Last month I wrote about songs from the 1970s that mentioned wine in the lyrics. But the ‘70s were not the only decade in which songwriters and musicians wrote and sang about wine; they have done that ever since the first grape was squished.
This article looks at five songs of the 1980s that mention wine and explores possible modern brands that might pair best with them.
Song: “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)”
Artist: Rupert Holmes
Highest ranking: 1 (U.S.)
Lyrics: “Yes, I like Piña Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
I’m not much into health food, I am into Champagne.”
This cheesy song, which was like a bad reality TV show before anyone ever thought of reality TV, took the world by storm. Although it was actually released in September 1979 and was the last Billboard #1 song of the ‘70s in the U.S., it makes this list because it maintained its #1 status in parts of 1980 and in fact was the #11 best-selling single of that year.
It’s a song about two people living together who both decide it’s time for someone new so they place personal ads in the newspaper looking for romance, only to unknowingly respond to each other. Ah, the enchantment of two devious and potentially unfaithful partners. It’s mysterious how two people who have lived together cannot know that they both like Piña Coladas, getting caught in the rain or even that they like Champagne, but the latter does indicate they had at least a little good taste. Chances are, though, that they did not like their Champagne too dry – it would have spoiled the taste of their Piña Coladas – so the pairing here is probably with something sweeter. Many people do not realize that all Champagne was sweet when it was first invented and it was not until the 1870s that different levels of sweetness started being produced, with demi-sec and doux being the sweetest.
Pairing: Moët & Chandon “Nectar Impérial” Demi-Sec Champagne. Made with a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, this semi-sweet Champagne is perfect for midnight trysts on the beach, preferably with your partner and not with some stranger you picked up through a personal ad.
Song: “Have a Drink on Me”
Highest ranking: 35 (U.S.) (As the original “B” side to the single, “You Shook Me All Night Long.”)
Lyrics: “Whiskey, gin and brandy, with a glass I’m pretty handy, I’m trying to walk a straight line, on sour mash and cheap wine.”
In 1985, an American committee known as the Parents Music Resource Center was established with Tipper Gore, wife of Senator and future Vice President Al Gore, as one of its four founders. The group issued a list of songs, known as “The Filthy Fifteen,” that had lyrics they found objectionable because they promoted sex, violence, occult or alcohol/drug abuse. Perhaps the only reason the AC/DC song “Have A Drink On Me” didn’t make that list is because the PMRC found another song – “Let Me Put My Love Into You” – even more objectionable on the album on which it appeared.
That album – “Back in Black” – has gone on to become the second-highest selling album in history, only behind Michael Jackson’s 1982 album “Thriller.” The album also placed 77th on Rolling Stones Magazine’s 2003 list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
There is no mystery about the meaning of “Have a Drink on Me,” which suggests getting “hell to pay” for being “blinded outta your mind” on a mix of “tequila white lightnin’,” whiskey and “sour mash and cheap wine.” The song’s lyrics are somewhat ironic in the fact that it was written as a tribute to AC/DC’s former lead singer, Bon Scott, who died just a few months before the song was recorded after a night of heavy drinking.
In choosing an appropriate pairing, we’ll look for a wine that was inexpensive rather than cheap, and we’ll choose sour mash’s Kentucky cousin, bourbon.
Pairing: Robert Mondavi Private Selection “Aged in Bourbon Barrels” Cabernet Sauvignon. By law, bourbon has to be aged in brand new oak barrels and since oak barrels are quite expensive, they are sold to other makers of alcoholic beverages after one use. Many aged spirits, including rum, tequila and Scotch whisky, are aged in bourbon barrels, and given the current popularity of bourbon, it was only a matter of time before a savvy winery took advantage of the opportunity to get the word “bourbon” on its label. Try this unique and jammy wine with barbecued foods.
Artist: The Oak Ridge Boys
Highest ranking: 1 (U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs) 5 (U.S. Billboard Hot 100)
Lyrics: “Eyes that look like heaven, lips like cherry wine, that girl can sure enough make my little light shine (or possibly “sherry” wine).”
