Nope, Not a 1-Hit Wonder: Rupert Holmes
“Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” is one of the biggest and most iconic soft rock hits of the late 70’s. Its smooth echo-enhanced jazzy production sent it to a 3-week stay at #1 on the Billboard charts in the U.S. in November of 1979 and made it one of those songs that caused folks who considered themselves fans of real rock ‘n’ roll to retch a little. If I wasn’t a sucker for verse-chorus-verse style songwriting, I’d probably be one of them. As it is, I could only bear to listen to the song once while writing this article, and that was just to be sure the video I included matched what I was hoping for.
This ode to a pair of lovers who plan on cheating on one another only to find that they’d answered each other’s personals ad somehow caught on with the folks who program the music in dentists’ waiting rooms. I find it hard to believe that a real couple in this situation would find it so hilarious and romantic. It sounds more like a fast track to the end of a relationship to me.
The “Me” Generation easy listening dork with the glasses and beard to match is definitely a 1-hit wonder, right? Right?
Ummm…Nope. Not by a long shot.
Rupert Holmes was born to musical American parents in England back in 1947 as David Goldstein. Maybe it is his birth name which made him think “Rupert” was a cool moniker. Geez dude, if you’re going to change your name, you can sure do better than that, can’t you? By the way, do you think Christian Bale has put his costume from American Hustle in mothballs yet? He could put it to use in a Rupert Holmes biopic with very little effort.
Holmes was a young songwriter and arranger brought in to help put together a full album for the group the Cuff Links after their initial single “Tracy” was a top10 hit. Unfortunately, the Cuff Links’ lead singer promptly signed a contract with another label that forbade his recording with anyone else. As talent and management clashed, good old Rupert put the finishing touches on the album and then found himself as the replacement lead singer in a follow-up effort. The change hurt the already tenuous grasp the group had on the record buying public and only one Cuff Links single hit the charts after the first album, with “Run Sally Run” reaching all the way up to #76 in the U.S. They had a little bit more success in Australia. A little bit.
The disconnect was substantial enough that Holmes made a few tweaks to one of his Cuff Links songs and re-released it under the group name “Street People.”
The song “Jennifer Tomkins” scratched at the U.S. top40, landing at #36 in 1970.
He also showed up playing piano for a band called The Buoys. Things get interesting here. Holmes had written a song called “Timothy” with the express anticipation that it would get banned by radio stations and had personally selected The Buoys to record it. Why would “Timothy” get banned you ask? Well, the song is about three coal miners who get trapped under ground due to a cave-in. It takes a little bit of time for them to be rescued, and they get hungry, so…they eat Timothy. Timothy is one of the three miners.
“Timothy” was not well promoted by The Buoys record company, but was a grass-roots hit because teenage boys in the early 70’s had nothing better to do than listen closely to the lyrics of obscure bands. The cannibalistic subject matter inspired lots of smirking phone calls to radio stations requesting that they play this song by this unknown group. By the time the radio stations realized what they were playing and started banning the song, as Holmes had expected, “Timothy” was already a hit. The Buoys record company tried to convince many stations that Timothy was a mule instead of a human miner, but Holmes did not play along. “Timothy” peaked at #17 on the Billboard charts, possibly the best-selling song ever about cannibalism. Hey, Shakespeare wrote about it too.
In 1974 Holmes began his career as a solo artist, releasing his first album, “Widescreen” and becoming one of Barbara Streisand’s favorite songwriters of the time. She recorded songs of his for seven different albums during her career. Despite this and plenty of work as a producer, solo success eluded him until “Escape” hit it big on his fifth studio album, “Partners in Crime.” It was a smash.
If you haven’t panned down yet, see if you can name the other top10 hit Holmes garnered from the album just a few months later.
I never would have come up with it, myself. Even after seeing the title, it didn’t ring a bell. But at about the 1 minute mark, I thought “oh yeah…that!”
I guess once you’ve had a hit about cannibal coal miners, back to back tunes on the subject of infidelity shouldn’t raise a ripple.
But that’s not all! Nope! Rupert Holmes had another top 40 hit in 1980. The idea that you could leave a recorded message for someone if they weren’t home when you called was still a little novel in 1980 (despite the fact that James Garner had been using one of these machines on his show The Rockford Files since 1974) and Holmes capitalized on it by scoring yet another story song, this one about lovers who can’t quite connect with all their new-fangled technology.
“Answering Machine” was not such a big hit, topping out at #32 in June. This was the kind of music some of my friends’ parents listened to while they drove us to school or chorus practice.
With three top40 hits in one year, you’d think Holmes would have doubled down on his recording career, but his discography shows just three more pop albums. Instead, Holmes saw the writing on the wall that was MTV and switched gears, becoming an award-winning playwright instead, most notably penning The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Accomplice, and Say Goodnight, Gracie. He’s won multiple Tony awards, Drama Desk awards, and Edgar awards for his dramatic writings. It’s always nice to have something to fall back on when your pop music career peters out.
Posted on April 9, 2014, in Music, Nope, Not a 1-Hit Wonder, theatre and tagged Answering Machine, Escape, Him, Pina Colada, Rupert Holmes, Street People, The Buoys. Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.