Rupert Holmes is really a terrible songwriter. Most of his songs sound like the guys from Ishtar wrote them. Check out “Nearsighted” from the same album as this song for a great example. His career up to that point is as good evidence as any that the late-70’s Los Angeles music industry was an affirmative action program for white men. But he got extremely lucky once and wrote and recorded a great song. Well, I think it’s great.
First stroke of luck: toward the end of recording sessions for the album this was on, he needed another track to fill up the space, but his drummer-for-hire that day had recently passed out drunk. So he looped some random noodling the guy had played earlier and put some basic percussive piano chords over it, which resulted in a rhythm far more interesting and dynamic than they ever would have come up with if they had thought about it.
Second stroke of luck: he hit on a story that was perfect to tell in three verses with a kicker at the end, and a chorus that would move the story along and carry a slightly altered meaning after each verse. The story is sweetly romantic but edgy in the manner of a conservative stand-up comic, and throws in jabs at everyone who’d been stepping out of line lately, from flaky new age spiritualists to the bizarre and creepy world of classified ad dating, which was guaranteed to resonate with anyone who starts to let the culture pass them by as they age and who feels both insecure and defensive about it. This is always a profitable demographic.
Third stroke of luck: he accidentally managed to avoid any laughably lumbering metaphors (such as the one he used in “Nearsighted”, which is also couched in a typically forced Rupert Holmesian melody).
Fourth stroke of luck: At the last minute, he changed “Humphrey Bogart”, which does not scan well, with “Piña Coladas”, which most definitely does, even though he’d never had one before at that point in time and as it turns out he doesn’t really like them. Considering his awkward choices of words in other songs (some might call them endearing), it is a miracle that he found an internal editor to kick in this time.
I love this song. I could listen to it every day for a year and not get tired of it. I’ll dance to it too, without much prodding.
Kate Bush’s “Babooshka” is also great, and the two contrasted are a fine study in middlebrow vs. highbrow, literature vs. stories. But they both capture important truths of the people for and about whom they were written. And they are each worthy of both close consideration and mindless enjoyment.