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  • Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise” was inspired by an unusual tradition from an aircraft carrier.
  • Buffett lied about the origin of the song because he liked someone who owned a restaurant.
  • “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and its parent album became hits in the United States.
Jimmy Buffett with a "Cheeseburger in Paradise."
Jimmy Buffett | Walter McBride/WireImage

One of the most famous classic rock songs about food is Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” An odd comment made on a sailing trip inspired Buffett to write the song. Subsequently, Buffett lied about the song’s origin to get free food.

The strange tradition which inspired Jimmy Buffett

The 2017 book Jimmy Buffett: The Good Life All the Way discusses the origin of “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Gordon L. Gray Jr. was the captain of Buffett’s boat, the Euphoria II. Gray previously served on an aircraft carrier. The sailors on that aircraft carrier had an unusual tradition.

The tradition started when the sailors took a piece of beef, lacquered it, then attached it to a piece of wood. They called this creation the Hamburger Award. It was awarded to anyone who did anything extraordinary. If someone did something cool, they’d get called a “hamburger.”

Subsequently, Gray made this tradition his own by adding cheese. One day, Buffett was on his boat with women who were sunbathing topless. Gray called Buffett “a cheeseburger in paradise.” Buffett’s eyes lit up.

Jimmy Buffett said 1 restaurant inspired ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’ because he liked the owner of the restaurant

One of the women on the boat, Judy Corcoran discussed the origin of “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” “It never came from a restaurant,” she recalled. “Jimmy’s told dozens of restaurants that he wrote the song about them just so he could get free meals.

“He told Le Select in St. Barts that he wrote the song about Le Select because he genuinely liked that guy, and I think if there had to be an official restaurant for the cheeseburger in paradise song, it would be Le Select in St. Barts,” she continued.

“But the fact is, that line came out of [Gray’s] mouth on that day on that sailboat,” she said. “[Buffett] went absolutely bats***.”


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How ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’ and its parent album performed on the charts in the United States

“Cheeseburger in Paradise” became one of Buffett’s biggest hits. It reached No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100. It stayed on the chart for 11 weeks.

Buffett released “Cheeseburger in Paradise” on the album Son of a Son of a Sailor. The album reached No. 10 on the Billboard 200. It lasted 29 weeks on the chart. Afterward, Buffett had a chain of casual dining restaurants called Cheeseburger in Paradise. None of the restaurants remain.

“Cheeseburger in Paradise” is the most famous burger-themed song of all time and it wouldn’t exist without one sailor’s turn of phrase.