Originally written and recorded by Dallas Frazier in 1966, “Elvira” reached #72 on the Billboard Hot 100 list that year. Twenty-five years later, however, The Oak Ridge Boys took “Elvira” to new heights.
Like many country songs, the lyrics aren’t particularly deep in meaning, but the big question with this song is whether Elvira’s lips are like cherry wine or sherry wine – published lyrics show it both ways. If they are literally like cherry wine, then her lips are like cheap wine. Of course, they could be like a wine that tasted like cherries, like a fine Pinot Noir. Or maybe Dallas Frazier was trying to say Elvira’s lips had the color of cherry wine. Sherry, on the other hand, is a fortified wine that tends to have a brownish yellow color, a shade no woman would want for her lips. Sherry is most often sweet (a desirable characteristic for lips), but sometimes bitter (a less desirable characteristic). In singing the song, both Frazier and the Oak Ridge Boys sure seem to say “cherry” and since Pinot Noir is much more likely to make someone say, “Giddy up, oom poppa, oom poppa, mow mow” than cheap cherry wine, let’s go with that as a pairing. As The Oak Ridge Boys are from the United States, let’s make it an American Pinot Noir.
Pairing: Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir. Made from grapes grown in the volcanic “Jory” soil in the Dundee Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, this Pinot Noir has a beautiful red color and flavors of cherries and blueberries in a well-balanced wine that also offers earthy and spicy characteristics. Giddy up indeed.
Song: “Red, Red Wine”
Highest ranking: 1 (U.S. and U.K.)
Lyrics: “Red red wine you make me feel so fine, You keep me rockin’ all of the time.”
This is another song originally recorded by someone else – in this case, Neil Diamond in 1967 – and then covered by a number of other artists. But it was the English band UB40’s reggae-styled cover that took this song to #1.
In 1988 at Wembley Stadium in London, UB40 performed the song at the tribute concert to celebrate the 70th birthday of Nelson Mandela – the anti-apartheid activist who eventually became South Africa’s president – who was still imprisoned at the time. A re release of the song shortly after that saw the song reach #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 list, five years after it had reached #1 in the U.K.
Lots of red wines have the ability to make someone “feel so fine” but in this case, in keeping with UB40’s culturally diverse makeup and the tribute to Mandela, the appropriate pairing is with one from South Africa.
Pairing: Kanonkop Paul Sauer. Consistently one of South Africa’s best rated red wines, this wine from Stellenbosch is a Cabernet Sauvignon-driven blend with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. If you’ve never had a South African red wine that you’ve liked, try this one.
Song: “Never Tear Us Apart”
Highest ranking: 7 (U.S.)
Lyrics: “We could live for a thousand years, but if I hurt you, I’d make wine from your tears.”
Every rock band of the ‘70s and ‘80s needed a good love ballad and “Never Tear Us Apart” was it for the Australian group, INXS. The song has been covered by many other artists since its release.
In 1997, after lead singer Michael Hutchence committed suicide while in a depressed state brought on by alcohol and drug use, the song was played at his funeral.
Making “wine from your tears” is really just a nonsensical lyric forged so it would rhyme with “years,” but the fact is, winemaking has often led to tears from its producers because of inherent risks from damaging weather, pests and disease. When everything works out perfectly, they could be tears of joy. Looking at the long list of musicians who have died young from suicide or drug overdoses, there are apparently inherent risks to being a rock star as well. The appropriate pairing here is a wine which is risky to produce.
Pairing: Inniskillin Vidal Icewine. Icewine in Canada is produced with strict standards. The grapes have to be left on the vine and cannot be harvested until temperatures reach -8 degrees Celsius or lower for three straight days. Only then can the grapes be picked and crushed while they are truly frozen solid to yield a concentrated, syrupy juice. Sometimes harvesting can occur as late as February. Because the grapes stay on the vine so long, there are several factors that can destroy the crop, including weather, rot, birds and other animals. Most or entire crops can be lost. However, when produced, icewine offers a unique combination of sweetness and acidity, making it one of the world’s best desert wines.