“Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” was the last #1 hit of 1979; it dropped to #2 and returned to #1 for one more week on 12 January, 1980.
If you know your 70s music really well, you may be aware that Rupert Holmes has a wicked sense of humor. You see, he was responsible for one of 1971’s weirdest hits, “Timothy“, which is about three guys who get stuck in a mine during a cave in, and two of them eat the third. “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” isn’t nearly as morbid or controversial, and it’s a lot easier on the ears, but it still has a wry irony to it.
Underneath that vaguely tropical beat and that windswept wistful guitar solo, there’s a story worthy of O. Henry. “Like a worn out recording of a favorite song,” the singer has found himself living a boring routine day in and day out with his wife. On a whim, he reads in the personals a slightly snarky ad from a woman who wants a mildly adventurous guy: not into yoga, has half a brain, likes to make love at midnight in sand dunes, and, of course, a fan of pina coladas. He responds with an ad on a similar snark level, suggesting they meet up at a bar and plan their escape
Now, if The Kinks had written this song, the mystery woman would be a transvestite. If Morrissey or Anne Clarke had written it, the mystery woman would never show up. But Rupert, bless him, has the woman turn up, and, of course, it’s the same world-weary wife the singer is trying to escape from.
I want to point out a really magical moment in this song: at 2:47, when she sees her husband there in the bar, she says, “Oh, it’s you,” and you can just feel both the disappointment and the humor welling up in her soul. It’s a line suitable for an episode of Soap that seems like a throwaway, but on which hinges the soul of this song. It’s such a human response; it shows that Rupert Holmes really is a very good observer of human behavior.
How does the song end? In much the way that episode of Soap would… the couple probably briefly considers being angry at each other, but then, with a smile, rediscover the exciting sides of each other that they’d clearly forgotten. I like to think that they do make their escape, together, to Aruba or Abaco or some other Caribbean island to have their pina coladas and sand-dune trysts. It sure sounds like the man in the equation is getting there emotionally; with what sounds like a wry smile, he starts, “I didn’t know you like pina coladas…”
And to be honest, I didn’t know I liked the Pina Colada song until I really listened to it. I’d heard it in passing so many times and assumed it was boring drivel, but now that I’ve really paid attention to it, like the two people in the song, I’ve realized there’s a lot more to it than I had given it credit for. It has a humorous, slightly edgy side to it that hides under a mundane exterior; it tickles my brain, and my funny bone, and my heart all at once. It’s a keeper.