Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 8, 2013

'Way down in Kokomo...'

City of Firsts described many ways in song.

By Lindsey Ziliak
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Kokomo has been described in song as a tropical paradise, the place at the end of the blue train and a city where simple folks live.

For decades, singers have been crooning about a place they call "Kokomo." But how many of them are referring to the City of Firsts in middle Indiana?Local musician Gary Rhum and Indiana University Kokomo music professor Cindy Ison say in many cases, it’s anyone’s guess.Their guess, though, is that perhaps the most famous musical reference to Kokomo isn’t talking about Kokomo, Ind., at all.In 1988 the Beach Boys recorded the pop song “Kokomo” about a tropical destination.“Aruba, Jamaica, oooh I wanna take you to Bermuda, Bahama. Come on pretty mama,” they sang. “Key Largo, Montego, baby why don't we go down to Kokomo. We'll get there fast, and then we'll take it slow. That's where we wanna go. Way down in Kokomo.”Rhum said it’s obvious that the Beach Boys’ Kokomo is a paradise with sandy beaches, which doesn't really describe anywhere in Howard County.Ison agreed.“I am sure the Beach Boys were not [talking about Kokomo, Ind.],” she said. “The others … real possible.”She listed other songs she had heard of. There’s “Kokomo, Indiana,” a song sung by Betty Grable and Dan Dailey in the 1947 movie “Mother Wore Tights.”Jazz musicians Mel Torme and Vaughn Monroe sang their own versions of this song.They all crooned about the same thing — a longing to return home.“Wish I were back again with all the sweet and simple folks I call my kin in Kokomo, Indiana,” the song goes. “Just look at Rover wag his tail. Gosh, he remembers me. And get a load of sister Grace. You can’t see the freckles for the jam on her face.”Ison also referenced a Perry Como and the Crew Cuts song called “There’s Kokomo, I Love You So.”Four decades later, in 1987, Canadian-born singer, songwriter and guitarist Robbie Robertson sang about a Kokomo in his song “Somewhere Down the Crazy River.”According to his official website, the song reached 24 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.In the song Robertson says, “Catch the blue train to places never seen before. Look for me somewhere down the crazy river. Catch the blue train all the way to Kokomo.”And the Queen of Soul gave Kokomo a shoutout on her album "Young, Gifted and Black," released in 1972.The song was called “First Snow in Kokomo.”The lyrics tell a story about a trip to the Indiana city.“The first snow in Kokomo, off an Indiana highway, I was on my way to Kokomo,” the song says. “A funny friend named Chuck slipped and bumped his head (oops!), and as we picked him up, asked us had his nose turned red. That was the first snow in Kokomo.”Rhum said Franklin could have been singing about an actual trip she made to the City of Firsts. Franklin used to travel to the area all of the time, he said. She had a boyfriend here.“She was a wonderful human being,” Rhum said.

Other songs with a Kokomo reference:

"The Kokomo Medley," sung by Grammy award winning singer Bonnie Raitt on her 1995 album "Road Tested." In the song's chorus she sings, "Kokomo me baby. Kokomo me right. Kokomo your mama. She'll be back tomorrow night. I'd like to cry in your arms tonight. Baby don't you wanna go? Right on to Lemon Light City. Sweet home Kokomo."

Sources: bonnieraitt.com and YouTube.com

"No Particular Place to Go," sung by Chuck Berry in 1964 on the album "St. Louis to Liverpool." In a verse he croons, "No particular place to go. So we parked way out on the Kokomo. The night was young and the moon was bold. So we both decided to take a stroll."

Source: chuckberry.com

"Somebody Help Me," sung by John Fogerty on his 2007 album "Revival." He mentions Kokomo in a verse. He sings, "I been all around the world searching for my baby. Tell me where can she be. Lookin' high and low. Way back in Kokomo. It's still a mystery."

Sources: johnfogerty.com and YouTube.com

"Kokomo," by John Prine. He sang, "I long to be inside my home where the rafters are thick with men's cologne, men's cologne. For if I were a tree. I know where I would grow. But my body is in Guam. My mind is in Kokomo. Kokomo, Indiana."

Source: jpshrine.org

[Editor's note: This may not be a complete list of songs that reference Kokomo.]

Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at lindsey.ziliak@kokomotribune.com.