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Perfectly Paired Pop Songs: An American Heartland Tropical Hoosier Dream

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I have these compulsions.

No, we won’t go there. I will mention… no, not that, either.

Safe to say, without delving too much into the state of my mental wherewithal: that I will dwell.

And dwell hard. I recently competed in a local dwelling and brooding tournament. And while it was only an amateur contest, I finished in third place (out of 18), behind a defrocked Pentecostal minister and a high school senior who said she was ‘thinking of going pro after graduation.’

I thought I did well. But the more I considered the matter, the bleaker my outlook became. Third place? With less than a couple dozen in the field?

Mediocre. Untenable. Failson.

Nonperformative, even!”

It took me a week to shake out of my dark and dreary self-reflection…

But back to those compulsions:

One of many, albeit one that provides some light entertainment as opposed to simply shouting down the lions of order, order, order:

…is a list of paired pop songs that share some sort of connection; self-evident- or, even better: so subtle as to be invisible to the layperson.

I haven’t found many of the latter yet, as I’m concentrating on the obvious first, a longstanding shortcoming of mine.

Thus, I inaugurate things with songs that kinda sound the same. I’ll admit, not the thrilling plot twist you were expecting.

“Are you kidding? We’re on the edge of our seats!”

First up:

The (Nitty Gritty) Dirt Band’s “An American Dream.”

There’s a loaded phrase. And like its brethren, which include The Great American Novel, American Exceptionalism, The American Experiment, and Great America (the amusement park), it’s ineffable, indefinable, includes limitless, ‘I know it when I see it’ heights of your personal point of view. You’ve got an opinion, and you’ve got an opinion, and, you? Over there, in the shadows? You’ve got one, too.

So, what’s T(NG)DB’s position on said dream (and by extension, Rodney Crowell’s, who penned the thing)?

A quick scan of the lyrics reveals that it involves fantasizing about taking a trip from Augusta, Georgia (America) to Jamaica (not America). I can take this one of two ways:

Either the American Dream is to leave America for the tropics…

Or it’s only dreaming about leaving America for the tropics – because you can’t afford to actually go.

Hmm. Fingers drumming on the desktop. Interesting premise. Proletariat, rise up! We must not only dream of a vacation, we must seize the levers of capitalism! The ability to travel for leisure must become a reality!

Gather up your pitchforks and ball peen hammers, fellow workers! We may only make it to Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood, but through our struggle: our children and our children’s children will one day frolic in Martinique Bay!

“Undercompensated airline workers of the world, unite!

The ‘flee to warmer climes’ vibe is further bolstered by the musical accompaniment. Which skews faux-island, with some escapist country & western touches (pedal steel, harmonica, singer Jeff Hanna’s twangy lead vocal.

It advances at a sort of slow shuffle, suggesting the indolence common to everybody’s idea of a proper beach vacation.

It’s a nice, lazy song. And if you want to suggest I should abandon this exercise and simply explicate randomly across the Buffett discography, well, you’re not far off. ‘An American Dream’ is a pleasant, waves-tickling-your-toes kind of tune, no more, no less, and catchily inoffensive. You could do worse.

Speaking of which: The Mr. Hyde to ‘An American Dream’s Dr. Jekyll:

Kokomo.

“SHIELDS UP, MR. GOPPER!”

My first draft of this section… (come on, admit you love to read about how the marzipan gets molded) …was another in what could be an endless series of Mike Love takedowns.

The kind of high-fat, low-calorie buzz bombs perfectly engineered for the short-attention spanned. I’ve got the greatest hits all cued up. Just waiting for the go signal, and –

No.

Back up.

Let’s take ‘Kokomo’ at face value and consider it for what it is. And what it is, is… a song very similar to ‘An American Dream…’

… and released a decade later.

Much of its lyrical content involves, yes, traveling to horse latitude isles for fun and inebriation, just like its forebearer. Martinique is mentioned in both.

One features the fabulous and inimitable stylings of prime Linda Ronstadt.

The other contains the still-potent Love/Jardine/C. Wilson harmonies.

It’s got that same relaxed gait. It’s clearly a reworking of the older hit.

Were the producers and songwriters inspired by “An American Dream?” Maybe. Or, maybe it’s an out-and-out ripoff. Maybe it’s an (slams hand on the table) abomination, another example of Mike Love’s satanist plot to undermine the whole of Brian’s legacy while also lining his pocketbook! Maybe it’s a blot on existence itself!!! Aaarrrggghhh…

All right, all right, just breathe,” you murmur.

  • “You should really get over it,” you say.
  • “It is, at heart, a seriously riff-laden song,” you maintain.
  • “The chorus is a masterwork of tone poetry or some such technical jargon,” you expertly venture.
  • “The atmosphere of lounging near a tropical surf rendered by the muted steel drum runs is tastefully, if unimaginatively, brought off,” you wordily exclaim while lightly perspiring.
  • “It’s The Beach Boys. And even if they’re coasting a bit here more than two decades past their heyday, all legendary acts deserve a little comeback action,” you patiently put forward.

“You should really get over it,” you repeat.

