Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: The Beach Boys' "Kokomo"

During their heyday in the early- to mid-1960s, The Beach Boys had been a hit-making novelty act, singing catchy ditties with sun-drenched vocal harmonies all thematically centered around a uniquely Californian concept of "the beach." But it wasn't until some twenty years after the height of their popularity that they reached their full potential with the release of 1988's "Kokomo." The song, released in conjunction with the brilliant Tom Cruise vehicle Cocktail, took a small chilly city in Northern Indiana and turned it into an imaginary tropical utopia worthy of Aruba and Jamaica. Thanks to this older, wiser group of Beach Boys, just one listen to this unmitigated classic instantly wisps its listeners away to the sexiest, most relaxing tropical vacation of their mildest dreams.

Humans, ever since Yakub sent the earliest white people from the island of Patmos to the caves of Europe, have long sought out paradise here on this blue orb. Whether in an attempt to return to the Garden of Eden or to escape year after year of brutal winters, the notion of a warm, sunny, beach-filled destination, full of youthful vigor, sexual appetite, and the sweet sweet ambrosia of intoxication, has long been desired by mankind. How else would one account for mythical locales--promising warmth, youth, riches, and adventure--like El Dorado, the Seven Cities of Cibola, the City of Atlantis, Bimini, or Club Med? The Beach Boys tap into these universal desires in "Kokomo," a song that transfigured the entire global economy of tourism thanks to its sweet fusion of 1960s surf pop and overbearingly slick 1980s production, complete with reverb-laden tropicalia like steel drums and castanets.

With "Kokomo," they transform a town whose average high temperature in January is 30 degrees Fahrenheit into a sunny haven for alcohol-fueled relaxation. Images of sandals, leis, bikinis, shorts, fruity drinks with multiple umbrellas in them, and a pre-Scientology Tom Cruise magically flipping top-shelf bottles of liquor up in the air immediately creep into one's skull as Mike Love's soothing incantations waft through the listener's ears. Immediately they are placed in a simulation vacationland. According to The Beach Boys, Kokomo is a mythical vacation spot similar to "Aruba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Key Largo, [and] Montego." It should also be noted that Kokomo is exclusively a location for couples. As the group notes, "We'll get there fast and then we'll take it slow" and "We'll put out to sea and perfect our chemistry." For this imaginary vacation to have the most, um, benefits, The Beach Boys also observe that in order to expedite the passion, an optimal amount of alcohol is to be prescribed: "Afternoon delight / cocktails and moonlit nights / That dreamy look in your eye give me a tropical contact high."

While The Beach Boys are known to most people as the cheesy group that produced songs like "Amusement Parks U.S.A.," "I'm Bugged at My Ol' Man," "A Day in the Life of a Tree," "Johnny Carson," and "Shortenin' Bread," they reached their full potential with "Kokomo," which proved to be the biggest selling hit record of their career, shipping even more units than "Good Vibrations." Featuring a revitalized lineup--with Full House dynamo John Stamos on steel drums replacing perennially crazed front-man Brian Wilson--"Kokomo" proved that, yes, old people really can contribute something meaningful to society.

1 comment:

  1. "Senior citizens, although slow and dangerous behind the wheel, can still serve a purpose."-Dumb and Dumber -- comes to mind. Yet let's not forget the poor sunless tan lotion that rendered Cruise orange and turned Elisabeth Shue into a knocked-up rich girl who threatens twins in the final scene of the film that showcased Kokomo. That sweeping, aerial shot that took the viewers to a paradise where the Cougar, who would later be jilted and aged, roamed around outdoor bars and to impress her would-be beau, "Jordin" (Shue) did back handsprings. Ah, Kokomo. You do take me back to the hippie, hippie shake.