The Cocktail Soundtrack and Why I Once Hated the Beach Boys
I used to despise the Beach Boys. I don’t know anymore, but we’ll get there. First, let’s tell some stories.
At my senior prom, I won a raffle prize, and everyone I knew laughed. What did I win? Concert tickets to Blossom Music Center to see the Beach Boys play in June of 1997. Even back then, I was so outspoken about my musical tastes that I was known as someone who hated The Beach Boys. My friends all had a fun giggle about me winning that prize. I remember getting the envelope in my hands and giving them to a wonderful female classmate who couldn’t believe I was handing over such an awesome and valuable prize. I told her that I hoped she had the best time ever, but I was good.
You see, to me, the Beach Boys were “Kokomo.” Back in 1988, I was far too young to see the film Cocktail, but I was completely taken by “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. I think everyone in the world was temporarily taken by that song. It was the first a capella song to top the Billboard Hot 100 charts. It only held court atop the charts for two weeks, but it knocked out “Sweet Child O’Mine” by Guns N’ Roses. Just imagine that musical landscape if you weren’t there.
I had to have that soundtrack, and somehow I procured it on cassette tape, probably at a K’Mart knockoff store like Fisher’s Big Wheel in suburban Cleveland Ohio.
Even back then, I couldn’t stand the thought of not having access to my favorite songs. I couldn’t just sit around and wait for it to be played on the radio. That feeling of need and yearning to have the music is still something I can feel when I think about it to this day.
The album started off with “Wild Again” by Starship, who had been a powerful soundtrack band already. Their megahit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” had a video based on the film “Mannequin” starring Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall.
I wanted Cocktail for Bobby McFerrin, but in my young dumbness I thought that every Starship song had the potential to be as big as their best tunes. I tried to convince myself for a long time that “Wild Again” was cut from the same cloth.
Things only got worse for me as song two “Powerful Stuff” by The Fabulous Thunderbirds didn’t feel very powerful to me. It’s a bluesy shuffle that is pretty darn forgettable.
Same with “Since When” by Robbie Nevil. It’s got the biggest 1980s snare drum sound you’ve ever heard. There was a certain 80s snare sound that was really popular. It’s big, poppy, but then has kind of an aftershock sound that goes with it. That said, it also sounds programmatic because it’s probably from a drum machine and ever single hit sounds exactly the same. If you want to know the technical details, it’s called a gated reverb and there are numerous youtube videos with talented producers explaining how it was done. This is part of how eras end up sounding alike even across different music types. Matt Sorum was the incredible drummer for GNR during the Use Your Illusion albums, and guess whose snare drum sounds like it’s splattering all over the 1980s as well?
Finally with Robbie Nevil out of the way, it’s time for “Don’t Worry Be Happy!” Yes! One-hit-wonder levels of musical perfection abounds in this song. I was so happy to own the tape with this song on it.
Next up I survived “The Hippie Hippie Shake” by The Georgia Satellites. It’s just disposable and forgettable.
Which finally brings us to “Kokomo.” Not only was this song mid before anyone dreamed of using the term “mid,” it had a horribly cheesy video featuring a very dadly Beach Boys performing live with numerous cutaways to “Full House” era John Stamos playing along on percussion and acting a fool.
And this is how a nine-year-old Craig came to define the Beach Boys. Later on as I finely honed my angry soliloquies about why the Beach Boys sucked, it was like, “Oh, you like the Beach Boys? Have fun down at “Kokomo” mkay? Maybe you like to surf? I gather from your songs that you like to surf. Are you just some boys who like to go to the beach? One trick pony sounding loser band.”
I stand by the comedy of my ignorant vitriol, but it was ignorant. Maybe it was partially excusable as someone raised by parents who weren’t big Beach Boys fans. Maybe it was excusable by virtue of being born in 1979 unaware that they wrote some phenomenal music beyond the surf party hits. Maybe it was by virtue of hating the Cocktail soundtrack other than my beloved “Don’t Worry Be Happy.”
Whatever it was, I long hated the Beach Boys and only figured out the error of my ways in my late 20s and into my 30s. You can only listen to so many of your favorite artists praise Pet Sounds for so long before you listen to it and give it a shot. You know what was probably the biggest catalyst? Remember the opening to the show Big Love on HBO?
Which is finally to say, life is long and never say never. As I head toward February and my 45th birthday I’ve learned a whole lot about what I don’t know about tomorrow, even as it relates to myself and the ways I could change. If you tried to tell me back in 1988 that one day I wouldn’t care about “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and that I’d love The Beach Boys, I wouldn’t have believed it. There’s always time for things to change.
Well, except for with me and Jimmy Buffett. That one’s never going to change. Rest in Peace, Jimmy, but as politely as I can say it, your music was and is, um, let’s just say not for me.