He’s the only individual in Broadway history to win Tony Awards for best music, lyrics and book, for “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” in 1986.
He’s currently writing two film musicals, one for Bette Midler (“Traps”) and another called “Speak Easy.” He’s also finishing up a book for the big-band stage musical “Swing.”
Considering all that, it won’t hurt Rupert Holmes’ ego if he’s remembered only for the clever No. 1 hit “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” from 1979. What might sting a little is that few know of his pre-“Escape” career.
A new Varese Vintage Records compilation remedies that, taking material from Holmes’ three albums for Epic in the mid-’70s: “Widescreen,” “Rupert Holmes” and “Singles.”
“Some people who had heard ‘The Pina Colada Song’ figured I had worked in a hardware store up until the day before I recorded that,” Holmes says self-mockingly. “Actually, I had been quite prolific before that.
“My first album for Epic, ‘Widescreen,’ Barbra Streisand heard a copy of it and called me out of the blue. She said she wanted to do some of the songs and definitely wanted me to do the arrangements for her and record some other things with her. I went out to L.A. and did an album with her, called ‘Lazy Afternoon.’
“There I was – writing, arranging and producing Barbra after being only one-album-old. It was an astonishing period in my life.”
“Widescreen,” in particular, displays Holmes’ unconventional pop tastes. The album contains a 10-minute radio show, dialogue in the middle of songs, a track with a reassembled Glenn Miller Orchestra and the National Anthem done in a reggae beat.
“Epic didn’t know quite what to make of it so they only pressed up 10,000 copies,” Holmes says. “In those days, 40,000 copies was considered a dud. So, if they only manufactured 10,000, I wasn’t even in the running for failure.
“It was a wonderful critical success, and Streisand, of course, heard it, and I started working more and being recorded out of that experience.”
BWF (before we forget): Holmes has since developed and directed the AMC series “Remember WENN.”