Songs you hate, then love: The Beach Boys, “Kokomo” (1988)


(Above: Which is the guiltier pleasure – the song or the movie?)

If I haven’t made it clear enough in earlier posts or by dropping lyrics into text sans citation, I like the Beach Boys.  A lot. That’s why the revulsion I felt when I first heard “Kokomo” was so troubling.  Eventually, though, I came to actually appreciate the thing – but that story will take us down a winding path to get there.

This song also illustrates my point that sometimes, the pop charts are not fair.  No matter what level of genius you achieve, the buying public sometimes misses the point. The Beach Boys’ body of work is massive, and yet they only hit the #1 position on the charts four times: “Help Me, Rhonda,” “I Get Around,” “Good Vibrations,” and – this thing.  How is that even possible? I mean, “God Only Knows,” possibly the greatest three minutes ever put on vinyl, no matter who does it, managed a measly #39 showing, and… this thing?

So why does it not send me to fits of revulsion any more?  Reworked lyrics.

In the late fall of 1988 I had just started my storied overnight gig at WJTW, best described as a soft version of a soft adult contemporary station.  At the end of that year the station was running without a program director (which is likely how I kept getting airshifts), and the music was selected by a nice man who had less than zero sense of adventure.  So, pap like “Kokomo” got onto the air a lot. Since I was also doing double-duty in my last days at WLRA, the group of us from the college who worked together/drank together/got in trouble together hung out and amused ourselves often, and music was frequently a part of that.  One night for whatever reason – alcohol may have been a factor – we started working up lyrics to “Kokomo” to make it about “Joliet.”  The meter of the town names worked, so it was a start.  A few beers later we had a verse….

“Down Route 53

There’s a place called Joliet.

It’s where you wanna go to get away from Fitz Hall….”

A few boozy lines later (“about… to make… that Crazy Rock mistake”) and we had our own hit.  Sadly, I can’t remember any more of the lines. To this day, when I hear the first slightly-off-key tones of the song, this is what comes into my head. Instead of the awful movie, I remember a night holed up in the college radio station – one where the party got out of hand and campus security was called to break it up.  When they showed up, I explained to them that since we were a federally-licensed facility, our party was under the jurisdiction of the FBI and not them, and they’d have to leave.  Surprisingly, the young officer took my word for it and left, and we went back to singing off-key, loud enough so that all of Fitzpatrick Hall was regaled with the strains of “Joliet.” I remember having a blast in college, and no level of lousy pop song can take that away.

So, yeah, I kinda like the song, but not for the song itself.  Sometimes, changing the lyrics to fit your situation has a benefit you don’t realize until almost thirty years have gone by.

The movie?  No, I’m not watching that.

If you dare, you can rewrite “Kokomo” about your hometown by clicking here.


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