Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Kokomo (song)

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"Tutti Frutti"

Pop, tropical

7" single 12" maxi


July 18, 1988 (US) October 4, 1988 (UK)

March 22, April 5–6, 1988

"Kokomo" is a song written by John Phillips, Scott McKenzie, Mike Love, and Terry Melcher and recorded by American rock band the Beach Boys. Its lyrics describe two lovers taking a trip to a relaxing place on an island off the Florida Keys called Kokomo. It was released as a single on July 18, 1988 by Elektra Records and became a No. 1 Hit in the United States, Japan, and Australia (where it topped for about two months). The single was released to coincide with the release of Roger Donaldson's film Cocktail, and its subsequent soundtrack.


It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television in 1988, but lost to Phil Collins' "Two Hearts" (from the film Buster). "Two Hearts" and Carly Simon's "Let the River Run" from Working Girl jointly beat it for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.

Composition and recording

The song was written by John Phillips and Scott McKenzie in Virginia Beach in 1986 and recorded and produced shortly after by Phillips, as a duet between McKenzie and Denny Doherty of the Mamas and the Papas. That version remained unreleased until 2010, when it appeared on a posthumous album of John Phillips' songs called Many Mamas, Many Papas, most of which were originally recorded in the 1980s for a reconstituted touring version of the Mamas and the Papas, featuring himself, Doherty, daughter Mackenzie Phillips and Spanky McFarlane of Spanky and Our Gang.

When the Beach Boys were commissioned to produce a theme song for Cocktail, producer Terry Melcher contacted his old friend, Phillips, and asked if he had any songs that might be suitable. "Kokomo" was one of the songs Phillips sent Melcher. Another was "Somewhere Near Japan" (aka "Fairytale Girl"), which would also be recorded by the Beach Boys for their Still Cruisin' album.

Although Phillips had holidayed in the Caribbean several times on the island of Mustique, which was owned by his friend Colin Tennant, "Kokomo" itself is fictional. There are though several places in the world named Kokomo, including Kokomo, Indiana, Kokomo, Arkansas and Kokomo, Hawaii. The song describes Kokomo as a place "off the Florida Keys." The name was later used by resorts in Sandals Cay, Jamaica, and Grassy Key, Florida. The song also mentions many island locales: in order of their appearance in the song, Aruba, Jamaica, Bermuda, Bahama(s), Key Largo, Montego Bay, Martinique, Montserrat, and Port-au-Prince. Bermuda is the only place mentioned that is not located in or near the Caribbean Sea.

In addition to the Beach Boys' signature layered-singing style, the song's instrumentation makes heavy use of steel drums. According to "Kokomo" track sheet information supplied by engineer Keith Wechsler, the steel drums were played by musicians named Vince, Milton, and Mike (but not Mike Love). Wechsler also says that there is a percussionist by the name of Chili who played percussion in the introduction of the song. Van Dyke Parks, who had worked on some of the group's earlier albums, played accordion, while session veteran Jim Keltner played drums. Other players are Jeff Foskett (acoustic guitar), Rod Clark (bass), Joel Peskin (alto saxophone) and Ry Cooder (electric slide guitar).

On the Beach Boys demo of "Kokomo", lead vocals were performed by Mike Love and Terry Melcher. The demo harmonies include Terry Melcher, Bruce Johnston, Mike Love, and Jeff Foskett. At Disney Films' request, the "Kokomo" demo was "upgraded" to a master recording, thus requiring members of the Beach Boys to re-record the demo vocals, except for Mike Love's lead.

The final recorded and released "Kokomo" background vocals are sung by Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, and Al Jardine. Terry Melcher's and Jeff Foskett's background vocals (on the demo) were erased and replaced by Carl Wilson's and Al Jardine's background vocals. The final released "Kokomo" lead vocals are sung by Mike Love and Carl Wilson. The only active Beach Boys member not involved with the recording was Brian Wilson, who was given short notice of the recording session and unable to attend. He was subsequently included in concert recordings of the song, including a live concert filmed for the television show Full House (episode 028).

