Aw, it’s you: On 35 years of torture from Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”

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Thirty five years ago, on October 5, 1979, Rupert Holmes released a seemingly innocuous follow up to Pursuit of Happiness — home of his then-best ever charting song, the limpid 1978 No. 72 finisher “Let’s Get Crazy Tonight.” Except Partners in Crime was different, or at least “Escape” was. And it’s been driving me crazy every night since.

If that title isn’t ringing a bell, I’ll direct you to the tune’s helpful subtitle — as if any fool, ahem, who knows all the words, cough, could forget: The Pina Colada Song. It would ultimately settle in for a two-week run at No. 1, beginning on December 22, 1979, and then make a dramatic rebound to the top of the charts the following January.

Oh, and also lodge itself forever in my inner ear.

I know. I shouldn’t like this. The reasons are many: The silly premise, that passive-aggressively lazy beat, its easy cynicism. It’s true, he was nobody’s poet. Then it comes on the radio.

You have to hate “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” I keep telling myself. The reasons, as I say, are many:

BECAUSE I’ve never bought the idea that this dude’s wife, upon hearing that he also placed an ad looking for anonymous love, and snuck out to meet this person at a local dive, would simply sigh and say: “Aw, it’s you.” Not unless a certain pejorative involving making love to your own mom followed.

BECAUSE it’s subtitled “The Pina Colada Song,” for cripes sakes.

BECAUSE Mystery Science Theater 3000 had a point: How come neither spouse knew about this deep-seated longing for fadish umbrella drinks? “What, would they always panic and order Manhattans or something?”

BECAUSE every time I think I’ve wrenched myself free of Holmes’ zombie hit, it shows up again on my TV. (Note to self: Be ready to fast forward during Guardians of the Galaxy, Shrek, Bewitched, The Shield, Dirty Work, the Taco Bell commercial with the cockatoo, The Sweetest Thing, Detroit Rock City, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Tommy Boy, American Splendor and Mars Attacks!, among literally countless others.)

BECAUSE Rupert Holmes, who recorded the vocal for this eventual decade-ending charttopper on the first take, reportedly doesn’t even like pina coladas, for cripes sakes.

BECAUSE doing it in the dunes at the cape — at midnight, or any other time — is probably kind of scratchy.

BECAUSE that Super Bowl commercial from a few years back with this song and Ben Roethlisberger seems kind of creepy now, after all of that skeevy business the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback allegedly got involved in.

BECAUSE I’m not believing that anyone would agree to meet up for a blind date with a stranger from the personals at any of the O’Malley’s I’ve ever been to. If you’re looking for a beer-soaked pool table, and maybe a fight, you go to a place called O’Malley’s.

BECAUSE this song made an undead return in 1980, supplanting the appropriately named “Please Don’t Go,” by K.C. and the Sunshine Band. I know, as Holmes sings, that it sounds kind of mean — but seriously, K.C., please don’t go.

BECAUSE Rupert Holmes actually argued with record executives over releasing the song at all. He wanted to go with the mawkishly annoying “Him” from the same album. (Yes, we were just that close to avoiding the whole thing.) Of course, the success of “Escape” (Holmes’ first and, so far, only No. 1 hit) meant that “Him” would later go to No. 6, despite its similarly laughable implausibility. This time, Holmes has a cuckold becoming thoughtfully pensive — rather than furniture-smashingly violent — after noticing another man’s cigarettes on the nightstand.

BECAUSE guys who look like that are supposed to design my computer software, not make my hit songs.

BECAUSE guitarist Dean Bailen — seemingly doomed to play the same aneurysm-inducing riff, over and over and over and over — is then given a chance to solo. So, he plays a different aneurysm-inducing lick. You guessed it, over and over.

Because of Jack Johnson. I mean, c’mon.

BECAUSE nobody ever likes getting caught in the rain. I mean, c’mon.

BECAUSE now I’ve got myself singing the damn thing again.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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