Song Sung New -- Rupert Holmes' `Escape (The Pina Colada Song)' Has A Whole New Flavor Thanks To Charles Trahan; Yes, Things Really Have Changed
Seattle Times Staff Columnist
You've said it yourself. You know, "Times sure have changed." Today I'll give you an example of just how much they've changed.
Just about two decades ago - 1979, to be exact - an innocent song called "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" became the country's No. 1 hit.
Fast-forward to 1998. There's a new version of that tune being played on KUBE-FM, a local pop station targeted at teen girls and young women. The new "Pina Colada" is so popular that stores are sold out of the CD with the updated lyrics. One store had a waiting list of 20. Perhaps this new version will "break out" and become a nationwide hit.
But just how much have times changed?
You might be old enough to remember the original lyrics in that Rupert Holmes hit: "I was tired of my lady, We'd been together too long, Like a worn-out recording, Of a favorite song . . ."
Fast-forward to 1998 and the updated lyrics, as composed by Charles "Da Real One" Trahan: "I'm havin' problems with my lady, She gettin' on my nerves, Talkin' 'bout she needs her nails done, I kicked her out on the curb . . ."
I called up both Rupert Holmes, who's based in Manhattan, and Charles Trahan, of Miami. Holmes actually hadn't heard the new dance "bass" version of his tune, but bought one after my call.
Even if you couldn't name one artist on the singles charts, you've most assuredly heard the genre of music filed under "bass" at Tower Records. That's the kind of music that, when a car pulls up next to you, even if all its windows are rolled up, literally shakes with the thump-thump of monster sub-woofers.
Let's begin with Rupert Holmes and the origin of "Pina Colada."
He is 51, and has had a varied career since writing that tune. He's won Tony awards for his Broadway musical, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." He's the creator of an Emmy award-winning cable-TV series called "Remember WENN," which airs on American Movie Classics.
But even he acknowledges, "Somewhere, when it's around 8 p.m., somebody will ask me about singing `Pina Colada.' "
Back in 1979, Holmes had been a moderately successful songwriter and singer, but mostly unknown to the public. If they heard his tunes, it was thanks to Barbra Streisand or Manhattan Transfer.
Holmes had this one tune that he especially liked, but he hadn't quite come up with the right lyrics.
Finally, between 1 and 5 one morning, before he was to make his way from his home in New Jersey to a recording studio in Manhattan, he wrote what now are the "Pina Colada" lyrics. His inspiration came from reading the personals ads in the Village Voice, the New York City weekly.
"I noticed that in the ads, people always described themselves glowingly. I thought there were two possibilities: that they weren't as wonderful as they claimed, or that they were people looking for adventure out of the humdrum."
That's how a song came about in which a guy tells about reading a personals ad that sounded exciting, responding to it, and finding out it was written by his mate, also looking for excitement and romance.
But at that point at 5 in the morning, the famous hook term "Pina Colada" hadn't yet been put into the lyrics. Instead, Holmes had written, "If you like Humphrey Bogart, getting caught in the rain . . ."
Then, "I thought that the man singing the song, he's looking for escape. When you go on vacation to some tropical island, you never order a beer. It's always something in a pineapple, with the flags of all nations. I ran through the list of exotic drinks," Holmes said.
Pina Colada had the right number of syllables.
The tune was recorded in one take.
By December 1979, "Pina Colada" was No. 1 in the charts, with the album on which it appeared, "Partners in Crime," and single eventually selling several million worldwide. To this day, people tell him they've quoted the song in real-life personals.
His only regret about the lyrics is that he wished he'd come up with something other than the word "lady." But in the song, the couple he describes isn't married, and Holmes couldn't figure out what else to say.
Last week, Holmes listened to the 1998 version of his tune. How times have changed . . .
I called up Charles Trahan, 26, in Miami. He grew up in that city and in Atlanta, in a fairly middle-class family of five, his father a real estate salesman, his mother employed by a bill-collection agency.
His first introduction to show business was at age 8, when his mother entered him in "Gong Show" contests in local bars. He performed the kind of break-dancing anyone who's visited New York has seen kids do on the sidewalks for change.
"I was a good little dancer," Trahan remembered, and a number of times he took home the $250 first prize.
In his teens, what Trahan liked to do was perform rap songs. If somebody was hosting a rap party, there would be Trahan, in front of the microphone. He dreamed of producing and performing.
In 1989, just barely out of high school, Trahan teamed up with another friend, Leonerist Johnson, to form the rap duo Young and Restless. They released their first single, financed by a Miami video store owner, a rap version of the Platters' hit, "Poison Ivy."
Quite often, in the tiny type that lists writing credits for a rap song, you'll see the phrase "Contains samples from . . ." What has happened - whether the tune is "Poison Ivy" or "Pina Colada" - is that modern technology has enabled a Charles Trahan to isolate samples from an already recorded tune.
