Let's drink to Jimmy Buffett in the Rock Hall of Fame
(No.21 in a continuing series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
By Phill Marder
For this week's installment, we're taking the Nostradamus approach. We're going to look into the future to the 2012 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony.
This production is the one guaranteed to finally bring the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame the attention it deserves - on par with the Grammys, the Emmys ... even the Oscars. We're talking real media attention here. We're talking network or top cable television.
We're talking a major, worldwide audience.
Why? Just check out the projected lineup.
First up, Lady Gaga gets the show running (and possibly off the air) as the mistress of ceremonies, appearing in a see-through roll disguised as a cheesesteak straight from Philly. Covered in fried onions and hot peppers, Gaga introduces Bette Midler. The censors work overtime while Midler inducts Cher, who performs several of her outfits, er hits.
Assuming we're still televising live (maybe HBO or SHOWTIME are the only options), the now rapidly expanding television audience next witnesses Alice Cooper inducting KISS. Before performing, Gene Simmons accepts his induction by giving the Hall of Fame committee a severe tongue-lashing for making his group wait so long for its well-deserved recognition. He then sets the committee on fire with one good exhale.
It's a tough act to follow, but the recently inducted Neil Diamond takes the podium to welcome Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who finally receive induction. Diamond informs the audience that Warwick and Bacharach will perform a medley of their hits. It is well-intended, but, after two hours, the duo has to be interrupted halfway through their catalog to allow time for the remaining inductees.
Next up, Neil Young attempts to bring sanity to the proceedings with a first-ever combination induction, welcoming fellow Canadians The Guess Who and Rush into the Hall of Fame. The effort fails, however, as two million Canadians, unable to get tickets to the affair, crash through the doors, overrun security and storm the stage, carrying off their heroes. Later, Randy Bachman says, "That was a nice gesture, but what about Bachman-Turner Overdrive?"
Don Rickles makes a surprise cameo, calling Bachman "a hockey puck," while Burton Cummings looks at Geddy Lee, who simply replies "eh?"
Finally, we come to the night's highlight, what the capacity crowd really has been waiting for and what this article is about...Ex-President Bill Clinton - or maybe Keith Richards - or it could be Willie Nelson - then again it's possibly Charlie Sheen. Whoever remembers to show up has the distinct honor of inducting...pause for suspense...Jimmy Buffett.
But where is he? Should I write it? Naw, I don't have to tell you. Do I? Ok. He's wasted away again in Margaritaville. Badaboom.
No, seriously, he takes the stage and the Parrotheads go wild. Every television in the world is now tuned to the ceremony.
Jimmy Buffett? Is he Rock & Roll? Those dedicated to putting everything into a category would probably say "No, he's country" or "No, he's folk" or "No, he's Calypso." Well, it doesn't matter what you call him, because Jimmy Buffett is one of the Rock Era's biggest superstars, has been for what seems to be ages, and his music stands for everything Rock & Roll should be.
His lyrics, often biting, humorous or both, speak for themselves. His concerts, resemble large, very large, parties. And what could be more Rock & Roll than his band's name - The Coral Reefers? His fans - the Parrotheads - outnumber the population of many countries.
Even "Rolling Stones" album guide has trouble knocking Buffett, proclaiming, "...his songs offer companionable escapist fantasies, while his legendary live performances - a 2008 charity performance, his first in Hong Kong, saw Buffett perform for free in addition to picking up the tab for the concertgoers tequila and beer - served as mobile Floridian beach parties. Buffett's fans - the colorfully attired 'Parrotheads' - have become as much a part of the cultural landscape as the man himself."
Free tequila and beer and the Coral Reefers? What could be more Rock & Roll than that?
Buffett is a best-selling author and a successful businessman, but the foundation of his financial empire is and always has been his music. His success, mainly centered in North America, seems even more remarkable as he has done it all with just one major hit record, the classic "Margaritaville." Buffett's only top 10 hit in both the United States and Canada brought his "beach bum" persona to the mainstream in 1976 and he's built on it ever since.
Prior to that, his recording career, which began in 1969, had been highlighted by the single "Come Monday," which reached No. 30 in the U.S. and No. 23 in Canada. It came off the "Living and Dying in 3/4 Time" LP, which languished at the lower end of the album charts.
But the next long-player - "A1A" - established a pattern for Buffett that continues to this day. Hit albums without hit singles. "Margaritaville" proved the exception, helping "Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes" reach No. 12 while giving Buffett his first platinum LP. The follow-up "Son Of A Son Of A Sailor" also achieved platinum status and became Buffett's first top 10 LP. It served up the single, "Manana," an excellent 45 that provided the memorable lyric, "And I hope Anita Bryant never ever does one of my songs." Somehow, like practically all Buffett's singles, it bombed.
But Buffett's 12-inchers kept selling steadily and, as proof of his popularity and longevity, he didn't even peak until 1994, 25 years after his chart debut. In that year, his "Fruitcakes" reached No. 5 and went platinum. The following year, "Barometer Soup" topped out at No. 6, going gold, and in 1996 "Banana Wind" climbed to No. 4 and went platinum. In 1998 "Don't Stop The Carnival," a failed musical that makes an excellent listen, stopped at No. 15, but in 1999 "Beach House On The Moon" returned Buffett to the top 10, hitting No. 8.
In 2003, "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," a duet with Country superstar Alan Jackson topped the Country charts and the next year Buffett had his first No. 1 album, "License To Chill." In 2006, he narrowly missed duplicating that feat when "Take The Weather With You" stopped at No. 4.
For 40-plus years, Jimmy Buffett has taken us on a musical journey. Sometimes the subject matter has been serious, often it has been humorous, and certainly it has been difficult to categorize. But if Rock & Roll is the music of the people and the Hall of Fame is supposed to represent the cream of the crop, Jimmy Buffett should be inducted.