by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
Fun trivia question to stump your friends with: can you name the final Number One song of the 1970s? That distinction belongs to “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes. Even if the title doesn’t look familiar to you at first glance, you’ve almost certainly heard the song – if not sung along to its iconic chorus (“If you like pina coladas / and getting caught in the rain …”) – via its still-ubiquitous presence in pop culture from usage in films like Shrek, Grown Ups, and Guardians of the Galaxy and, even more recently, a much-loved 2016 commercial for Capital One featuring Charles Barkley, Samuel Jackson, and Spike Lee singing along to the song in the car. The clever story-song – which, if you’ve never paid attention to the lyrics, is actually about a married man who answers a personal ad in the newspaper only to discover that the woman who took the ad out is his wife – remains Holmes’ biggest hit, but you may be shocked to discover that Holmes – who has truly perfected the art of the story-song, his albums loaded with one great yarn after another – actually had three other Top 40 hits (including a second Top Ten hit) as a performer and even wrote several other Top 40 hits for other artists. A one-hit wonder, he is certainly not!
Holmes – who got his start as a member of the late ‘60s group the Cuff Links of “Tracy” fame – had his first chart hit as the vocalist of the short-lived studio group Street People, who dented the Top 40 with “Jennifer Tomkins.” Following that band’s demise, Holmes would pen a Top 40 hit (the notorious cannibalism-themed novelty song “Timothy”) for the band The Buoys. Shortly after Holmes landed a solo deal with Epic Records, Barbra Streisand hired him as a writer/arranger, eventually recording Holmes compositions on three of her ‘70s albums, including her platinum-selling soundtrack for A Star Is Born. Holmes’ songs would also be covered by the likes of Barry Manilow (“Studio Musician”), The Manhattan Transfer, and Dionne Warwick (“Who, What, When, Where, Why”). Intriguingly, he’d simultaneously be drafted by the art-rock duo Sparks to produce their Big Beat album.
Holmes finally struck gold as a solo artist in 1979 with his album Partners in Crime, first released on Infinity Records. Its first single was “Escape,” and its follow-up single “Him” should have been every bit as big. The gentle, funky acoustic stomp and beautiful melody of the song was accompanied by a brilliant lyric written from the perspective of an emotionally distraught man who realizes his wife has been cheating (“What’s she gonna do about him? / She’s gonna have to do without him / or do without me”). The song was every bit as catchy and appealing as its predecessor, but unfortunately, Infinity would go under just as the song was scaling the charts. (It would eventually be absorbed by MCA Records.) The song still managed to reach the Top Ten, climbing as high as #6, but it’s sadly been forgotten today and seldom ever pops up on oldies stations.
The album also spawned a third Top 40 hit in the similarly clever “Answering Machine,” satirizing the then-new technological phenomenon in its story of a happy relationship gone awry because the machine stops recording at the worst possible moment. Like “Him,” the fun and relentlessly catchy song has unfortunately been lost to time, and Holmes has ever since been perpetually mislabeled as a one-hit wonder.
Not surprisingly, given Holmes’ playful sensibilities and his gifts as a wordsmith, Partners in Crime is full of other fun moments (such as the witty double entendres of “Drop It,” the jazzy “Get Outta Yourself,” which musically would fit right into place on Rickie Lee Jones’ first album, or “Nearsighted,” a love song written from the perspective of a man completely reliant on his glasses) and witty story-songs (the light disco of the title track and the tongue-twisting pop of the wordy “Lunch Hour”). It’s safe to say that if you like “Pina Colada,” you’ll love the rest of this album, too.
Sadly, Holmes’s next two albums would both fail to yield a hit, and Holmes largely retreated from the world of pop music (though he would later be responsible for writing the devastatingly pretty Top Ten ballad “You Got It All” in 1986 for the R&B-pop family band The Jets).
Ever multi-talented, the Renaissance man would surprise many fans and music critics by starting a new career writing prose, both penning a novel (Where the Truth Lies) that would go on to be made into a film starring Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth, and writing several award-winning Broadway plays and musicals, including The Mystery of Edwin Drood , Say Goodnight, Gracie, Accomplice, Solitary Confinement, and the David Hyde Pierce-starring Curtains. Holmes would also be the creator and writer of the successful radio-station-themed comedy/drama television series Remember WENN, which ran for four seasons on the American Movie Classics network in the late ‘90s.