This came together when the music producer Terry Melcher was hired to work on a song with The Beach Boys for the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail. The Beach Boys' glory days were behind them, and they had been playing fairs and nostalgia shows. They were one of the most popular bands of the '60s, and had a bunch of songs dealing with recreation and fun, which is why they were asked to record for the movie.
In our interview with Mike Love, he told us how it came together: "Terry was in the studio doing a track with a demo, because we were asked to do the song for the soundtrack of the movie Cocktail, featuring Tom Cruise. So we were asked by the director to come up with a song for this part of the movie where Tom Cruise goes from a bartender in New York to Jamaica. So that's where I came up with the 'Aruba, Jamaica' idea, that part.
So Terry was in the studio doing the track and they didn't have the chorus yet. They just had a certain amount of bars, but there was nothing going on there. I said, 'Well, here's what I want to do.' And I remember I had told them about the part before. But he said, 'Uh huh. How does it go again?' So I literally, over the phone - he was in the studio and I was on the phone - sang [deadpan slow recitation]: 'Aruba, Jamaica, ooo, I want to take you.' So he's writing that down, and I'm singing it in the scene, the notes, and the timing of it in tempo to the track."
Melcher was the son of actress Doris Day. In 1964, he worked as a staff producer at Columbia Records, where he teamed up with future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston on the hit "Hey Little Cobra," which was credited to The Rip Chords. He was a producer on the first two Byrds albums and went on to work with Paul Revere And The Raiders. He knew The Beach Boys and contributed to some of their work, including backup vocals on Pet Sounds. Through Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, he met Charles Manson and worked on some projects with him before thinking better of it. In 1969, Manson and his "family" murdered five people at a house Melcher rented to director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate. Polanski was away filming, but Tate, who was pregnant, was one of the victims. After the murders, Melcher went into seclusion. This was a big comeback for him as well as The Beach Boys.
Brian Wilson was the creative force behind The Beach Boys, but he had nothing to do with this song. He released his first (self-titled) solo album that year and came out with the first single, "Love And Mercy," three weeks before this was released. The album peaked at #54 in America.
Terry Melcher wrote this song with the help of John Phillips, who was a former member of The Mamas And The Papas, along with Beach Boy Mike Love, and Scott McKenzie, who had a hit in 1967 with "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)." Phillips' daughter Chynna was in the group Wilson Phillips with Brian Wilson's daughters, Carnie and Wendy.
Regarding the composition of the song, Mike Love told us: "The verses and the verse lyric was written by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. He wrote 'Off the Florida keys, there's a place called Kokomo, that's where we used to go to get away from it all.' I said, 'Hold on. We used to go sounds like an old guy lamenting his misspent youth.' So I just changed the tense there. 'That's where you want to go to get away from it all.' So that was the verse. And it was very lovely. But it didn't have such a groove, I didn't feel.
So I came up with the chorus part: 'Aruba, Jamaica, ooo, I want to take you to Bermuda, Bahama, come on, pretty mama. Key Largo, Montego...' That's me, the chorus and the words to the chorus was Mike Love. The verse was John Phillips. The bridge, where it goes, 'Ooo, I want to take you down to Kokomo, we'll get there fast and we can take it slow. That's where you want to go, down to Kokomo,' that's Terry Melcher. Terry Melcher produced the Byrds and Paul Revere & the Raiders, very successful producer. But he actually produced that song and he wrote that bridge part, which Carl Wilson sang beautifully. And I sang the rest of it. I sang the chorus and the verses on that particular song.
I don't know what Scott McKenzie's involvement was, I honestly don't, because all I know is John Phillips, Terry Melcher, and myself put that song together, all those different elements."
Kokomo is a city in the middle of Indiana and is also a small resort owned by Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay; the title was made up. It was supposed to represent all the tropical places and images that people think of when wishing to get away to some paradise island to escape the dreary work life. John Phillips thought the name sounded good and wanted to use it for the title.
The Beach Boys are known for their vocal harmonies, but session musicians often played the instruments on their albums. The same thing happened here - Jim Keltner was brought in to play drums and Ry Cooder was hired on guitar. Keltner has played on albums by George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello. Cooder has worked on many film soundtracks and has played with John Hiatt, Captain Beefheart and Taj Mahal. The session musicians were not credited.
Van Dyke Parks was called in to help record the song. He worked closely with Brian Wilson and was a big part of the "Smile" project - an album Wilson worked on when he was going through drug addiction and severe mental problems. Parks was one of the few people in Wilson's world at the time, and helped with lyrics on the project, which wasn't finished until 2004 when Wilson released it. Having Parks at the sessions made it more of a legitimate Beach Boys song: he arranged the steel drum band and played accordion on the track.
This was released in July 1988, but it went nowhere until the movie came out a few months later and made it a huge hit. When The Beach Boys played it live during concerts that summer, it got no response.
The single was released with the original version of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" as the B-side.
Before "Kokomo," the last US #1 for The Beach Boys was "Good Vibrations" in 1966. At 22 years, it was the longest any act had gone between US #1 hits until Cher topped the charts with "Believe" in 1999. Her previous #1 hit was "Dark Lady" in 1974, setting the new record at 25 years.
When this became a hit, many companies capitalized on the "Kokomo" name, which as a result of the song, implied relaxing fun in the sun. A resort named "Kokomo" popped up on the southern tip of Florida on an island called Grassy Key - like the song says, "Off the Florida Keys." There have also been restaurants and bars with that name.
The Cocktail soundtrack was very successful. Bobby McFerrin's #1 hit "Don't Worry Be Happy" was also on the album.
