Country music stars show love for the beach.
There’s something about the islands that country music stars just can’t seem to get enough of. A beach track seems to be a mandatory addition to album releases these days—not that audiences are complaining. On the contrary, they are sending songs like Frankie Ballard’s “Sunshine & Whiskey” and Jake Owen’s “Beachin’” up the charts.
Today’s country music superstars are carrying on the genre’s established torch for the Caribbean by singing songs about the laid-back island lifestyle that dreams—and hit songs, as it turns out—are made of. Everyone from Kenny Chesney and Alan Jackson to Blake Shelton, Garth Brooks, and the Zac Brown Band has released an island-loving ode to tropical getaways.
In 2013, Luke Bryan, the reigning Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year, put out an entire album of tracks dedicated to beaches, bikinis, and boats. That same year, Grammy and CMA award-winner Joe Nichols reached No. 1 with his rocking, up-tempo single “Sunny And 75,” a fun track that references bare feet covered in sand, beach chairs, and the salt air. When asked why he thinks his fans embraced the track so readily, Nichols replies, “Everyone loves the beach—the waves, sand, sunshine. Any time you head to one, you just know you’re gonna have a great time.” Nichols, a beach-lover himself, wanted to record that track from the first time he heard it. “I sure love singing,” he says, “but singing a beach song is almost like taking a minivacation on stage.”
RCA Records Nashville artist Jake Owen has strong feelings about two of his No. 1 country hits. “I think fans dig songs like ‘Beachin’ and ‘Barefoot Blue Jean Night’ because these tunes are fun and just make you feel reinvigorated.”When Kenny Chesney wants to kick back and recharge, the artist heads to the US Virgin Islands. The video for his hit song “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” opens with Chesney musing that the islands are the one place you can truly be as you are, a place, he says, “where no shoes, no shirt, no problems isn’t a song title but a way of life.”
Chesney often wears his creative hat while visiting St. John. He finds the island to be a perfect place to be still. Even if he’s rocking on a boat in the bay, he can be still enough to hear fresh lyrical ideas and bass-dominant, offbeat reggae rhythms bubbling up from his songwriter’s soul. Luckily for music lovers everywhere, Chesney is a good listener. He’s been hit with inspiration not just while on St. John, but also while boating off of St. Croix and while watching the sun set over St. Thomas.
Hit songwriter Jason Blume, who teaches the BMI Nashville Songwriters’ Workshop, offers up an explanation: “The lure of soaking up the sun and enjoying the surf in paradise is a theme that many country artists have sung about.
Of course, Jimmy Buffett’s ‘Margaritaville’ is the ultimate example of blending calypso rhythms and steel drums with country music. Those rhythms—and steel drums—can also be heard in Alan Jackson’s ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,’ which Buffett joined in on.” Author of the best-selling 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, Blume also shares a deep devotion to the tempo of island surroundings. “A few times a year I create my own personal writing retreat. I’ve done some of my best work on a balcony overlooking turquoise water and golden sand, with a warm tropical breeze blowing. I find my creativity really flows in that setting.”
Given the steady stream of modern hits that make listeners yearn for an island escape, it should come as no surprise that country music and Caribbean panoramas have a long, harmonious history together. Country songwriters have been penning lyrics paying homage to crystal-clear waters, swaying coconut palms, and fruity beverages garnished with umbrellas for decades.
In 1966, Elvis Presley gave us “Drums of the Islands,” and Marty Robbins went as far as dedicating a whole album of songs to the Caribbean concept with his Island Woman release, in 1964. Country Music Hall of Fame inductees Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers were so enchanted with Grand Cayman that, in the late eighties, they partnered with a group of fellow country music stars and invested in a local resort that included a state-of-the-art recording studio. Even country music legends Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash cherished their Caribbean getaway, Cinnamon Hill, a former plantation house on Jamaica built in the seventeen hundreds. The private estate, where frequent ghost sightings never troubled the Cash clan or their guests, is perched high above beautiful Montego Bay. In his candid autobiography, Johnny wrote: “Jamaica has saved and renewed me more times than I can count.”
“Where the Boat Leaves From,” a track on Zac Brown Band’s 2008 album The Foundation, could be the ultimate (if ultimately underappreciated) Caribbean country song for cruise enthusiasts. In fact, the lyrics may summarize the very sentiments that motivated you to come on your cruise vacation: “There’s a place where the boat leaves from. It takes away all of your big problems. You got worries, you can drop them in the blue ocean. But you got to get away to where the boat leaves from.” That’s just the tip of the lyrical love country music stars pay to the island way of life in flip-flop-tapping tunes that should be on your Caribbean cruise playlist right now.
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