MOJO Time Machine: The Piña Colada Song Tops The Charts

On 22 December, 1979 Rupert Holmes’ Escape (The Piña Colada) was a surprise US number 1


by Fred Dellar |

22 December, 1979

Until the Christmas period of 1979, Rupert Holmes had never logged a US Top 50 single under his own name. But on December 22 he notched the final No.1 of the year – and the first of the new decade - with Escape (The Piña Colada Song).

A superior writer with a penchant for songs-as-mini-movies, he shaped Escape around the story of man so bored with a relationship that he answers a newspaper personal ad, from a woman whose idea of heaven was piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. The twist in the tale is that when they eventually get to meet, he sees she is his current girlfriend.

“The guy was so vain, it didn’t occur to him that the girl was also bored,” Holmes explains. He recalls that when he wrote the song, any thoughts of a piña colada were far from his mind. ”I had never had a piña colada in my life. I originally wrote, ‘If you like Humphrey Bogart and getting caught in the rain’.” Then he felt that name-checking Bogie might be something of a cliché, and made the fortuitous switch.

Not that he hadn’t been involved in hit records in the past. A Cheshire-born son on an English girl and a G.I.musician. Holmes had an impressive pop CV. “There was nothing I wanted to do except make records,” he says of his early career. And so Holmes took root in the New York studio circuit, tackling just about every job in the book, working on sessions with The Drifters, Gene Pitney, Tom Rush, The Platters and Andy Kim, also becoming a member of The Cuff Links, who gained a 1969 hit with Tracy. “Ron Dante and I alternated as lead vocalist with The Cuff Links. Of course there was no such group - it was all part of that, ‘cut a song, and if it’s a hit, then form the group’ syndrome. Ron Dante sang the lead on Tracy and I did a lot of the production.” A self-confessed bubblegum king, Holmes appeared on some 300 singles around that period. He also wrote songs for others, composed jingles and scored a couple of long-forgotten movies.

Work On A Star Is Born Soundtrack

But his solo output had already garnered praise from some heavy listeners. His highly-praised 1974 solo debut solo Widescreen received so many plaudits that even Barbra Streisand sat up and took notice. Not only did she ask Holmes if she could record some of his material, she then added a couple of his songs to the A Star Is Born soundtrack and employed others on several of her own albums (including Lazy Afternoon, which Holmes arranged and produced). He has fond memories of working with the diva: “I’d love to tell you juicy stories about working with Barbra, but the boring truth is that she was very kind to me. On our first session she handed me a deck of Rupert Bear cards and a little note that read ‘Rupert, don’t be afraid, you’re the best.’ I felt very grateful.”

Holmes then moved on to produce such artists as The Strawbs, Sparks, Lynsey De Paul, Sailor and John Miles, though he has great reservations about a producer’s role. “I used to ask for exorbitant fees in the hope that they’d turn me down,” he says.

"I had never had a piña colada in my life."

Rupert Holmes

Commercial success, as opposed to critical acclaim, came with the release of his fifth solo album, Partners in Crime, in 1979. This seemed unlikely at first: his previous album Pursuit Of Happiness suffered sales-wise when Private Stock, the label to which Holmes had signed, suddenly went belly-up. The same situation applied to Partners in Crime, which emerged on Infinity, a reputedly profligate label destined for a similar dive into the dustbin. Thankfully, MCA stepped in and the album, which had spawned Escape as the first spin-off single, was re-promoted.

Regarding Escape, he says: “I always wanted to write a song about answering an ad in the personal column of those alternative newspapers. I was struggling with the idea, then I woke one day and said, ‘of course’… I didn’t sit down and ask how could I have a commercial hit single. Lyrically it wasn’t different from a\_WkR2Tv4dq4 lot of the things I’d done over the years. As a matter of fact, when they asked me what should be the first single, I said (follow up single) Him, but the promotion people thought that Escape with its twist ending was strong. They said we can break the ground with this song. And they were right.”

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