There were other musical Kokomos that predate this song. The composer Jimmy Wisner went by the nom de plume Kokomo and reached #8 US in 1961 with an instrumental called "Asia Minor." That same year, the vocal group The Flamingos hit #92 with a song called "Kokomo," where it's the name of a girl, not an island.
In the '70s, there was a British soul group called Kokomo whose biggest hit was "I Can Understand It."
The Muppets did a version of this song. The plot was that Miss Piggy wanted to know if there could be anywhere more perfect than where they were, and Kermit starts in about how he'd love to go to Kokomo, with Miss Piggy sighing periodically as backup. It was supposed to be a Muppet Summer love song. Animal, of course, played the drums in the video.
Suggestion credit: Kristy - La Porte City, IA
The actor John Stamos played drums in the video. He is famous for his work on the TV show Full House and for his ex-wife, actress Rebecca Romijn. Stamos would occasionally perform with The Beach Boys.
The Beach Boys performed this song on an episode of Full House entitled "Beach Boy Bingo." Everyone tries to coax D.J., who won two tickets to the next Beach Boys concert, to take them with her. John Stamos played "Jesse" on the show.
Suggestion credit: Carlos - Los Angeles, CA
The video was shot not in Aruba or Jamaica, but in Orlando, Florida at Disney World. According to John Stamos, it was done in two takes at the Grand Floridian beach resort, which had not yet opened to the public; the cast and crew were some of the first guests to stay there.
Footage of the shoot was mixed with scenes of the movie Cocktail to complete the clip.
The Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the year this was released.
In 1999, DJ Bob Rivers parodied the song as "Kosovo."
Jennifur Sun from RamonaOne of my top five fav Beach Boys tunes. Can play this song on a CD in the car drive in somewhere with windows opened and see people start to dance to the music, it's that much of a fun tune.
Cory Stoczynski from Lancaster, NyMy Favorite Part Of The Muppets' Version Is When Miss Piggy Gets Angry And Karate Chops Kermit And The Hula Girls To The Ground!
Len Jaffe from Silver Spring, Md, MdI was on a business trip in the summer of 1986 in Virginia Beach, VA. Scott McKenzie was living there at the time, and we had been in touch by snail mail and phone, I think, prior to that. Scott was still singing a little, and had a gig one night at a now long-gone restaurant and club called "Simon Seagull's". I went to hear him that night, and got to do a couple of my tunes during the evening. It was there that I first heard "Kokomo", just Scott with an acoustic guitar. Very slow, dreamy, and unbelievably great! I'll never forget that night as long as I live.
Susan from Airdrie, -This song reminds me of January 1989, when it was popular. Overplayed on the radio & made me very angry because it was frrrreezing at the time, too! Hard to imagine the tropics when your nose is froze! ;)
Mark from Seattle, WaThe Seattle Sea Gals Cheerleaders have been on stage dancing to this song with the band more than any other NFL Cheerleader squad and also broke out proper beach attire (bikini tops and wrap arounds)to make the performance more effective. Seattle DJ Mark Christopher/KBSG was the master behind this and got clearance of NFL to make it happen 2007 & 08 during Beach Boys performances. Some of it was taped for use in a television commercial promoting the NW Venue.
Landon from Winchester, OhWhy all the fussing? This song is plain and simple enough to listen to, and enjoy the smaller things. I think the song puts me in a good mood. My standards for music aren't as high as most of you guy's.
Musicmama from New York, NyHow is it that some bands' worst songs become their most popular? This is the perfect example. Not only are the lyrics dumb; their lame rhymes accentuate the annoying beat of this song.
Landon from Winchester, OhThis song is about all the simplicities of life, getting out there on the beach in the summertime and soaking up the sun. Where did all our music go?
Tmac from Indianapolis, InJohn Stamos PROTRAYED a drum player in the video - he did not actually play the drums. The actual steel drum player was the talented Vince Charles who played percussion with Neil Diamond for over 20 years before his untimely death.
Jim from Nyc, NyThe Muppets version is a hoot - it's on the 25th anniversary video.
Caitlin from Upper Township, Njgreat song to get smashed to
Roger from Sumnwe, WaTerry once told me that he received $250,000 per year in royalties from KOKOMO
Mark from Lancaster, OhHarken unto the voice of the Ancient One: There was a song with the identical title recorded by Perry Como. In that one, Kokomo was the name, presumably the nickname, of a young lady. I think. The song was the first nominally rock-n-roll recording from that well-known avant-garde label, RCA. It was certainly the first, and I think last, r n r song for Mr Como. I would submit, however, that Perry Como's Kokomo was a good deal cheerier than that of the Beach Boys.
Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesResidents of the city of Kokomo were highly amused by the "exotic tropical escape" motif of the song. State and local television news ran features showing the least romantic aspects of the city (especially dreary winter scenes) and interviewing residents and city officials.
Jo-c from Lima, PeruThis sounds like 80's porn backing music ... Nothing again the Beach Boys, they rock!
Matt from West Springfield, Mago kermit the frog!
Dean from Pune, IndiaThey performed this song when they guest appeared on an episode of FULL HOUSE. Brian Wilson was there too.
Paul from Worcs, EnglandIt definitely has the Beach Boys trademark sound. A return to the earlier uncomplicated summer fun songs. 20 years on and Beach Boys can still do it!
Francisco from Lima, Peruthey can say the names to me of the models that leave in the video of Kokomo? mainly those that leave modeling the Band along with?
Mike from Boston, MaThis is the best selling song the Beach Boy's ever released!
Dc from Hilo, HiThe only Beach Boys song to hit #1 without Brian Wilson. He was estranged from the band at the time.