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Talking Pina Coladas With Rupert Holmes at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School

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Rupert Holmes, best known for writing and recording "The Piña Colada Song" spoke to students at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School about songwriting and performing. Credits: John Mooney
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Rupert Holmes performing "The Piña Colada Song" in the early 1980s. Credits: YouTube
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SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Anyone old enough to have been listening to AM radio -- when stations still primarily played music -- in 1980 would recognize the ubiquitous strains of "Escape," better known as "The Piña Colada Song," by Rupert Holmes. Holmes recently spoke to students at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School about songwriting and performing.

The song tells the tale of a couple who "were together too long" and both secretly decided to find a more suitable companion in the newspaper personal ads. The two potential lovers detail their likes (including Piña Coladas and getting caught in the rain) and dislikes (yoga and health food) and set up a rendez-vous at a bar called O'Malley's where they would plan their escape. The plot twist comes when the husband and wife instantly recognize each other and realized there was so much about each other that they both never knew.

The song skyrocketed up the Billboard charts in late December of 1979 and hit #1 as the year ended and held the spot into the new year, 1980. Holmes’ anthem of lovers' angst became an iconic song of the 1980s and has reached new generations through films, including Shrek, Grownups, and Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as TV shows, such as The Simpsons, Six Feet UnderWill and Grace, and The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon.

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In 1979, there was an element of adventure associated with personal ads.  

"When I wrote the song, writing a personal ad was still something of a novel idea, and a little scandalous," Holmes said in an interview with TAP into SPF. "It wasn't common back then, while today, dating sites are more commonplace."

He was asked, how the song would be different in the age of eHarmony, Match.com, and Tinder.

"The song is a bit dated now," said Holmes. "People aren't writing to newspaper personal ads anymore. It would be different. I had thought about updating it, but fans of the song would be upset. Some things are best left unchanged."

Fun facts about "The Piña Colada Song" according to Holmes:

  • The original lyrics were: “If you like Humphrey Bogart and getting caught in the rain.”
  • The line ‘If you like Piña Coladas' was written five minutes before Holmes recorded it. ("The vocal you hear on the record is the first time I ever sang the song.")
  • Although there was a bar called O'Malley's near where Holmes lived at the time, he didn't  realize it until after he had written the song.
  • The song was originally titled “Escape” with no reference to the tropical drink. When it started receiving air play, people called radio stations asking for “The Piña Colada Song.” It stuck.
  • Record company executives gave the song a subtitle, changing it to “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” and explained to Holmes that it would not sell if they didn’t. 
  • Before the song became a hit, there weren't many places in the US where you could get a Piña Colada. Afterward, one could order the cocktail just about anywhere.

"The Piña Colada Song"

I was tired of my lady, we'd been together too long
Like a worn-out recording, of a favorite song
So while she lay there sleeping, I read the paper in bed
And in the personals column, there was this letter I read

"If you like Piña Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you're not into yoga, if you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
I'm the love that you've looked for, write to me, and escape"

I didn't think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean
But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine
So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad
And though I'm nobody's poet, I thought it wasn't half bad

"Yes, I like Piña Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
I'm not much into health food, I am into champagne
I've got to meet you by tomorrow noon, and cut through all this red tape
At a bar called O'Malley's, where we'll plan our escape"

So I waited with high hopes, then she walked in the place
I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face
It was my own lovely lady, and she said, "Oh, it's you"
And we laughed for a moment, and I said, "I never knew"

"That you liked Piña Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
And the feel of the ocean, and the taste of champagne
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
You're the love that I've looked for, come with me, and escape"

"If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you're not into yoga, if you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
I'm the love that you've looked for, come with me, and escape"

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