Welcome back, my friends, to another edition of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold! Oh, what wussiness shall we cover today? No need to wait to find out: IT’S TIME TO GET GENTLE!
Rupert Holmes – Escape (The PiÁƒ±a Colada Song) (download)
I know what you’re thinking: yet another irritating song by a one-hit wonder. While the “one-hit wonder” part is certainly true, you might be surprised to know that Rupert Holmes’ career has certainly not been limited to this song. First, though, let’s talk about this Mellow Gold hit.
An artist who was once compared to Bob Dylan by Rolling Stone, “Escape (The PiÁƒ±a Colada Song)” came from his fifth album Partners In Crime. To be honest, it’s not much of a song: the music is actually just a 16-bar groove that’s been looped a number of times to form a complete tune. The music was recorded well before the lyrics; Holmes wrote a number of words for the song but found that none of them were original enough to stand out above the obviously repetitive music.
The night before his last scheduled recording session for Partners In Crime, Holmes opened up the personals section of The Village Voice and came up with an idea: what if you answered a personal ad, intending to have an affair, and found out the woman on the other end was actually your wife? You have to admit that, as song scenarios go, this is a pretty good one. The lyrics were almost perfect, but Holmes wasn’t satisfied with his hook: “If you like Humphrey Bogart, and getting caught in the rain.” (If you’re trying to sing this to yourself, put the emphasis on the word “like.”) Reminiscent of other Holmes songs that referenced movies, he changed the reference to piÁƒ±a coladas just five minutes before laying down the vocal, despite never having tasted one in his life. The vocal you’re hearing is Holmes’ first-take scratch vocal.
The song was originally released simply as “Escape,” but the record company convinced a reluctant Holmes to amend the title after hearing that people were going to record stores asking for “the song about piÁƒ±a coladas.” The song was extremely successful – WABC in New York played it while it was still at #60, which was a rarity for them – and it became the final #1 of 1979. It fell to #2 during the first week of 1980, but hit #1 again the following week, which made Holmes the only artist to hit #1 with the same song in two consecutive decades. (This fact seems to be erroneously reported on a number of websites, including Holmes’ himself – they claim that it was the last #1 of 1979 and the first #1 of 1980. Not true. You can blame K.C. and The Sunshine Band for the interruption.)
“Escape (The PiÁƒ±a Colada Song)” has, of course, been a double-edged sword for Holmes. As he’s said: “No matter what else I do, my tombstone will be a giant pineapple.” Everybody hopes for a hit like this one, but I can imagine that when you go on to other successes, it can get a little tiring.
What successes, you may ask? How about his career as a playwright? In 1985, Holmes wrote the book, music and lyrics to an adaptation of the Dickens novel The Mystery Of Edwin Drood. The Broadway musical won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Holmes won himself for Best Book and Best Score, and also won three Drama Desk Awards. His play Say Goodnight, Gracie was the longest running Broadway play of its season, and was nominated for a Tony as well. His newest musical is Curtains, for which he wrote the book (music by Kander & Ebb), coming to Broadway in 2007.
Separate from Broadway, he’s the creator and writer of the short-lived TV show Remember WENN (which starred my buddy and co-actor, the late George Hall), the author of best-selling book Where The Truth Lies (which became a movie starring Kevin Bacon), and has a new successful novel out entitled Swing. Oh, and by the way, he wrote – oooh, I love this – “You Got It All,” which was a hit for The Jets in 1986.
So. It’s not like he’s only big in Syracuse, people. Rupert Holmes has far surpassed his Mellow Gold status. And yet, it’s still the #1 thing for which he’ll always be remembered. And the worst part? He finally tried the piÁƒ±a colada, and hated it: “It tastes like Kaopectate and club soda.”
Randy VanWarmer – Just When I Needed You Most (download)
Covering this Mellow Gold gem was inevitable. Woofpop suggested it first; then Terje; then David. Seriously, I think that’s the most requests I’ve had for a single song. (Three requests is the most? Not sure if that’s good or bad.)
They’re all with good reason. “Just When I Needed You Most” is Mellow Gold at its Mellow Goldiest. It’s written from the point of view of a man who has absolutely no freaking trace of dignity left. As woofpop said, it’s Dan Hill getting dumped. I’ll see your Dan Hill, sir, and raise you Paul Davis, after the girl realizes the cool night doesn’t feel right, and she goes.
Randy VanWarmer wussed onto the scene in 1979. Although born in America, he moved to England as a child following his father’s death, and returned in his 20s, settling on Woodstock as home. And, naturally, as a Woodstock resident, became friends with Robbie Dupree. (There should be a sign when you enter Woodstock: Do not attempt to avoid Robbie Dupree.)
VanWarmer signed with Bearsville Records, a local label run by Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan’s manager, whose most prominent artist was Todd Rundgren. “Just When I Needed You Most” eventually reached #4 on the Billboard charts in September 1979, and it proved to be VanWarmer’s only hit. As a writer, he penned a #1 country song recorded by the Oak Ridge Boys in 1984, “I Guess It Never Hurts To Hurt Sometimes.” (Quick MG connection: members of the Oak Ridge Boys were also in The Boys Band, covered here in MG #8!) In 1992, he also hit #1 on the country charts as a writer for Alabama, with their hit “I’m In A Hurry (And I Don’t Know Why).” “Just When I Needed You Most” was covered by a few artists, most notably Dolly Parton in 1996.
So back to the song itself. It’s actually quite pretty. It’s melodic, and the vocal is sweet, albeit high; it’s what Timothy B. Schmit would sound like if somebody cut off his other nut. I can see why it was a hit, given the disturbingly high levels of male sensitivity in the late ’70s. I don’t know; I suppose there might have even been a time where a girl might hear a pathetic whimper like this song, go “awwww, that’s so sweet!” and take the lame, sad sap back.
Who am I kidding? Nobody would date a guy who sang shit like this! It’s yet another Mellow Gold song that proves why she left in the first place! Will we ever find a song that features a guy who will actually fight to get his woman back? A man who will fight for her honor? A man who will be the hero she’s thinking of? Oh god, I just quoted Peter Cetera. You see what you’ve done to me, Randy VanWarmer? You’ve reduced me to using Peter Cetera as an example of a man who…well, nevermind, just an example of a MAN. It’s sad, Randy…
…and yet I really like this song. Between you and me, I could totally see myself getting dumped, putting on a robe, grabbing a pint of Chubby Hubby, curling up in the fetal position on the couch and crying hysterically all night to this song.
I think there may be an additional reason why VanWarmer’s records may not have been flying off the shelves: VanWarmer was yet another victim of Terrible Album Covers.
There’s this one:
“Mommmm! Randy’s trying to make me play Doctor again!”
and this one:
“Call Me” is a track from the album, but in this case, I think he may have just written it in so someone would call him.
oh, and this one:
“Houston, we have a problem: I’m a dork.”
Sadly, Randy VanWarmer died on January 12, 2004, of leukemia. I found some articles on his death and posts on blog sites, and was impressed at how many people loved his music (and, obviously, this song, since it was his only hit). Fare thee well, Mr. VanWarmer: the world is a wussier place because of you.
And that’s the end of another week of Adventures Through The Mines of Mellow Gold! See you soon!