?

Jimmy Buffett 1977, 3 years after the release of A-1-A. Look at that “Come Monday” Rolelex!

I love Jimmy Buffett, specifically A-1-A, and most people I know know this about me. I won’t stop talking about it, and now I’m talking about it in the Talon! I think it’s the greatest album of all time, and if you disagree, go ahead and tell me in the comments below! It won’t change my mind.

For those who don’t know who Mr. Buffett is, many of y’all will recognize his music from your dads. He has timeless hits such as “M*rgaritaville,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” with Alan Jackson, and “Come Monday,” which is actually a really great song. I won’t be focusing on those songs, but rather a more authentic Jimmy Buffett from before his huge commercial success, like the Myrtle Beach Margaritaville restaurants, and cult following.

This album was written when he lived in Key West, often called his Key West Era (for more information, visit the end of the article), and that’s heavily reflected in this album. I don’t even really love the A-side, or the first half of the album, but the second half is more than enough to make up for it. Because the published order isn’t a great representation in my opinion, I will be ordering each song in order of how much I like them. Hope you enjoy the article and give A-1-A a listen, and make sure to stick around until the end for even more information on Jimmy Buffett!

“Nautical Wheelers” 

This is my favorite song of all time, no joke. The background music, the lyrics, the backstory, it’s quite literally perfect. It’s different from some of his other songs on this album, which are life reflections, but this is just a simple recounting of happy memories and stories, which I’m definitely a fan of. It makes me wish I was there, which I guess is part of his escapist appeal. The ending is to die for, makes me instantly want to replay it. Anyways, I’ll go more in depth at the end of the article if you’re interested in reading further on Nautical Wheelers.

Nautical Wheelers who call themselves sailors / Play fiddle tunes under the stars / Petticoats rustle, workin’ shoes scuffle / Shuffle on down to the bar”

— Jimmy Buffett

I love this first stanza so much, I think it’s the perfect introduction and characterization of the Nautical Wheelers. I also think you just have to listen to it with the music to get what I mean.

Sonia’s just grinnin’ and Phil is ecstatic / Mason has jumped in the sea / And I’m hangin’ on to a line from my sailboat / All Nautical Wheelers save me”

— Jimmy Buffett

I don’t know who these people are, they might just be random names for all I know. This lyric is literally so cute though, it’s almost nostalgic even though I never experienced this, even though I wish I did!

So won’t you dream on compadres, seems nothing escapes you / Nothin’, no reason, no rhyme / That’s ’cause everyone here is just more than contented / To be livin’ and dyin’ in three-quarter time”

— Jimmy Buffett

I feel like I understand this in my heart, but not my brain because it doesn’t fully make sense to me, but I feel like I get the sentiment. I appreciate the line about “livin’ and dyin’ in three-quarter time,” because this song is in ¾ time, and the Nautical Wheelers were a square dancing group in Key West. This phrase was also the title of his previous album, with hits like “Come Monday,” so I wonder why “Nautical Wheelers” wasn’t on that album.

“Tin Cup Chalice”

“Tin Cup Chalice” is like the perfect blend between “Nautical Wheelers” and “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season,” which is coming up next. The background music is actually so distinct and cool in this song, using both harmonica and slide guitar, it literally elevates the song to a whole new level. The Key West imagery is just indescribably sweet and pretty as well. It’s gonna be hard to choose only a couple lyrics, the whole song is so great I highly recommend listening to it.

I want to go back, to the islands / Where the shrimp boats are tied up to the piling / Give me oysters and beer / For dinner every day of the year / And I’ll feel fine, I’ll feel fine”

— Jimmy Buffett

I love the idea in this first stanza, it immediately starts the song off strong by introducing the idea that the soul of Key West and his community is enough to make him content with a simple life.

Salt air it ain’t thin / It can stick right to your skin, and make you feel fine”

— Jimmy Buffett

Although this may be controversial, I think it’s completely true and I agree. There’s nothing like it! This definitely touches on how Buffett draws a lot of his inspiration from his life in Key West.

Want to go back down and lie beside the sea there With a tin cup for a chalice, fill it up with good red wine And I’m a chewin’ on a honeysuckle vine”

— Jimmy Buffett

This is so embarrassing to admit but this was my favorite song in the second half of 7th grade and I bought a tin cup because of it, but I still have it and use it regularly so I would say it was a good investment. Again, it has the simple life theme, where he wants to just go and lay by the sea and chew on honeysuckle. Same! Ugh I love this song so much, it’s a very, very close second to “Nautical Wheelers.”

“Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season”

Omg this song is so, so good. I know I don’t have a very expansive vocabulary in describing these songs, but I can’t even form the words to describe this one. I hold this song very close to my heart because the sentiment is so real, like this is what trying to reason with hurricane season feels like. Also, I think there’s a slide guitar in the background that is sooo good.