I get it. I should. At the end of the day? “An American Dream” and “Kokomo” sound alike.

That’s all.

Listening to them back to back can bring some sunshine into the middle of winter, as well as provide an interesting compare-and-contrast experience. It’s okay. It’s fine. I’m fine. There’s just one more thing…

There’s no Kokomo anywhere near the Caribbean.

The claim is that ‘Kokomo’ is a feeling. An attitude. A signifier for summer fun.

I beg to differ. My sources tell me John Phillips’ original lyrics went something like this:

Ladoga, Selina
Ooh, I wanna take ya
To Orestes, Angola

Come on, pretty mama
Walesboro, Cayugo
Baby, why don’t we go

Gary…

Off the interstate road
There’s a place called Kokomo
That’s where you wanna go
If your on your way to St. Paul

No more Ku Klux Klan
Boilermaker freezing in your hand
We’ll be falling in love to the rhythm
Of the casting plant

Down in Kokomo

Brownsburg, Alexandria
Ooh, I wanna take ya
Up to Crown Point, Aurora,

Come on, pretty mama

To Wabash And Hobart 
Baby, why don’t we go own to Kokomo

I’ll fill the tank if you gotta go
That’s when we’ll take it slow

Way down in Kokomo

Mechanicsville… that Howard County thrill

We’ll sit in Foster Park
It’ll be a relaxing lark
We might reignite the flame 

A little after dark

Whiteout blizzard delight
Another green bean casserole night
The weary look in your eye Gives me 

A Bobby Knight Rust Belt high

Way down in Kokomo
Ladoga, Selina
Ooh, I wanna take ya

To Orestes, Angola
Come on, pretty mama
Waleboro, Cayugo
Baby, why don’t we go

Ooh, I wanna take you down to Kokomo
I’ll fill the tank if you gotta go
That’s when we’ll take it slow

Way down in Kokomo


Wawpecong, you really can’t go wrong

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cstolliver
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February 7, 2024 5:43 am

As a Hoosier native (and frequent drive-thru of Kokomo on the regular trips between South Bend and Bloomington), let me say, Well done, Stob!

lovethisconcept
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February 7, 2024 2:39 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

Another Hoosier native here. Connections to many of the towns listed. Not many of them (none, actually) that I want to go to on vacation.

rollerboogie
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February 7, 2024 3:10 pm

Not to say that there aren’t places to vacation in Indiana. As a lifelong resident of a neighboring state, we have taken a few trips there. Brown County is wonderful and we had a very nice time in Madison, IN.

lovethisconcept
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February 7, 2024 3:25 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

You are correct. There are some lovely places, just none of the ones mentioned in the song. Although Aurora is a decent little town on the river. Just not much to do there. And, yes, Brown County is lovely. Especially wonderful in fall.

Madison’s transformation from a town that was going broke due to river shipping phasing out of the economy to a tourist town started with the regatta held every spring. There was a pretty decent movie about that process made about 20 years ago.
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0206113/

rollerboogie
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February 7, 2024 3:30 pm

Oh, interesting. I will have to check that out.
I forgot to mention the Indiana Dunes. We were just there not too long ago. We brought my mother-in-law along, who was visiting from Poland. She loved it.

lovethisconcept
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February 7, 2024 6:16 pm
Reply to  stobgopper

That’s a tough one. I would have to go with Hoosiers because it really does touch the heart of Indiana which is basketball. There is a lot of the original story that was changed, but some was left the same. The final shot was just as shown.

How much of the championship game played in the movie is accurate?
Not much. In real life, Coach Wood ordered a stall twice during the final quarter. Milan’s star player, Bobby Plump, literally held on to the ball, without moving, for 4 minutes, 13 seconds, before taking a shot (and missing) with a few minutes still left on the clock. On Milan’s next possession, Plump again stood stationary with the ball as the clock ticked down from 1:18 to 0:18. In 1987, Milan star Bobby Plump told the Saturday Evening Post, “The final 18 seconds were the only thing factual in the movie about the Milan-Central game. From the time the ball was in bounds after the final timeout, the movie was accurate.” This includes Plumps thrilling game-winning shot.

https://www.chasingthefrog.com/reelfaces/hoosiers.php

Breaking Away was a good movie, and the Little 500 is an important event, but it’s not the life and soul of the state the way basketball is. Additionally, the Cutters team is always composed of students, never locals.

