Pirates (album)

Pirates is the second album by Chicago-born singer, songwriter, and musician Rickie Lee Jones, released in July 1981, two years after her eponymous debut Rickie Lee Jones. The album is partially an account of her break-up with fellow musician Tom Waits after the success of her debut album. The cover is a 1976-copyrighted photo by Brassaï.

Pirates - Rickie Lee Jones.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedJuly 15, 1981
RecordedJanuary 1980 - April 1981
StudioWarner Bros. Recording Studios, North Hollywood, California
LabelWarner Bros.
ProducerLenny Waronker, Russ Titelman
Rickie Lee Jones chronology
Rickie Lee Jones
Girl at Her Volcano


Initial recording for Pirates began in January 1980, with the live recordings for "Skeletons" and "The Returns" from January 30 from these sessions kept on the final album. In the same month, Jones picked up a Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

Jones came to album sessions at Warner Bros. Recording Studios in North Hollywood with five songs, which were recorded and arranged in a two-month spurt in early 1980 before Jones was given an extended break for further writing. Album sessions reconvened in November 1980 and concluded in April 1981, three months before the album release.

All songs were copyrighted on June 9, 1980, as well as "Hey Bub", which was omitted from the album release, except for "Living It Up" and "Traces of the Western Slopes", copyrighted in July 1981, at the time of the album release.


Jones relocated to New York City after her split from Tom Waits, and soon set up home with a fellow musician, Sal Bernardi from New Jersey, whom she had met in Venice, California in the mid-1970s, writing in their apartment in Greenwich Village. Bernardi, who had been referenced in the lyrics to "Weasel and the White Boys Cool" from her debut, was to become a frequent collaborator with Jones, and they composed the epic eight-minute suite "Traces of the Western Slopes" together.

Jones started writing the first songs from the album - "Hey Bub" (unreleased until 1983), "We Belong Together" and "Pirates" - in the autumn of 1979.

Elsewhere, the music on Pirates is often cinematic, with influences ranging from Leonard Bernstein to Bruce Springsteen and Laura Nyro. The album is more musically ambitious than its predecessor, and explores elements of jazz, R&B, bebop, pop and Broadway, with multiple changes in tempo and mood within most songs.

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
Allmusic      link
Robert ChristgauC+ [1]
Rolling Stone      [2]

Pirates was well received by most critics achieving a five-star rating in Rolling Stone,[2] which featured Jones for a second time on the cover of the August 6, 1981, issue. The album also became a Top 5 US chart success and remained on the UK album charts for three months without the aid of a major hit single.

  • The Age (Australia), Aug 6, 1981 - "On Pirates, Rickie Lee Jones executes a brilliant artistic leap which not only outshines her Grammy-winning debut album but establishes her as one of the most important singer/songwriters of the decade."

Stephen Holden writing in Rolling Stone concluded his review by saying "[i]t's Rickie Lee Jones' voice that carries Pirates to the stars and makes her whole crazy vision not only comprehensible but compulsive, compelling and as welcome as Christmas in July."[2]

  • Time (US), Jan 4, 1982 - Best of 1981 - "Tales of lovers, losers and wanderers, delivered with a bopster's inflection and the sidling sensuality of a carhop."

In recent years, Pirates' reputation has grown considerably, with British-based music magazine Word magazine proclaiming it as one of pop music's 25 Most Underrated Albums of All Time in 2005.


All songs written and composed by Rickie Lee Jones, except when noted:

"We Belong Together"
Just like "Chuck E's In Love" from Pirates' predecessor Rickie Lee Jones, "We Belong Together" contains a notable drum break from Steve Gadd.

"Living It Up"
One of the last songs recorded for Pirates, "Living It Up" details the lives of a succession of bohemian street characters, with Jones introducing Louie, Eddie, and the down-and-out teenage domestic violence victim Zero. Jones' jaunty piano melody is embellished by sweeps of orchestration, lavish vocal harmonies, and tempo changes.


"Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking" (Jones, David Kalish)
Co-written with David Kalish, this is a bebop tribute to 1950s R&B icons, with a finger-snapping guitar riff and an in-studio male vocal chorus. It is one of the album's most upbeat songs and one of the few not to feature significant tempo/rhythm changes. The rhythm of the song is driven by a funk style bass line played by Chuck Rainey and percussion boxes and thighs played by Steve Gadd.

"Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue)"
Another ode to Waits, this references "rainbow sleeves" in its lyrics; Waits' song "Rainbow Sleeves" was later to be recorded by Jones on her EP album Girl at Her Volcano. The song begins jauntily with a jazz horn melody before the horns fade out, making a return for the coda.

"A Lucky Guy"

"Traces of the Western Slopes" (Sal Bernardi, Jones)
Co-written with then-boyfriend Sal Bernardi, this is an eight-minute epic again detailing bohemian nightlife and referencing Edgar Allan Poe.

"The Returns"
A soft, simple ending delivered solo on piano with a string arrangement, much like the closer to the previous album, "After Hours". It is also the album's shortest composition.

Track listingEdit

  1. "We Belong Together" 4:59
  2. "Living It Up" 6:23
  3. "Skeletons" 3:37
  4. "Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking" (Jones, David Kalish) - 5:15
  5. "Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue)" 3:50
  6. "A Lucky Guy" 4:14
  7. "Traces of the Western Slopes" (Sal Bernardi, Jones) - 8:00
  8. "The Returns" 2:20


  • Loyd Clifft, Mark Linett – engineer
  • Mike Salisbury – cover design
  • Brassaï – front cover photography



Year Chart Position
1981 US 5
1981 UK 37

Singles - Billboard

Year Single Chart Position
1981 "Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue)" Mainstream Rock 40
1981 "Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking" Mainstream Rock 31
1981 "A Lucky Guy" Pop Singles 64


  1. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates > Consumer Guide Album". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 5 March 2008.
  2. ^ a b c Holden, Stephen (September 3, 1981). "Rickie Lee Jones Pirates > Album Review". Rolling Stone (351). Archived from the original on 2007-11-12. Retrieved 25 May 2006.


External linksEdit