Mike Love and Terry Melcher's major contribution to the song was a re-write of Phillips and McKenzie's existing chorus and the addition of the "Aruba, Jamaica…" lines. The Beach Boys version of the song also retained the melody of the Phillips and Mackenzie original. All four shared a co-write on the song.

There were previous songs referencing a Kokomo, including "Kokomo Blues" (1928) by Kokomo Arnold and "Kokomo me Baby" (1959) by Mississippi Fred McDowell, but these are believed to be in reference to Kokomo, Indiana.


The "Kokomo" single backed with "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard was first released through Elektra Records in July 1988. It peaked at the #1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 on November 5, 1988, replacing "A Groovy Kind of Love" by Phil Collins. This meant that it was The Beach Boys' first #1 hit in the United States since "Good Vibrations" in 1966, making it the longest time span between two number one hits in America for a band (22 years). It is also their only #1 hit not written or produced by Brian Wilson. Coincidentally, the original version of "A Groovy Kind of Love" by The Mindbenders replaced the Beach Boys' song "Sloop John B" at the #5 position in May 1966. The single spent only one week at the top of the Hot 100, and was replaced by The Escape Club song "Wild, Wild West". After being signed to Capitol Records following the success of the initial single, Capitol issued the song in the United States for a second time. The song was re-released in July 1989 as the B-side of the "Still Cruisin'" single, which peaked at number 93 on the Hot 100. Capitol re-issued the song a third time, just two months later, as the B-side of the "Somewhere Near Japan" single, but the single failed to chart.

In the United Kingdom, the single was first issued by Elektra in October 1988. The single peaked at number 25 on the charts. After Capitol had signed the band, as they had in the U.S., they released the single for the second time as the B-side of the "Still Cruisin'" single. However it failed to make any impact on the charts. In Australia the single became the band's third number one hit in Australia after "Do It Again" in 1968 and "Cotton Fields" in 1970. In New Zealand the single peaked at the number 5 position. In the Dutch singles chart, the single peaked at the number 6 position. The song also peaked at number 19 in Belgium and at number 7 in Germany.

Album and alternative releases

"Kokomo" was first released on an album in 1989 on the band's Still Cruisin' album. The band had been given a one-off album contract by their former label Capitol Records after the song became a number 1 hit in both the United States and Australia. Brian Wilson, who did not perform on the original recording of the song, did later contribute vocals to a Spanish-language version.

Music video

The video for "Kokomo" was filmed at the then-recently opened Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World in Florida. The resort had not opened when the video was shot and the band were their first guests. The staff of the hotel practiced their menu on the band by trying out recipes and drinks. The crowd on the fake beach contained college cheerleaders from University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It took less than two hours to shoot the video because it threatened to rain. The members of the Beach Boys in the video are: Carl Wilson (playing guitar), Al Jardine (playing tambourine), Bruce Johnston (playing bass guitar), and Mike Love (playing saxophone). Actor and occasional Beach Boys live guest John Stamos can be seen playing the conga, bongos and steel drum. Brian Wilson was not featured and "Kokomo" represents the only promotional video the Beach Boys produced in the 1980s without him.

Recognition and criticisms

"Kokomo" has received mixed reviews. In 1989, the song received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song – Motion Picture in 1989. Conversely, it has been included in lists of poorly received songs, such as VH1's "40 Most Awesomely Bad No. 1 Songs" and Blender magazine's list of the "50 Worst Songs Ever".

