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The Meaning of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville”

The most well-known, loved and hated Jimmy Buffett song is “Margaritaville”. Whether you’re a fan or a foe of this song, its place as a classic summertime and island vacation anthem is indisputable.

Released in 1977 on his breakthrough album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, “Margaritaville” quickly became Jimmy Buffett’s biggest hit and signature song. It also eventually became the name and basis for the songwriter’s entire franchise.

As for the lyrics, they depict an easygoing afternoon in a vacation town, Key West in Buffett’s case, drinking margaritas and worrying about not much at all. So long as he’s got plenty of tequila and a shaker of salt, ain’t nothing going to harsh Mr. Buffett’s mellow.

Essentially, “Margaritaville” is a song about getting drunk. Except the state of mind of being drunk is imagined as a place called Margaritaville, where all your troubles disappear. There are no responsibilities in this place, and even when things go wrong, it won’t bother you one bit.

Couple this with the song’s bright and sunny, carefree arrangement, and you’ve got an enduring classic that will forever be associated with the island life.

“Margaritaville” Lyrics Meaning

The lyrics to “Margaritaville” consist of three verses that show this drunk’s life continuing to spiral downward, while he continues to “waste away again” and ignore the realities of his own life. However, each of the three choruses show that our narrator at least begins to take accountability for his problems, even if he chooses not to do anything about them.

With this in mind, let’s dive into the first verse:

Nibblin’ on sponge cake, watchin’ the sun bake
All of those tourists covered with oil
Strummin’ my six-string on my front porch swing
Smell those shrimp, they’re beginnin’ to boil

First verse to “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett.

Here we have our first introduction to the narrator, who is having a real nice afternoon. He’s depicted on his front porch, eating a sponge cake, surrounded by tourists covered in tanning oil.

There is nothing going wrong today, it seems, because Buffett’s got his guitar and some shrimp inside boiling up. To many, this sounds like an ideal afternoon.

The first chorus suggests that there may be trouble lurking beneath the surface:

Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville
Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame
But I know it’s nobody’s fault

First chorus to “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett.

In the chorus we learn about the fabled Margaritaville, where the only problem is a missing salt shaker. At least in the eyes of our narrator.

From the outside looking in, people can see that this man’s situation is not as peachy as he thinks it is. They speculate that his drinking must be due to a woman who broke his heart, but he reassures himself, “it’s nobody’s fault.” Meaning that there is nothing wrong with it.

Next up we have the second verse, which shows the man’s further descent into alcoholism:

Don’t know the reason I stayed here all season
Nothin’ to show but this brand new tattoo
But it’s a real beauty, a Mexican cutie
How it got here I haven’t a clue

Second verse to “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett.

Buffett spent the entire tourist season bumming around Key West, for reasons unbeknownst to him. He has accomplished absolutely nothing, but he does have a real good-lookin’ Mexican woman tattooed on him as a reminder.He isn’t quite sure where the tattoo came from, though.

When performing “Margaritaville” live, Buffett often changes this line to reference the city that he’s playing in at the time. In fact, he often changes the lyrics to many of the lyrics, interacting with the crowd that is invariably drunk and rowdy.

The second chorus is the same as the first, except the last line shows the narrator beginning to understand that he may have a problem:

Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville
Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame
Now I think, hell, it could be my fault

Second chorus to “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett.

The third verse shows the continued descent into a lifestyle that is beginning to take his toll on the singer. Regardless, he’s still propped up on margaritas and rolling along just fine:

I blew out my flip-flop, stepped on a pop top
Cut my heel, had to cruise on back home
But there’s booze in the blender and soon it will render
That frozen concoction that helps me hang on

Third verse to “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett.

His flip flop is busted because he stepped on a pop top, which is not a beer bottle but rather one of the little metal tabs that used to be pulled off cans back in the day. He cut his heel and had to go home to take care of himself, cutting the party short.

Fun fact is these things were removed from cans in 1975 because so many people cut their feet on them:

Not to fear — he’s got booze in the blender at home and he’s cooking up a frozen beverage that will bring him right back to life.

Then we reach the third chorus, with comes with the full circle recognition that he is responsible for the less-than-ideal situation that he finds himself in:

Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville
Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame
But I know it’s my own damn fault

Third chorus to “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett.

Some things just never change.

Listen to “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett below.

“Margaritaville” Lost Verse

There is also a “lost verse” that was not included in the studio version, but often finds its way into live performances of this song:

Old men in tank tops
Cruisin’ the gift shops
Checkin’ out chiquitas, down by the shore
They dream about weight loss
Wish they could be their own boss
Those three-day vacations can be (or “become”) such a bore

Lost verse to “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett.

As for the meaning of this verse, it’s pretty straightforward. He notices the old men cruising Key West, checking out the “chiquitas” (also known as attractive women) on the beach. Daydreaming about a better life, perhaps one that is more similar to our local drunk of a narrator. If only they knew…

The following live version from Nantucket in 1999 includes Buffett shouting out the lost verse, and also features him changing the lyrics to the second verse.

“Margaritaville” Covers & Parodies

Being such a popular song, there have been plenty of “Margaritaville” covers played over the years. Most of them have been by bar cover bands, but several notable artists have also played the song in interesting and fun ways, and even some who have parodied it.

See a few of the more interesting ones below, and let us know of any we missed in the comments!

Mark Eddie – “Marijuanaville” (Parody, 1991)

Alan Jackson – “Margaritaville” (1999)

Alan Jackson’s cover of “Margaritaville” actually features Jimmy Buffett.

Zac Brown Band – “Margaritaville” (2020)

Yet another “Margaritaville” cover featuring the man himself.

Manchester Orchestra – “Margaritaville” (2022)

Also see our list of the best Manchester Orchestra songs.