When the June 9, 1973, issue of Billboard magazine briefly reviewed Jimmy Buffett’s new release, it called it a “[g]ood soft rock collection.” Evidently, the reviewer didn’t get any clues from the album title or liner notes or pay any attention to the opening notes or other content of the album.
Okay, there might be a couple tunes on A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean you might argue were “soft rock.” Yet to have that as the only description of the LP means you ignored the title’s play on the song Marty Robbins took the top of the country charts in 1957, “A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation).” It means you ignored author Tom McGaune’s observation in the liner notes that the album contains “spacey up-country tunes” and that it was somewhere in “the curious hinterland where Hank Williams and Xavier Cugat meet.”
How, though, can you ignore a pedal steel guitar kicking off the album’s opening cut, “The Great Filling Station Holdup,” and that is a key element of the supporting “Coral Reefers” band? How, though, can you ignore that the bulk of the album is what would eventually come to be called the “gulf and western sound”?
The public wasn’t fooled, though. The album reached the top 50 on the country charts but never breached the top 200 pop albums. The novelty tune “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” exceeded 50,000 units in jukebox sales alone shortly after release and was still described by Billboard as a jukebox favorite more than three years later. The writer of the “blue” song, as Billboard described, was listed as “Marvin Gardens” and it parodied country love songs and the ultimate goal of many bar room encounters:
I really do appreciate the fact you’re sittin’ here
Your voice sounds so wonderful
But your face don’t look too clear
So bar maid bring a pitcher, another round o’ brew
Honey, why don’t we get drunk and screw
That song closed the first side of the LP, which, for my money, may well be the single best side of music on any Buffett album. I don’t know if I’d heard it before then but I became a huge fan of A White Sport Coat — and Buffett — in 1975. It was near or shortly after the peak of the country-rock/country trend that had burgeoned in the prior few years. Sure, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” was a hoot but the balance of the songs on that side of the LP are well worth the time, whether the country-tinged and also humorous opening cut or the Caribbean feel of “Cuban Crime of Passion.”
Yet “Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit” was and remains my favorite cut on the LP and likely my favorite Buffett tune altogether. At just under three minutes, it is a compact love song (“You know it gets/So damn lonely/When you’re on a plane alone/And if I had the money honey/I’d strap you in beside me”) yet still imbued with Buffett’s unique humor. The quality of that first side (remember, these were the days when as long as you had to get up to flip an album over it was just as easy to grab something else) is what ranks it above the follow up LP, Living and Dying in 3/4 Time, as Buffett’s best.
Although I also enjoyed his albums over the next couple years, which, along with A White Sport Coat and Living and Dying, are the heart of what would become known as the “Key West” albums. Still, I grew a bit further away from Buffett with each ensuing album after Living and Dying and by the time “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” put Buffett in the Top 40 in 1977 and 1978, to me it was a different Jimmy Buffett.
So while I am a huge fan of Buffett’s work in the mid-70s, I am not and never have been a Parrothead. That term came about in the mid-1980s and by then it had been more than five years since I’d bought a Buffett album. To me, they were latecomers and if you asked many self-professed Parrotheads about “A White Sport Coat,” you would get little more than a blank stare. If you really want to hear Jimmy Buffett, this is the album to start with.
Commit a little mortal sin
It’s good for the soul
“Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit,” Jimmy Buffett, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean