“Margaritaville” is Jimmy Buffett’s biggest hit, his signature song, and the inspiration for his whole brand. It took Buffett a while to strike on it, too, as it appears on Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, the singer’s eighth album. Buffett recorded the song with the aid of producer Norbert Putnam, also responsible for putting to vinyl the similarly smooth sounds of acts like Dan Fogelberg and Linda Ronstadt.
So what’s the story behind the song? Well, the singer-songwriter wanted to double down on making what Putnam told Sound on Sound were “records about the ocean.” After all, Fogelberg had wanted his 1977 album Nether Lands to have a mountain feel, so Putnam recorded the record in a mountain-set studio. He similarly booked Buffett (and his band, the Coral Reefers) for some time at Criteria Studios in the seaside city of Miami.
During the sessions, according to Putnam, Buffett arrived one day with news of a song he was working on. “He comes in and starts telling me about a day he had in Key West. He was coming home from a bar, and he lost one of his flip-flops, and he stepped on a beer can top, and he couldn’t find the salt for his margarita,” Putnam recalled. “He says he’s writing lyrics to it, and I say, ‘That’s a terrible idea for a song.'” A few days later Buffett presented the lyrics — which didn’t stray too far from the details he shared with Putnam — to what would become “Margaritaville.”