The Untold Story: Kokomo by the Beach Boys

The hit Beach Boys song was written for the Tom Cruise money, Cocktail.

In the 1960s, the Beach Boys topped the charts and was one of the most popular bands of that decade. They were well known for their songs about recreation and fun. By the 1980s their glory days were far behind them. The famous group had been playing fairs and nostalgia shows.

The director of the 1980s movie, Cocktail, asked the Beach Boys to record a song for their upcoming movie. They were told that this would be used in the portion of the film where Tom Cruise character goes from a bartender in New York to Jamaica.

The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys


Terry Melcher, son of the famous songstress and actress Doris Day, was hired to produce the song. Melcher was a well-known, successful music producer having worked with The Byrds and Paul Revere & the Raiders. The song had the potential of being a big comeback for both the Beach Boys and Terry Melcher.

Melcher knew the Beach Boys and had worked with them previously on Pet Sounds.

Terry Melcher, John Phillips {formerly of The Mamas and Papas}, Mike Love and Scott McKenzie are credited with writing this hit song. Brian Wilson, the creative force behind The Beach Boys, did not work on Kokomo. He was recording his first solo album, which was released three weeks before Kokomo.

The name and title, Kokomo, was made up during the writing of the song.

Terry Melcher
Terry Melcher

John Phillips thought the name sounded good and wanted to use it for the title. The word Kokomo was envisioned by the men 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.” There is a city in mid-Indiana named Kokomo.

According to Mike Love, Terry Melcher was working in the studio producing a track for the demo. The verses were written by John Phillips. Mike Love changed the tense of Phillip’s lyrics from “that’s where we used to go” to “that’s where you want to go.”

Although they had the verse, there was no chorus. Mike Love states the song was “lovely, but it didn’t have such a groove, I didn’t feel.”  He thought about the fact that the Tom Cruise character would be in Jamaica and the idea “Aruba, Jamaica,” came to him. Mike Love came up with the chorus.

Love shares that “I said, ‘Well, here’s what I want to do.’ And I remember I had told them about the part before. But he {Terry} 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.”

The bridge, which says “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,” was written by Melcher.

When they went into the studio to record, Carl Wilson sung the bridge. Mike Love sang the rest of the song, including the verses and chorus. Session musicians were brought in to play uncredited on the instruments for this album, as The Beach Boys often did. Longtime friend, Van Dyke Parks, also came in to arrange the steel drum band and play accordion on the track.

The song was released in July 1988 but flopped. The single was released on the B-side of Little Richard’s original version of Tutti Fruitti. The Beach Boys played it live that summer and received no response from their fans. Later that year the movie, Cocktail, was released and the song found new life and fame when it reached #1 on the music boards in the US. The last hit for the Beach Boys to reach #1 on the music boards was “Good Vibrations” in 1966.

The Cocktail soundtrack was a resounding success. Bobby McFerrin also had a #1 hit on the same album, Don’t Worry Be Happy.

beach       Later that year, the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Many companies decided to capitalize on the hit song, which implies relaxing in the sun. A resort popped up on an island called Grassy Key, in the Florida Keys, named Kokomo. The owners capitalized on the lyrics in the song that said: “off the Florida Keys.” Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay has a small resort also named Kokomo. There are also many restaurants and businesses that have drawn from this name.

The Muppets did a version of the song.

The Beach Boys performed this song on an episode of Full House, “Beach Boy Bingo.” John Stamos, who played “Uncle Jesse” in the show, was a friend and occasional drummer for the band. Stamos played the drums in the Kokomo music video.

Where would you like to go to get away from it all?




The Untold Story: Kokomo by the Beach Boys