The sample might literally be only a few seconds long, a guitar riff, for example, or it might be the "hook" portion of a pop tune. That sample then can be played over and over again, with vocals, additional drums or other sounds laid on top of the original music.
In the music industry, there are those who say that musicians who "sample" are taking a hook or riff that an artist might have spent years perfecting, and plundering that work. Trahan composes both original music and does sampling.
About rappers who sample, he said: "You can look at it that they appreciate your music and want to bring it back out. When you sample somebody's song, you're saying, `I love this music.' "
By 1990, Trahan and his partner had scored with a rap record called "B-Girls." The video was on MTV, they were performing at rap concerts. But there was trouble, including a money dispute with the husband and wife who produced their record.
In 1991, in a drive-by shooting, Trahan was shot in his left arm and in the back. "Wrong place, wrong time, wrong crowd," he said.
He's recovered now, but it took three years. For a time, nerve damage impeded the use of his left hand in piano playing. But he still wrote songs, and produced hit tunes for other rappers.
Last year, a record producer named Tony Mercedes decided to put together a compilation CD of bass music, aptly titled, ". . . And Then There Was Bass," on LaFace Records.
Trahan was one of the artists asked to contribute, and he sent eight tunes to Mercedes. The last one he included was "U Like Pina Colada." He thought the producer wouldn't like this dance version of the 1979 song.
"Me and my sisters loved that song. We used to sing it all the time," Trahan remembered. And that's how a middle-of-the-road song crossed over into thumping rap.
Trahan knew he had to rewrite the lyrics.
"I knew I couldn't make the song serious. I wanted to make people laugh," he said. Trahan also knew the original innocent lyrics wouldn't make it in today's music world.
"Today they have to be more real, more like what people do now," he said. "You gotta prepare for people growing up faster. They are more hip. They want to hear down and dirty, and you have accept change or be left behind."
And so the new lyrics include mentions of French cognac, gin and "firing up a fat one." And now the singer isn't just discussing how he and his lady have fallen into the same old routine; he's "kicked her out on the curb." Plus, the singer meets a gay woman, and tells her he wouldn't mind having sex with two women at same time.
For you parents who might be a bit shocked at these new lyrics, Trahan said, "Tell them not to take it personally. It's a dance song. I'm trying to have some fun."
Just like Rupert Holmes, Trahan put together the song in a day, sampling from the original. Holmes' vocals still are on the new recording, in the chorus portion, although Trahan's voice is layered on top.
For a nearly a year, the tune was just another tune on another CD, until this January, when KUBE-FM and a few other stations decided to play it. A company called Broadcast Data Systems, which monitors radio airplay nationally, said the new version is "not a hit status, but it's out there."
"We thought it was pretty hilarious, and put it on the air to see the reaction," said Leah Jackson, the station's interim music director. "It was the No. 1 requested song that week. I had people from record stores calling and asking, `What's this Pina Colada song?' "
Holmes recognizes the irony of a 51-year-old white male being in a rap tune that's a regional hit.
"It's not the lyrics I'd write. It's amazing how the rap school is so strongly male assertive. It seems every lyric is about asserting they're the best person in the universe," Holmes said.
He also had this message for Trahan: "I'm also very pleased to be working with him. Wish him very well, for both our sakes."
Charles Trahan, meanwhile, said he was planning to call Rupert Holmes.
Times sure have changed. But sometimes, a little music brings those times back together again.
Erik Lacitis' column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. His phone number is 206-464-2237. His e-mail address is: email@example.com ------------------------------- Excerpts from
"Escape (The Pina Colada Song)," 1979
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 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, 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, Have 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.
Copyright 1979, Holmes Line of Music, WB Music Corp.
"U Like Pina Colada," 1997
CHORUS: If you like Pina Coladas, Alize or champagne, If you like juice in your gin, Me, myself Hennessy, If you like making love at midnight, Rolling out on the avenue, If you like firing up a fat one, Why, then you're down with my crew.
Havin' problems with my lady, She gettin' on my nerves, Talkin' 'bout she needs her nails done, I kicked her out on the curb, Ain't wanna make love last night, She thought everythin' was cool, But she was messin' with Da Real One, And forgot my damn rules.
Now met another lady, Check out what she had to say, I asked her where her man at, She say, `Baby, I'm gay.' I said, `That don't really matter, `As long as you ain't got a sex change, `Because I'm down with a threesome, `But I need to know some things . . .'
Come on, come on, come on, come on . . .
Ride, ride, ride, ride, ride . . .
Copyright 1997, Charles "Da Real One" Trahan, Rupert Holmes, LaFace Records.
Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.