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Remembering Jimmy Buffett: 3 songs that truly illustrate his lasting genius

Jimmy Buffett’s songwriting was often overshadowed by his lifestyle.

People saw how much fun he was having — walking around with a big smile, bare feet and absolute joy onstage — and many assumed that there couldn’t be much depth to his Music, as if one had to appear as dour as Neil Young or Van Morrison in order to be a serious songwriter.

Of course, Buffett — who died Friday at the age of 76 — wrote his share of frivolous fun tunes, about such topics as food (“Cheeseburger in Paradise”), facial hair (“Pencil Thin Mustache”) and “Fins.” Yet, he also wrote a number of mesmerizing, heartfelt songs that would stand tall in any songwriter’s catalog.

Just ask Bob Dylan, who once listed Buffett among his favorite songwriters — right up there with John Prine and Gordon Lightfoot.

And it’s really hard to argue with Dylan when it comes to the topic of songwriting.

With that in mind, we pay tribute to the life and work of Buffett by highlighting three of his songs that should stand the test of time and help the uninitiated truly realize his great talent as a songwriter.

1, “A Pirate Looks at Forty”

The song is often taken — apparently by those who don’t listen too closely to the lyrics or know the context — as being quasi-autobiographical. Yet, Buffett was still in his 20s when he penned this gem for the 1974 album “A1A” and its subject was reportedly one of the colorful characters he had met over the years in Key West — Phillip Clark. Despite the specifics, however, this beautiful number feels wonderfully universal to anyone who has looked back at life with a salty mixture of joy, regret, contentment and longing.

2, “Come Monday”

Like “Pirate,” this soft-rock classic was a member of “The Big 8” songs that Buffett played at pretty much all of his concerts. And it’s safe to say that the fans enjoyed it each and every time it was played. The studio version — from the 1974 album “Living & Dying in ¾ Time” — is nothing short of breathtaking, mixing an escalating musical arrangement with some of the best vocal work of Buffett’s career. Yet, it’s the songwriting, more than anything, which sells the tune as Buffett paints this masterpiece of life on the road with brushstrokes of both yearning and tenderness.

3, One Particular Harbour

With due respect to “Margaritaville,” it’s actually the title track to Buffett’s 12th studio album that ranks as his finest bit of escapism. The song is fun — but fun with deep feelings — as Buffett sings both in English and Tahitian about a magical place that he dreams of returning to one day. And listeners share in that dream too — even though the actual locations in our minds may differ — as Buffett details of “that one particular harbour, sheltered from the wind, where the children play on the shore each day, and all are safe within.”

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