Cover versions

  • A cover of the song appears on The Muppets' 1993 album Muppet Beach Party, with Kermit the Frog as the lead. The lyrics "under a tropical island sky" replaced the lyrics "gave me a tropical contact high", to replace the marijuana reference and keep with the family-friendly nature of the Muppets. On the version recorded for the album, the saxophone solo has been replaced by a slide guitar solo played by either Nick Brown or George Doering. The music video version of the song features a tenor sax solo played by Dan Higgins, simultaneous with the guitar solo. It was shown on Nickelodeon.
  • In 2003 singers Adam Green and Ben Kweller covered the song as a B-side for Green's song "Jessica".
  • In 2016 The French Band Lilly Wood and the Prick covered the song with some French lyrics mixed in the original lyrics
  • Parodies

  • A Norwegian group, Shiptare Boys, performed a parody of the song called "Kosovo". It was originally done by Bob Rivers.
  • Political satire group Capitol Steps has also recorded a parody called "Kosovo".
  • There was a parody of the song referencing the characters of the anime Ranma 1/2.
  • Bob & Tom parodied the song as "Camel Toe".
  • WWLS, The Sports Animal in Oklahoma, released a parody to celebrate the 2000 Oklahoma Sooner football team's trip to the National Championship game.
  • The Simpsons parodied the song in a 2003 episode, "Today I Am a Clown", where the "Beach Boys Experience" sing about Jewish observance as part of Krusty the Clown's televised Wet 'n' Wild Bar Mitzvah service.
  • WCSX in Detroit made a parody of the song in the late 1990s about the then-filthiness of Metro Beach.
  • In a 2001 episode of Saturday Night Live, host Derek Jeter owned a taco restaurant in one sketch, "Derek Jeter's Taco Hole," whose theme song was a parody of "Kokomo".
  • The Beach Boys guest star in Season 2 Episode 6 of Full House. They perform "Kokomo" in their house and in the live concert, in which the Full House cast helped sing "Barbara Ann".
  • In a 2015 Southwest Airlines commercial slightly paraphrased. The music is also played different notationally but maintains the original rhythmic pattern in obvious reference to the original version.
  • In a Two Guys and a Girl episode, "Two Guys and a Girl and a Vacation", the three main characters sing the song throughout the episode in celebration of their upcoming holiday.
  • In the third episode of the eighth season of Friends, Chandler briefly sings a few lines from the song.
  • On an episode of Scrubs, Turk suggests Elliot and Keith honeymoon in Kokomo, but Elliot shoots down his fantasy, telling him blankly "For the last time, there is no such place as 'Kokomo'!" to which Turk angrily responds, "Then *where* did The Beach Boys shoot the video, huh?!"
  • In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, "Three Days of Snow", Ted and Barney are keeping a bar open after last call to wait for their dates and are lip-syncing to the song.
  • The Season 15 episode of The Simpsons, "Today I Am a Clown", features a parody of both the band and the song, with Jewish themes, during the Krusty the Klown's bar mitzvah.
  • In the Family Guy episode "The Tan Aquatic with Steve Zissou", Stewie sings the chorus of the song while inside a tanning bed.
  • In American Dad! Season 3 Episode 14 "Office Spaceman" Roger the alien as "Parker Peters" lists the islands named in the chorus of the song as destinations to go hunting for the mysterious alien (Roger himself).
  • In the episode "Pour Judgment" of The King of Queens, the song is played during a scene where Doug attends bartender school.
  • The song is played in the episode "The Burgers of Wrath" of Spin City, in a scene where Charlie and Carter are helping out in a fast food-restaurant.
  • In Two and a Half Men season 12 episode 11, Alan and Walden's support group sings a phrase of the song.
  • Track listings

    3" CD single
    1. "Kokomo" – 3:34
    2. "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard – 2:23
    3. "Hippy Hippy Shake" by The Georgia Satellites – 1:45
    7" single
    1. "Kokomo" – 3:34
    2. "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard – 2:23
    12" maxi
    1. "Kokomo" – 3:34
    2. "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard – 2:23
    3. "Hippy Hippy Shake" by The Georgia Satellites – 1:45


    Kokomo (song) Wikipedia

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