Why Jimmy Buffett’s Crowning Glory Was “Changes In Latitudes”
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Since the release of his debut album in 1970, Jimmy Buffett has been drawing inspiration from Key West’s laid-back appeal and a dash of rural charm. But the well-traveled Mississippi-born troubadour discovered a wave on Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes that he would ride to fame, money, and never-ending good times.
His seventh album, which was released on January 20, 1977, was a ground-breaking declaration of intent that propelled him to legendary recognition and carried him ever since.
The Unintended Beginning
According to Buffett:
“We didn’t really think of it at the time as, like, the Big One or anything. I felt like we’d made a good album, probably the best one yet. Obviously, it started something.”
Little did they know that it would mark the beginning of the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle and state of mind, epitomized by the album’s title track and its hit single, “Margaritaville,” a song that had been in the making since 1973. These tunes painted a vivid picture of Parrothead happiness, even though the term hadn’t been coined yet.
They celebrated the simple joys of sipping margaritas in a Texan bar, basking in the warmth of sandy shores, gentle breezes, hammocks, and a shaker of salt. For Buffett, these were the remedies for all of life’s troubles, even the occasional encounter with a sharp pop-top.
Beyond its iconic tracks, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes stands out as a superb album. Buffett, the writer of seven out of the ten songs, reached an early pinnacle in his songwriting career. He delivered not only chart-toppers but also mellower tunes like “Wonder Why We Ever Go Home” and “In the Shelter,” as well as spirited rock numbers like “Tampico Trauma” and “Landfall.”
Additionally, Buffett’s renditions of covers such as Steve Goodman’s “Banana Republics” and Jesse Winchester’s “Biloxi” were spot-on.
How Producer Norbert Putnam Elevated The Music
The album also marked a sonic leap forward for Buffett. Producer Norbert Putnam, known for his work with music legends like Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison, brought a new level of polish and dynamism to the music, making it Buffett’s best-sounding album to date.
Putnam’s expertise transformed the Coral Reefer Band into a versatile and powerful ensemble. Whether it was layering Buffett’s and Michael Jeffry’s guitars or featuring Greg “Fingers” Taylor’s harmonica in just the right places, Putnam’s arrangements were spot-on. He even added strings to tracks like the title song and “Biloxi” and worked with keyboardist Michael Utley to do the same for “Tampico Trauma” and “Banana Republics.”
The result? A long-awaited breakthrough for Buffett. Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes climbed to No. 12 on the Billboard 200 and No. 2 on the Top Country Albums chart, marking his highest chart positions to date. It also became his first platinum album.
“Margaritaville” was a milestone, securing a spot in the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Adult-Contemporary chart. The title track also found its place in the Top 40. These songs are now staples in Buffett’s concerts, forming what’s known as “the Big 8.”
From Opening Act to Headliner
After the album’s release, Buffett opened for the Eagles, and his commercial success allowed him to headline larger venues, taking the Margaritaville mindset across the nation.
“I thought in a way we were bringing the ocean to … people who’d never seen it. We’d seen the world and kinda brought it back to them, from a beach-bum perspective, and I think everyone connected to that. There was no master plan; we just did it – and they came. Then they started dressing up. We didn’t go, ‘Hey, go out and get these outfits.’ They bought the Hawaiian shirts and everything else, and I just ran with it.”
The term “Parrothead” was coined during the mid-80s by Timothy B. Schmit, the Eagles bassist who was part of the Coral Reefers at the time.
“Margaritaville” continues to thrive with each passing year, and it seems it will endure as long as Buffett allows it. Even when the day comes for him to step back, the Parrotheads will likely keep the spirit alive. Nevertheless, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes will forever be remembered as the starting point, where the foundations of the beloved Jimmy Buffett lifestyle were laid.