A Little Dact'll Do Ya

Rupert Holmes

Artie Shaw gave me the pass
And Miller's band signed up en masse
To serenade
The D-Day raid --
If I play one more country club, I'll
[colorful verb drowned out by woodwinds]

Lord, I'd even buy myself a new reed
If they would only let me play lead. . . .

-- Rupert Holmes, "Second Saxophone"

Terry Teachout surprises today with an "Almanac" entry quoting lyrics from "The People That You Never Get to Love," a lesser known (but beautifully crafted) song by Rupert Holmes

"Rupert Holmes," you say, "He wrote and sang the dreaded Pina Colada Song, right?"  Indeed he did, more's the pity.  I really, really dislike that song, out of all proportion to its objectively objectionable qualities, because for several years prior to its huge success at the start of 1980 I had been a deep-dyed Rupert Holmes fan.  That Holmes should be known to the larger world only as the creator of a Song Everyone Loves to Hate struck me then, and strikes me now, as a wicked jape of the Muse.

Terry's quotation provides an excuse for me to praise Mr. Holmes for the talented fellow he is, and to recommend to you tracking down his work before his paean to umbrella drinks.  "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" appeared on Holmes' fifth album, Partners in Crime (as does the far superior song quoted by the Honorable Mr. Teachout).  His first album, Widescreen, was an eclectic assortment: adult pop somewhat on the lines of Barry Manilow (who later recorded a version of Holmes' "Studio Musician"), clever story songs, outright jokes, even a mock radio drama.  It caught the attention of Barbra Streisand, and Holmes and his producer pal Jeffrey Lesser later co-produced a Streisand album, Lazy Afternoon, on which she sang several Holmes compositions, including the aforementioned "Widescreen." 

[Digression: The song "Lazy Afternoon" itself has nothing to do with Rupert Holmes.  It has been covered by a number of singers and jazz musicians (I'm partial to Mark Isham's trumpet-based version) and comes from The Golden Apple, a 1954 Broadway musical based very, very loosely on Homer's epics -- transferred to rural Rhododendron, Washington.  Kaye Ballard, as Helen, sang the song originally, and can be heard doing so on the original cast recording.  My parents saw the show in New York on their honeymoon.  Life's a seamless web, isn't it?  End of digression.]

Holmes' next three albums -- Rupert Holmes, Singles, and The Pursuit of Happiness, none of which seem to enjoy a current domestic release -- grew progressively more serious (although the jokes never disappeared altogether) while maintaining high standards of songcraft.  Then came that darned Pina Colada ditty.  I can't begrudge Holmes his success with that tune, but I can surely wish that something, anything from the rest of his repertoire had brought him the big payday.

After Partners In Crime, Holmes never had another pop hit.  He did find other realms for success, however, winning himself three Tony awards -- Best Score, Best Book and Best Musical -- in 1985 for The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  He has a number of successful ventures into the theater, musical and non-musical, to his credit since then, and this past year published a thriller, Where the Truth Lies, that is -- you guessed it -- soon to be a Major Motion Picture (details at the rather gaudy semi-official rupertholmes.com).

If I have piqued your interest in Holmes and his 100% Colada-free earlier work, I recommend Widescreen and the officially-out-of-print-but-not-too-hard-to-come-by Varese Sarabande compilation from 1994, The Epoch Collection, which contains most of the best material from those first three albums.  I think I'll go listen to that one in my car on the drive home today.


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