50 Years Ago, Jimmy Buffett Records His Breakout Song

Jimmy Buffett may have died one of music’s few billionaires from the empire he built off the success of his song “Margaritaville.” But it was another song where it all began for Buffett as a songwriter and performer.

Before releasing the song “Come Monday,” Buffett struggled to receive any national recognition for his music. There’s a chance we never would have heard “Margaritaville” if it wasn’t for the success that “Come Monday” achieved preceding it. And it all started 50 years ago today on October 23rd, 1973 when Buffett walked into the Woodland Studios in Nashville and recorded the track.

As one can imagine, “Come Monday” has an interesting back story, and it’s one that unfolds through the song itself. In 1973, Buffett was still a virtual unknown and traveling around the country playing shows, trying to make a name for himself. He was on his way to California to play a series of shows opening for Country Joe McDonald in Marin County just north of San Francisco when he started composing the song.

Headin’ out to San Francisco
For the Labor Day weekend show
I got my Hush Puppies on
I guess I never was meant for glitter rock ‘n’ roll

Buffett opened for Country Joe at the Lion’s Share club in San Anselmo, and was staying at a Howard Johnson’s motel at the time. This is where the rest of the song was written as Buffett suffered through an existential crisis about his career and life in that hotel room. Though we knew Buffett’s state-of-mind was rather dour at the time, we didn’t know just how dire until he told David Letterman about it in 1983.

“This is a song that kept me from killing myself in a Howard Johnson’s in Marin County,” Buffett told Letterman about the song. “It hit, I paid the rent, got my dog out of the pound. I was deathly depressed in a Howard Johnson’s under Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, living there and playing in San Anselmo. It was awful and I wrote this song, and it hit, and the rest is history.”

But the song also says “I spent four lonely days in a brown L.A haze.” Los Angeles is six hours south of Marin County. It turns out this is in reference to Buffett’s time at the Hyatt House on the Sunset Strip, also commonly referred to as the “Riot House.” It was a rock and roll hangout in L.A. where Led Zepplin drummer John Bonham once drove up and down the hallways in a motorcycle, and The Rolling Stones trashed out all of their rooms.

The whole scene was just way too much for Jimmy Buffett. When he says in “Come Monday,” “I guess I never was meant for glitter rock ‘n’ roll,” this was Buffett pondering his place in music. As classic rock was all the rage, Buffett was in search for something much more sedated, and country.

Recorded with producer Don Gant who’d also worked with country artists Lefty Frizzell and Eddie Raven, it would never occur to anyone to not consider “Come Monday” a country song by listening to it. With the steel guitar and string arrangement indicative of the “Countrypolitan” sound of the time, it most certainly was meant to be a country song. But where and how the song found success is one of the reasons many people still seem surprised when Jimmy Buffett is associated with country.

Buffett never really had much success on the radio or in the charts compared to his overall stature in music. But “Come Monday” found its audience via the Easy Listening and Adult Contemporary audience. The song went all the way to #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart when it was released in 1974. It also became Buffett’s first Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, hitting at #30. But in country, the song struggled, stalling out at #58.

When Jimmy Buffett passed away over the Labor Day weekend 2023, it felt especially poignant since the American Holiday was referenced specifically in “Come Monday,” and this was the song that so many people first found out about Buffett. It’s also poignant that the 50th Anniversary of the song falls on a Monday itself. Though “Margaritaville” will forever be Buffet’s signature song, for many “Come Monday” is their favorite.

Jimmy Buffett wrote “Come Monday” for his future wife Jane Slagsvol. He’d divorced his first wife Margie Washichek the previous year. Even though the song was inspired by thoughts of suicide and desperation, the song is ultimately about hope on the horizon. In his most dire moment, Jimmy Buffet turned to “Come Monday” and music to save him. 50 years on, people still turn to “Come Monday” for the same reason.

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