Beach Boys: How Their Leader Didn’t Hear ‘Kokomo’ Until It Became a Hit

The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” was their final big hit and it’s pretty divisive. Some fans see it as a classic. Others see it as a step backwards from the band’s experimental 1960s songs and an insult to band leader Brian Wilson’s artistry.

Regardless, it introduced the band to a younger generation and remains a staple of oldies stations. Interestingly, Wilson – the band’s leader – had nothing to do with its creation. He never even heard the song until it came on his radio.

Mike Love, David Marks, Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson, and Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys posing for a 1962 photo shoot | Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Why Brian Wilson was disconnected from the other Beach Boys

First things first: Wilson is the Beach Boys. His brother and fellow band member Dennis Wilson said as much. “Brian Wilson is the Beach Boys. He is the band. We’re his fucking messengers. He is all of it. Period. We’re nothing. He’s everything.”

The 1980s were a hard time for Wilson. Wilson has schizoaffective disorder and, in the 1980s, he was under the tutelage of Dr. Eugene Landy. Landy charged very high fees, inspiring Wilson to sell the publishing rights to some of his song to pay him.

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys circa 1970 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Landy also had an incredible amount of control over Wilson. He decided who got to see Wilson. Landy said Wilson could only work with the other Beach Boys if Landy got a co-writing credit on the songs Wilson wrote.

Mike Love, another Beach Boy, didn’t like that proposal. Because of this, Wilson had no involvement in the creation of “Kokomo.” Instead, Love decided to collaborate with producer Terrence Melcher as well as John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas.

How ‘Kokomo’ was written

Together Love, Melcher, and Phillips wrote “Kokomo.” The song is about vacationing in a tropical paradise called Kokomo. Some Beach Boys fans believe the song is about the small community of Kokomo, Hawaii. However, a closer reading of the song reveals this isn’t the case.

The song says Kokomo is “off the Florida Keys.” There is no place called Kokomo off the Florida Keys. “Kokomo” is about a fictional place. In some ways, this helps the song. No real place could possibly live up to the beautiful tableau painted by the song.

The official video for “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys

According to The Wall Street Journal, Wilson didn’t hear the song until it came on his radio. He didn’t even know it was a Beach Boys song. When someone told him it was a Beach Boys song, he didn’t believe them.

Despite his surprise, Wilson did enjoy “Kokomo.” He loved the vocal harmonies on the song. He also found the track’s lyrics relaxing. When he heard the song, he asked a friend if he could go to Kokomo, not knowing if it was a real place. The fact that Wilson liked “Kokomo” goes against the narrative the song is an insult to his legacy.

Also see: Why You Can Hear Paul McCartney Eating Celery on a Beach Boys Song