In this edition of Behind the Lyrics, columnist Clara Finley explains why we love Rupert Holmes’ 1979 smash hit “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).”
Yes, that’s right, you heard me, the Piña Colada Song. If you’ve heard it before, I can understand why you wanted to read this article. It’s a good song. If you haven’t heard it before, I would highly recommend it before reading this article. And I’ll tell you why.
It’s a good song, but it’s not just a good song because of the catchy tune and fun musical accompaniment. What makes this song a beloved classic is the meaning behind the lyrics. They tell a story humans are begging to hear. The very first lyrics of the song propose an old, stagnant marriage in which the flame of romance has been extinguished long ago.
“I was tired of my lady
We’d been together too long”
This paints a picture we are all too familiar with. In the Unites States, where 50% of marriages end in divorce, a fizzling marriage on the rocks is not an uncommon scene. As a listener, we have already connected to that idea in the first few lines of the song. The next lyrics describe the married man reading an ad.
“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”
This ad is an individual searching for a passionate fling as a means of escaping their otherwise drab life. The activities described are obviously meant to be relaxing and enjoyable, unlike the stressful and busy life of normal adults who may be stuck in a seemingly monotonous relationship. The main character of this song illustrates that in the next few lyrics.
“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”
He is not claiming that he doesn’t love his wife or that he desperately wants a divorce, but just that their relationship lacks spontaneity and passion. This ad excites him and he replies.
“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'”
The man is answering the call for someone who wants adventure and a break from their normal routine. The true heart of the song lies in the next few lines, however.
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'”
In this section, it is revealed that the woman who put out the ad was the main character’s wife. Many people view this scenario as negative, claiming that this song tells the story of a couple both actively trying to cheat on each other by running away with a newer, exciting person. That’s not entirely untrue. However, we have already established that we understand the frequency of marriages splitting in our society, so this idea shouldn’t come as a shock to us. Therefore, it’s important not to focus on that, but on the fact that the couple has been reunited by their extramarital search.
This unbelievable coincidence carries the reason we truly love the story of “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).” If it is true that 50% of marriages end in divorce, that means that half of those married in America experienced severe enough problems in their relationship to end it all together. Whether an American has been through one of these marriages or has simply observed one, relationships that become unsalvageable are nearly status quo.
This begs the deeper question, Is monogamy really worth it? Drastic, I know, but stay with me.
It seems that, as a society, we have stopped having faith in the perseverance of the married couple. That 50% does not even account for separation or extramarital affairs, in which the meaning of monogamy has been diminished. The beginning of “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” sets the listener up to hear a story much like those they have heard in the past, of a couple no longer happy in their monogamous relationship. However, the ending provides a twist that we find enchanting, because we, as a society, want to believe in monogamy.
We want to believe in true love. We want to believe in “through thick and through thin, through sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Yet so often these days, we leave those “forever” promises at the altar. We want to believe that the ancient rules of lifelong coupling have not steered us wrong. And this song proves us right. By showing that a worn-out couple can rekindle their spark and fall back in love, discovering that what they were longing for was right beside them all along, knowing that their initial choice was the right choice, proves that monogamy is relevant and ideal. What began as a quest for an escape ends up as a reassurance that what we really need is in our own homes, and that love doesn’t die, it just (perhaps) naps. Everyone wants what the couple in the famous Piña Colada Song has found; another chance at exciting, fresh love with the person they promised to spend the rest of their live with.
Granted, the world in which Rupert Holmes wrote this song in 1979 is far different than the one we live in today for a variety of reasons. Still, though, to lose hope in the preservation and lasting nature of a marriage is not the product of the 21st century or even the newly minted world of 2017. Perhaps we sometimes just need a reminder–a wake up call from a nap–to remind us what really still exists, and in what better form than in one of iconic American music ballad that was the last number one song of the 1970’s?