Friday, August 29, 2008

Rupert's Pina Colada Song

Rupert Holmes is best known for his U.S. #1 hit single ‘Escape (The Pina Colada Song), the song best known for one of the more memorable lyrics in popular music. But the career and talents of Rupert Holmes extended far before and beyond the line “If you like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain”.

Born in England, Rupert Holmes moving to New York with his
family at the age of six. That also happened to be the same age that Holmes wrote his first song ‘Nobody Loves Me’ (probably while harbouring thoughts of running away from home). As a child he studied the clarinet but was unable to indulge in his love of contemporary music until his teen age years exposed him to the music of the Beatles and the like. He formed his first band in high school, called the Nomads, soon after studying for a degree in music composition at the Manhattan School of Music.

Keen to avoid a career in cl
assical music, Holmes went to work as a contract writer for music publishing house Lou Levy Publishing, earning the princely sum of $45 per week. He spent the latter part of the 60s honing his song writing craft penning/arranging tunes for the likes of The Drifters, The Platters, Gene Pitney and even the Partridge Family. In 1970 he lent his vocal talents to the studio based male/female vocal quartet Street People, who scored a minor U.S. hit with ‘Jennifer Tomkins’ (#36).

During the same period in the late 60s/early 70s Holmes also wrote and played piano for both The Cuff Links and The Buoys, and produced the self titled 1971 album for Ol‘ Paint. Holmes scored his first top 20 hit as a songwriter when he penned The Buoys’ 1971 hit ‘Timothy’ (US#17). Inspired by the success of ‘Timothy’, Holmes embarked on a solo career as a performer. His debut album was 1974’s ‘Widescreen’, but the album missed the charts, so Holmes decided to add production duties to his workload to pay the rent. His next assignment was producing/arranging/co-writing Barbra Streisand’s 1975 album ‘Lazy Afternoon’ (he also wrote several tracks for Streisand ‘A Star Is Born’ soundtrack. That same year the workaholic Holmes recorded his self titled second album and worked the production controls on Sailor’s popular album ‘Trouble’ (which featured their biggest hits ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ and ‘A Glass Of Champagne’ - see future post).

Over the next three years from 1976 to 1978 Rupert Holmes based himself back in England and was producer for artists as diverse as Sparks (see future post), the Strawbs, and John Miles (see previous post), in addition to recording two more solo albums with ‘Singles’ (1977) and ‘Pursuit Of Happiness’ (1978), which yielded his first chart hit, albeit in a minor one, with ‘Let’s Get Crazy Tonight’ (US#72). If the music buying public at large didn’t already know the name Rupert Holmes, they soon would with a song that would become one of the biggest hits of the late 70s/early 80s era.

He signed with a new label in 1979, Infinity Records, his third record label in as many years. His first single would prove the breakthrough song in Rupert Holmes’ career. ‘Escape (The Pina Colada Song)’ showcased Holmes’ genius as a wordsmith as much as musician. Holmes often wrote his lyrics in the form of short narratives or vignettes. ‘Escape’ told the story of a man dissatisfied in his present relationship and hoping to meet someone exotic and interesting. He answers a lonely hearts newspaper ad with his own reply, arranging a meeting with this ‘strange woman’. Turns out when the two meet at a bar that the woman is his girlfriend. Holmes saw it as a potential new beginning for both. Obviously a lot of people related to the emotional subtext in the song, not to mention the catchy melody, sending ‘Escape’ soaring to the top of the U.S. charts for three weeks during December 1979. Around the same time the song was climbing up the Australian charts, peaking at #3 in early 1980 (UK#23). The follow up hit ‘Him’ was another connected with the whole relationships theme, and proved almost as successful in the U.S. (#6), though didn’t quite reach the same heights elsewhere (OZ#23/UK#31). Holmes released the album ‘Partners In Crime’ (US#33/OZ#59) in early 1980, which included ‘Escape’ and ‘Him’, and also yielded the minor U.S. hit ‘Answering Machine’ (#32).

MCA quickly released the follow up album ‘Adventure’ which, though featuring two minor hits in ‘Morning Man’ (US#68/OZ#94) and ‘I Don’t Need You’ (US#56), fell well short of its predecessor. MCA promptly dropped Holmes from its roster, sending the musical journeyman across to Elektra. 1981’s ‘Full Circle’ saw Holmes solo career come full circle back to the point where commercial success eluded him.

Holmes turned his energies back to a project that had been bubbling away for more than a decade. In 1971 Holmes had purchased a copy of Charles Dickens’ ‘The Mystery Of
Edwin Drood’ whilst on a cross country train journey. He so fell in love with the story that he set about writing a musical adaptation. His labour of lover was released in 1986 when the Broadway musical ‘Drood’ opened to packed houses, winning Holmes two Tony Awards for Best Book of a Musical and Best Musical Score. That same year the Rupert Holmes penned song ‘You Got It All’ went to #3 on the U.S. charts for The Jets. In 1994 a compilation album titled ‘The Epoch Collection’ was released featuring the highlights of Rupert Holmes’ earlier work, including earlier attempts to hone his Broadway style. The same year his first album of new material in over a decade was released with ‘Scenario’. In 1996 he also wrote and worked as a producer on the nostalgia TV show ‘Remember WENN’ for the American Movie Classics cable network. In more recent years Holmes has continued his prolific output of artistic material including the Broadway hits ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’, ‘Say Goodnight Gracie’ and ‘The Hamburger Hamlet’, not to mention being the author of the historical thriller novel ‘Swing’ and the award winning ‘Where The Truth Lies’ (which was adapted to a motion picture in 2006 starring Kevin Bacon).

Far from being just the guy who sang about pina coladas, Rupert Holmes is truly an artistic chameleon of rare and lasting genius, mastering the mediums of song writer, producer, arranger, performer, playwright, screenwriter and novelist, resulting in a forty year plus career to be celebrated.

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