Squalls out on the gulf stream / Big storm comin’ soon”

— Jimmy Buffett

Something about these first lyrics just gets me so pumped to listen to this song. Like “Yes! I am about to listen to ‘Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season!’ is what my brain is saying.

There’s something ’bout this Sunday / It’s the most peculiar gray / Strollin’ down the avenue that’s known as A1A / Feelin tired, then I got inspired I knew it wouldn’t last long / So all alone I walked back home / Sat on the beach and there I made up this song”

— Jimmy Buffett

The storytelling in this is so good, and the imagery is especially captivating. It features the title of the album, A-1-A, Florida’s scenic highway that runs through Key West. I totally understand the tired feeling a peculiarly gray Sunday can give you, and I’m sure many of y’all relate. I also love how he describes his process for writing the song, it makes it feel so much more authentic, even if it may just be for dramatic effect.

And now I must confess / I could use some rest / I can’t run at this pace very long”

— Jimmy Buffett

I feel like this quote could be very relatable for some of the raptors reading this.

“A Pirate Looks at Forty”

This song is a certified classic, the most popular on this album. It’s so good, but I did have to use some light censorship, so these quotes may not be a full representation of the song. It’s a reflection on his recent life that’s about not knowing what you’re doing with yourself and aimlessly wasting time without purpose or direction, all the while worrying you’re on the wrong path. I think that this can be relatable for some magnet students. The work from the Coral Reefer band on the background music is especially nice in this song as well.

Yes, I am a Pirate / Two hundred years too late / The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothing to plunder, I’m an over-forty victim of fate / Arriving too late.”

— Jimmy Buffett

Mother, mother Ocean, after all the years I’ve found my occupational hazard be my occupation’s just not around.”

— Jimmy Buffett

The theme portrayed by both of these lyrics of not belonging in your time period or not feeling that what you’re doing is what you were meant to be doing, but it’s impossible to actually do that thing is very bittersweet without sounding too depressing. I think Jimmy Buffett pulls this off well in both “A Pirate Looks at Forty” and “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season;” he reflects on heavy themes without the song sounding bleak at all. It’s serious and touching but still extremely listen-able, if that makes sense.

“Life is Just a Tire Swing”

In this song Jimmy recalls some of his life events from when he was younger, including his childhood, that have helped to form who he is today. It’s a good song, I really like it and it comes to a nice conclusion in the chorus. It’s heavy on imagery and it describes his idyllic southern childhood with lots of figurative language, as well as some of his struggles. Definitely a solid listen.

Life was just a tire swing / ‘Jambalaya’ was the only song I could sing / Blackberry pickin’, eatin’ fried chicken, And I never knew a thing about pain”

— Jimmy Buffett

I really like the chorus in this song, I think it’s super cute. This makes this song such a summer song, and it paints such a cute picture of his carefree childhood in Mississippi. I wish I was blackberry pickin’ and eatin’ fried chicken right now! This definitely is consistent with the escapist nature of his songs.

Then the other morning on some Illinois road / I fell asleep at the wheel / But was quickly wakened up by a ‘Ma Bell’ Telephone pole / and a bunch of Grant Wood Faces screaming ‘Is he still alive?’ / But through the window could see / It hangin’ from a tree, and I knew / I had survived.”

— Jimmy Buffett

I appreciate his vulnerability in this lyric. I don’t know if this is true, because we know Jimmy is quite the storyteller, but even if it isn’t I like the break from the grandiose persona he’s created and the idyllic image he paints in the beginning of this song by showing the negative effects of his lifestyle. If this is true and his exhaustion is from strenuous touring and performing, then this would explain why he doesn’t keep an intense touring schedule.

“Migration”

I’ve got a Caribbean soul I can barely control / And some Texas hidden here in my heart”

— Jimmy Buffett

Fellow staff writer Mary Blake Hand agrees that this is a great quote, and she even made the first half her senior quote! My Jimmy Buffett senior quote isn’t from this album unfortunately, but this is so cute and fun. I love how this ties into his style of music, which he describes as Gulf and Western.

Most of the people who retire in Florida / Are wrinkled and they lean on a crutch / And mobile homes are smotherin’ my Keys / I hate those b*stards so much / I wish a summer squall would blow them all / The way up to fantasy land / Yeah they’re ugly and square, they don’t belong here / They looked a lot better as beer cans”

— Jimmy Buffett

I couldn’t decide on a singular quote from this stanza, because I feel like it tells a story as a whole. I find this part particularly divisive. While I think that it’s funny, there’s a certain anger in his voice that sounds like more than just satire and it’s actually just bitter, pent-up rage. The extremely ironic part is that the demographic he describes is a lot of his fans now, 50 years later.

“Dallas”

I really like Dallas. It’s the least streamed song on the album, with 355,000 streams, but I definitely do think it’s better than some other songs. Again, this wasn’t written by Jimmy, but by the guitarist of the Coral Reefer band Roger Bartlett. This whole song is basically a hate rant of Dallas, Texas. While I don’t have any personal connections to Dallas, I still respect the directive to just trash on something you don’t like I think that’s cool.

