A1A (Jimmy Buffett Album Review)

A1A (1974)


A1A is considered by most to be “The” Jimmy Buffett album. He made this album when he was at his best and it truly exhibits his consummate storytelling ability that has drawn so many of us to his music all these years. He paints pictures with words so well that it makes me feel like I am there in the songs.

Making Music for Money
(Alex Harvey 1974)

Though not one of my favorite songs on the album, there are a couple of things I like about this song. I can really empathize with the opening lines:

“When I woke up this morning
I was tired as I could be”

These words often pop into my head when I get up early in the morning after being up late the night before.

The part of this song that stands out the most for me is:

“He said son, you got to be commercial
If you want to turn the people on”

I feel that JB has proven this wrong. How many of us did he turned on with his music without ever having a #1 hit or before he had a music video!? How much airtime has he logged on the radio or MTV!? Yet he has sold out concerts year after year despite being relatively unknown to the general public. Only in recent years has he really gotten some notoriety with his books and play. But how many years did he hold onto his loyal fans before getting the publicity of late!? Now some want to call him a sell out because of it...Not me, I say congratulations Jimmy...It’s about time!

The last verse in this song says:

“Whoa, the people were havin’ a good time
Makin’ music all day long
And nobody cared if they ever got paid
One penny for playin’ a song”

I saw a special on Jim Croce on VH1 and his wife, Ingrid Croce, talked about all the musicians, including JB, who would come to the ranch and just play music. I’m not sure if there’s any correlation here, but I can sure picture them sitting around playing music just for fun!

There is also some outstanding harmonica playing by Fingers.

Door Number Three
(Jimmy Buffett, Steve Goodman 1974)

This song falls into the fun song category for me. I grew up watching Let’s Make a Deal, So I can totally picture JB’s description:

“I chose my apparel, I wore a beer barrel
And they rolled me to the very first row
I held a big sign that said, Kiss me I’m a baker
And Monty I sure need the dough”

Because that’s exactly how that show was, basically people giving up their entire dignity for a chance at the prize behind Door #3. I have to wonder if the newer generation of fans can appreciate this song as much.

(Roger Bartlett 1974)

This is my least favorite song on the album, but I don’t dislike it. It’s kind of a catchy tune, but what bothers me the most is that I don’t know the inspiration for the song(Does anyone???). I can relate to the idea behind it though. I will NEVER go to the Chevron station down the street from me because of a bad experience there. I guess I just wish I knew what happened to Roger Bartlett or Jimmy Buffett in Dallas...then I might appreciate the song more.

Presents to Send You
(Jimmy Buffett 1974)

I was instantly drawn to this song the first time I heard it. I really like the sound of this song...if that makes any sense?! The line I like the most:

“When we’re apart there’s no ache in my heart
When we’re together we’re a hell of a crew”

I interpret this differently at different times, but I think the one I like best is the thought of being so close to someone that even when you’re separated you don’t lose that closeness.

I think of this song in different situations. Mostly when missing a loved one, but also when I’m sending presents to people. I do feel that the song doesn’t completely come together with the verses and chorus...or at least I don’t see all the connections, but that doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of it.

Stories We Could Tell
(John B. Sebastian 1974)

This is a nice song about life on the road and the stories that can be told from that life. Even though not written by JB, it could have been. It’s his storytelling that we seem to love so much.

One day I was looking at a friend’s Tom Petty live LP and this song was on the album. Surprised to say the least, I immediately put it on and sure enough it was the same song. The biggest difference is that this version is backed by violin. Though I prefer Buffett’s version, it was fun to hear another.

Life is Just a Tire Swing
(Jimmy Buffett 1974)

This song tells a nostalgic story, looking back when life was much simpler as a kid playing on a tire swing and trying to keep that same philosophy as life moves on and becomes more complicated. This is the point on the album when JB’s great imagery-filled storytelling begins and it continues throughout the second half with some of Jimmy’s greatest work. I personally can relate to this song and though we all have different stories, the pattern is probably pretty similar for most of us.

A Pirate Looks at Forty
(Jimmy Buffett 1974)

This song is considered by many to be JB’s best, and there is no song that I enjoy more(Buffett or other). I was born here in Santa Barbara, CA and have always had a great love and respect for the ocean . I’ve been listening to this song since I was 4 years old in 1974 and have another decade or so before I look at 40 myself, but I grow to appreciate this song a little more every year.

