What does that song mean?

What’s Up With Margaritaville?

Posted Sep 4th 2023, 14:30 by Penguin Pete

I usually avoid jumping on the bandwagon eulogy whenever a famous celebrity passes. For one thing, I got tired of a music blog becoming an obituary. For another, it’s the one kind of celebrity news you’re never in search of; social media spreads the news of celebrities passing like hot butter on pancakes. But I also kinda reserve the right to poke around at the current big story of the day and run with it if I find a fresh angle.

So let’s talk about Margaritaville…

No, not the song by the late Jimmy Buffet. The corporation.


Technically, Jimmy Buffet was a 1-hit wonder

At least as far as charts go, Buffet’s 1977 "Margaritaville" only scored #1 on the US+Can. Adult Contemporary charts and only made it to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 proper. His only other #1 was again on the Canadian AC with “Volcano” just a couple years later. Outside of that, Buffet did chart consistently in the 30s-ish to 100-ish range on various charts, still a substantial, but not overly far-reaching career.

But that year “1977” has a whole story behind it. It was not only just past the US bicentennial, but every magazine at the time was screaming in checkstand headlines from People to the National Inquirer: “First Baby Boomers About To Turn 40!” Oh yeah, and the first Boomers began to age into retirement, ensured by their historic lucky timing to decades of gleeful cruise line voyages and RV-pilgrimages along the casinos and resorts of the west coast. Usually while toting one of these signs on the RV’s back window:

Now, younger generations are gagging at the smugness of it all, and you’re right, the Boomers were insufferable to listen to on the first wave. Not “Margaritaville,” but the whole culture around the yacht rock / tropic rock wave which it spawned. Indeed, the very streaming channel on Sirius XM Radio specializing in yacht rock today is called “radio Margaritaville.” But there’s so much more to find! The small, but die-hard, niche of Buffet fans collectively call themselves “parrot heads,” after the tropical bird, and there’s a documentary about them.

As niche music fandom genres go, I find these guys more intimidating than Jugallos.

But anyway, that’s how this whole thing got so big to begin with. I had no idea how big Buffet’s influence was though until I saw he had a restaurant chain…

Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Empire

I was catching up on one of my favorite YouTube travel vloggers, Carpetbagger, and his visit to Las Vegas. As of this writing, Las Vegas is still sitting under flood waters, and the video posted yesterday, so, you know, morbid fascination. But at the 43:00 mark on that video we get to the restaurant location in Las Vegas, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. The inside is elaborate, as all Vegas attractions tend to be…

Now you might expect that Buffet, like most artists, picked up the name-brand licensing deal as an afterthought, when his music career was winding down. In fact, he opened the first Margaritaville location in 1985, just a few years after his peak fame, as if he knew that “Margaritaville” made a better brand name than a song and that he’d never stumble upon such a marketable name again. To be fair, had he not jumped on the brand, somebody else would have.

Buffet would keep up the restaurant trade ever after, expanding the chain to an international franchise with multiple locations in the US, Canada, Mexico (oh the irony of buying your native drink at a restaurant named after an American song about your culture!), the Caribbean, and Australia. Margaritaville Holdings LLC was always more of a shell corporation with Buffet’s branding on it, though; it’s not like he showed up there to grill salmon in person. The chain worked in partnership with Caesar’s / Harrah’s Entertainment and launched a whole hospitality chain under the same brand.

This chain is so successful that there’s seven locations just in airports around the world! All of this has been invisible to me and all the rest of you who are not plugged into the permanent vacation vibe. While the rest of us sinners have been scrounging for a living, the Carnival Cruise roster has been on a 40-year bender somewhere far from our troubles, guiltlessly partying away as the last generation that would know retirement at all.

See this? This is apparently the Margaritaville Beach Hotel in Pensacola Florida. A whole hotel chain too? Sure, here’s the Louisiana Margaritaville Resort Casino.

Oh, and I mentioned cruise lines several times up there? Margaritaville as Sea, the cruise line!

Again, Buffet himself didn’t own the line, but nevertheless retained the intellectual property rights to the title and got a cut of the profits his whole career long. As one of the world’s most financially successful musicians, Buffet died with a net worth surpassing $1 billion.

Jimmy Buffet was musically respected

To the rest of us, we might be tempted to think that Jimmy was just dumbly lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. All he had to do was add “ville” to a popular drink and then cash in on the universal human drive to bundle an entire lifestyle under a one-word label. Yay! Drinkers! When you think of getting drunk (RIP Smash Mouth’s Steve Harwell, today), no matter where in the world you are, think of Jimmy Buffet!

Yet Bob Dylan classed Buffet as one of his favorite songwriters, and during Buffet’s final days, no less than Paul McCartney showed up to play at his house. Personally. Buffet did manage to kick out over 30 albums in his career, along with even the occasional book. When he wasn’t up to that, he was co-branding on anything from Corona beer to a Facebook video game. In between all that, he had an adventurous life of hobbies that extended to flying planes.

So yeah, I’d say he definitely did earn his recognition… from the Boomers. Buffet did not have the time of day for anybody younger. And why should he? Frozen forever in the year 1977, the first Boomer turned 40 and stopped the clock for 40 years so all of them (but not the rest of us) could milk the last unspoiled natural wonder, the last economic boom, the last peacetime, all together with their friends, the last generation to pirate the planet before future humanity would forever pay the hefty bar tab.

Well should the party generation sail into the sunset under the Buffet name, because another like it will never be seen.



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