“Stealin’ all your bread / they’re so callous””

— Roger Bartlett

I think this line is really funny. I appreciate the clever rhyming between callous and Dallas, and I think that it’s a clever way of saying Dallasites will steal your money, much like a parasite.

Now come on down and lose your mental balance”

— Roger Bartlett

I like the irony of being invited to go crazy. Thought this was clever. I totally get the feeling of certain cities having poor effects on your psyche, next time I’m in one of these places I’ll be sure to think about this line.

“Stories We Could Tell”

This is another cover, originally by John Sebastion. Typical of the a-side of this album, I don’t think it’s very memorable, but it’s not a bad listen!

It doesn’t have very memorable lyrics, and it’s my article so my rules, so I won’t quote any. Sorry! I still recommend it.

“Presents to Send You”

I think this song is really good, but it’s still not one of my favorites on this list. It’s just nice to listen to.

And I got presents to send you / Even got money to lend you”

— Jimmy Buffett

I wish Jimmy Buffett would send me some money, as one of his top Spotify fans, I think I deserve at least a little treat.

“Door Number Three”

This song was co-written with Steve Goodman, a prominent folk songwriter, and it’s about the show Let’s Make a Deal. Honestly, it’s kind of a cute song, but there aren’t very notable lyrics, so I’m moving on to the next. Listen to it if you want, you might like it a lot! It’s just not my favorite.

“Makin Music for Money”

This wasn’t written by Jimmy and I don’t like it very much, so I’m not going to include any quotes from it. Sorry! I wish the album didn’t start with this song because I feel like it can leave a less than stellar impression.

If you do want to listen to it, then you can see how his frustration from the Nashville music industry led to his move to Key West is reflected in this song.

Jimmy Buffett’s Key West Era:

About | Jimmy BuffettA lot of this album is reactionary to his departure from Nashville, due to its unfriendly environment. He’s hinted at in interviews about the deterioration of his mental state at this time, telling  David Letterman on live television that “Come Monday”, released the same year as A-1-A “kept me from killing myself in the Howard Johnson’s in Marina County” and he was “deathly depressed” before “Come Monday,” his big hit, blew up. This makes me really sad, but I feel like this is important to mention because, while it isn’t directly expressed in A-1-A, some songs, like “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season” do have rather depressing themes. Also, I feel this presents a different side to Jimmy than the commercial Jimmy-image that he’s so meticulously crafted. The Jimmy of the Key West Era, in A-1-A, Living and Dying in 3/4 Time, Havana Daydreamin’, and A Pink Sport Coat and a White Crustacean, are the Jimmy from before his insane business endeavors into retirement living and theme parks, and so it offers a more genuine glimpse into the man. He released much more music in this time period, because of the extremely untimely death of his friend Jim Croce in 1973. On a side note, Jim Croce was extremely talented, please listen to any of his music, you will not regret it. I find it so tragic how he died so young, and right at the start of his career. Any who, the record company pushed Jimmy to fill this growing hole left by Jim, so he released more music, although I would argue this could hardly replace Jim Croce.

More “Nautical Wheelers”

Buffett to Put Out Unreleased Original Songs from Early Days » Jimmy Buffett World
This is what I look like listening to “Nautical Wheelers”

One of my favorite ways to listen to “Nautical Wheelers” is a live performance filmed for “Introducing Jimmy Buffett” (1973) by the Warner Brothers, unfortunately the full version of this film is lost in the sands of time. It was originally filmed to get some exposure for Jimmy Buffett, because he was relatively unknown and underground at the time. After digging for the original film, I read on the Buffett News forum that parrotheads have been unsuccessful in finding this tape, and this is a dedicated bunch we’re talking about. I will be sure to update y’all if it’s ever found. It seems that the only footage remaining is footage used in “Tales from Margaritaville,” in which we can find part, unfortunately not all, of the 1973 live Nautical Wheelers performance, found here. If you’re interested in “Nautical Wheelers,” or you have a good sense of humor in general, I say you should go watch this! But, disregard the ending few seconds of it, that’s from the “Tales from Margaritaville” tape. There’s this really funny man who gets up and starts dancing the craziest dance ever, and everybody’s singing and clapping like their life depends on it. It never fails to brighten my mood and make me laugh. He also opens the performance with the backstory of the song, explaining that the Nautical Wheelers were a square dancing group in town, and a story about a regatta he participated in. It’s very heartwarming and cute. It’s also nice to hear a live performance, because it brings a new aspect into the song. It’s just different and that can be nice sometimes! Any who, I love this song so much I wish I could lay in a sensory deprivation tank and have it played on a surround sound speaker system for a couple hours.

Thanks for reading my article, if you made it this far, comment which lyric was your favorite!