Apart from Steely Dan reaction videos on YouTube, my other mini viewing obsession over the last year or so has been ‘Columbo’ repeats.
You expect amusing performances and ingenious plotting from the classic Peter Falk-fronted show; you don’t expect music tips.
But there it was – a great piece kicking off ‘Columbo Goes To College’, the first episode of the show’s tenth season, debuting on 9 December 1990.
A bit of detective work revealed that it was Ambrosia’s ‘Poor Rich Boy’, written for the Oscar-winning ‘Arthur’ soundtrack, the one headed up by Christopher Cross’s US #1 ‘Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)’. I’d never heard of the band before but apparently they had some big hits at the tail end of the 1970s.
Co-written – like the rest of the soundtrack album – by Burt Bacharach (alongside band members David Pack – himself a hugely respected songwriter – and Joe Puerta) and produced by Val Garay (Kim Carnes’ ‘Bette Davis Eyes’), it taps into that great period at the dawn of the 1980s when yacht rock dovetailed with prog/AOR/new wave/whatever.
It’s mixed refreshingly dry, with barely any reverb, and features a treacherous arrangement that separates the men from the boys. It’s in 2/4 but has some very odd accents (especially in that deliciously long fade). Try playing along. Where’s ‘one’? There’s a nice use of the ‘flatted fifth’ in the verse and also a superb vocal by…who? Pack or Puerta?
The chorus lyric smartly lays out the film’s plot and concerns of Dudley Moore’s Arthur:
Life is more than time and money that’s easy to spend
When you know that she’s out there
Lookin’ for the girl whose eyes out-sparkle all of your gold
And a heart that’s bigger than Times Square
‘Poor Rich Boy’ was released as a single in 1981 but didn’t chart. There was also a strange jazzy instrumental version played throughout the trailer (see below).
It’s a shame in a way but Ambrosia are almost ‘cursed’ for me now – I don’t want to hear anything else by them because I know it won’t be as good… Or will it?