Musically I feel this is one of the most beautiful songs written by Jimmy and features Fingers at his best. Lyrically it’s the first two verses about his love for the ocean that wins me over. I can’t help but picture my local part of the sea every time I hear this song begin...Usually the waves breaking on the beach as I look out onto the ocean...Or maybe leaving the harbor on my grandfather's boat as a child...or more in recent years riding my bike out on to Stern’s Wharf alone at night and staring out at the night sky at the lights on the oil derricks with a sky full of stars. It makes me feel at home and reminiscent of when my love for the ocean was first forming when I was three feet tall.

I think the later verses will be even more meaningful as my life goes on and I start looking at forty myself.

JB - “The real pirate's name was Phillip Clark. He was one of the most unforgettable characters that I met when I first lived in Key West, back in the days before it turned into a boutique. When I finushed the song, I knew I had done him justice, and it's a fitting eulogy to an old friend. He died a few years ago under an alias, washed up on a beach near San Francisco. They flew his body back to Key West where some of his ashes were scattered at sea, and some still sit above the cash register in the Full Moon Saloon.”

(Jimmy Buffett 1974)

I doubt there is a more image-filled JB song than this one about Jimmy’s love for Key West. Though I love it all, my favorite verse has always been:

“Well now if I ever live to be an old man
I’m gonna sail down to Martinique
I’m gonna buy me a sweat-stained Bogart suit
And an African parakeet
And then I’ll sit him on my shoulder
And open up my trusty old mind
I’m gonna teach him how to cuss, teach him how to fuss
And pull the cork out of a bottle of wine”

It draws such a great picture for me as does the whole song. It is definitely one of the best examples of JB’s ability to really express himself in words in such a way that the listener can totally picture what he’s talking about.

Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season
(Jimmy Buffett 1974)

I didn’t fully appreciate this song until I had been in college a few years...Going to school full time at UCSB while working 20-35 hours a week in the Registrar’s Office and unfortunately it seems to come to mind much more often than I’d like as life goes on. It’s the chorus that I can relate to so well:

“And now I must confess, I could use some rest
I can’t run at this pace very long
Yes it’s quite insane, I think it hurts my brain
But then it cleans me out and then I can go on”

Fortunately I seem to be able to cope with it reasonably well and know just when to get away before it gets to be too much. Much like in the song:

“It’s time to close the shutters
It’s time to go inside
In a week I’ll be in gay Paris
But that’s a mighty long airplane ride”

Usually as life’s stresses start really getting to me, I’ll have a camping trip to the desert or the mountains planned and that gets me through those most stressful times until I can get away from it all and really enjoy life.

JB - “My second house in Key West was tucked away under ficus trees near the old Casa Marina Hotel. From my beach I could see the flashing red and green lights that marked the ship channel and ended at the Gulf Stream. Clouds used to gather over the warm waters and spill out the rain and thunder. It was quite a light show. My front yard was my “thinking spot” in those days. I had a rocking chair and a hammock. When you come to think of it, you don't need much more.”

Nautical Wheelers
(Jimmy Buffett 1974)

This is another very nice song about the party life in Key West that Jimmy loved so much back then. It’s in 3/4 time and has a real enjoyable sound to it and it makes me feel like I’m there in Key West dancing the night away with the Nautical Wheelers.

JB - “ When I first arrived in Key West, it was still a wide open town where artists, straights, gays, shrimpers, sailors, criminals, and politicians all frequented the same bars. In the middle of this nest of vipers, a group called “Nautical Wheelers” square danced every Friday night under a big orange-and-white parachute at the old City Hall, next to the Salvation Army outlet where I bought my clothes. It was a change of pace to sit and watch the square dancers perform with such precision before I stumbled back out onto Duval Street where there were no rules.”

Tin Cup Chalice
(Jimmy Buffett 1974)

This is an excellent song to end a near perfect album. It’s another song that talks about enjoying the simpler life down by the sea. By now it’s probably obvious that I’m a sucker for a good song that talks about life on and around the ocean and this song is no exception. It has wonderful music and this album definitely ends on a strong note.

JB - “This was my first Key West song. I was running from a bad marriage and a trail of debt, and wound up at the end of America. Nobody cared about either there, and they took time to applaud the sunset at the end of the day. It was a place for me to hang my hat for awhile.”

(review written June 19, 1999)

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Andrew Nixon