What is kind of amazing is that southern Indiana has been the subject of any movies at all. I wrote a comment about Madison, and the 1950’s classic Friendly Persuasion is based on the Quaker community in Vernon, Indiana. Four movies about an area where nothing really happens is kind of astonishing.

rollerboogie
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February 7, 2024 6:33 pm

The 1958 film “Some Came Running” with Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine was filmed in Madison, IN and takes place in a “small town in Indiana”. We had burgers at a classic little diner where Sinatra liked to eat when he was filming there.

lovethisconcept
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February 7, 2024 6:36 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

I had forgotten all about that one! So, five altogether, with two of them focused on Madison. Wow.

lovethisconcept
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February 7, 2024 6:19 pm
Reply to  stobgopper

Of course, probably the most watched movie about Indiana takes place in the northern Indiana city of Hammond. A Christmas Story isn’t the best Indiana movie, but it’s probably the best known. “You’ll put your eye out, kid.”

rollerboogie
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February 7, 2024 6:35 pm

Totally can’t argue with this. And it takes place far enough northwest in Indiana for the dad to be a Bears’ and White Sox fan, which thrilled me as a Chicagoan.

cappiethedog
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February 10, 2024 12:06 am
Reply to  rollerboogie

Eight Men Out was shot in Indiana.

rollerboogie
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February 10, 2024 11:22 am
Reply to  cappiethedog

Fantastic movie, though very heartbreaking to watch as a White Sox fan.

cstolliver
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February 7, 2024 6:22 pm
Reply to  stobgopper

I’d say “Breaking Away” if the “Indiana” you’re referring to is IU. But for the state itself, “Hoosiers.” The latter movie was filmed when I was student-teaching in Indianapolis in the fall of 1985; some of my students were extras in several gym scenes of the purported playoffs.

lovethisconcept
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February 7, 2024 6:29 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

We agreed completely on this one.

Phylum of Alexandria
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February 7, 2024 8:00 am

“koko mo” is Japanese for “here as well.” It also sound like “kokoro,” which means heart, or soul.

So, here, meaning home, is where, or at least close to where the heart is. That’s where I want to go.

As well.

Okay, I prefer your analysis.

rollerboogie
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February 7, 2024 9:07 am

The song lyrics and video at the end are fantastic! Aside from the KKK reference, I could see the Indiana tourism board getting behind this in a tongue and cheek sort of way.

When Tom reviewed Kokomo, I posted a short Indiana version of the first couple of lines of the chorus.
Not at all as thoroughly developed and complete as your impressive version today and none of the same cities-

Vincennes, Valparaiso, Muncie if you say so,
Seymour, Shipshewana, come on Amish mama!

lovethisconcept
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February 7, 2024 2:42 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

The Indiana tourism board would really get behind this song if they could get John Cougar Mellencamp to sing it.

Virgindog
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February 7, 2024 10:04 am

“A Bobby Knight Rust Belt high” made me snort laugh. Good work, Stob.

JJ Live At Leeds
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February 7, 2024 12:41 pm

I’m not sure I know what’s going on but its a lot of fun. I can add ‘horse latitudes’ to my mental phrasebook for future use and perhaps one day I’ll take a road trip through Ladoga, Selina, Orestes and all the rest. Once I’ve consulted the map. I do know where Angola is, easy one, that’s Africa right? It’s got a long coastline, must have some good beaches. Bit of a drive from Indiana though. I’ll remember to pack snacks. And a wetsuit.

rollerboogie
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February 7, 2024 3:17 pm

If you’re going to start in on U.S. cities that share a name with places in other continents, we will be here forever.

Virgindog
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February 7, 2024 4:51 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

This signpost, for instance, lists only a few of those cities in Maine.

MaineSignpost
rollerboogie
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February 7, 2024 6:37 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

This!

LinkCrawford
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February 7, 2024 12:47 pm

We all laughed in Indiana when the song came out. We were waiting for their followup romanticizing another small industrial city like…Decatur (Illinois) or Flint (Michigan) or Youngstown (Ohio). Excellent work!

I don’t hate “Kokomo”, despite its cheesiness. Actually something about the murky production choices bugs me more than the song itself.

“An American Dream” was a much better song. But I was confused as a child by the mondegreen, “Well it’s as easy as clothes in your eyes.” The obvious “closin’ your eyes” didn’t dawn on me for years. I’m a slow learner.

lovethisconcept
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February 7, 2024 2:41 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Absolute agreement with both of your points. Yes, we did laugh. And, yes, “An American Dream” was a much better song.

mt58
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February 7, 2024 2:46 pm

OK, gang, time for a pop quiz: Name the best Indiana-centric song.

(I’ll tell you in advance that there is only one correct answer, and it’s not even close.)

Virgindog
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February 7, 2024 2:49 pm
Reply to  mt58

“Indiana Wants Me?”

mt58
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February 7, 2024 3:35 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

DINGDINGDING!

“YOU ARE SURROUNDED. GIVE YOURSELF UP…”

https://youtu.be/yAA2rGxblLU?si=C__7-TXS0v7RDM-f

Virgindog
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February 7, 2024 3:53 pm
Reply to  mt58

I shall reward myself with a slice of sugar cream pie.

lovethisconcept
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February 7, 2024 4:04 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Sugar cream pie is the best.

lovethisconcept
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February 7, 2024 3:10 pm
Reply to  mt58

I hope this is what you’re looking for. If it’s not, we have to have a discussion.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXHmLSOeAxY

lovethisconcept
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February 7, 2024 3:14 pm
Reply to  mt58

Of course, there are people who are less excited about a return to Indiana. He should have found a ride to the Slippery Noodle.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDzhEcfRORk

https://www.slipperynoodle.com/

rollerboogie
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February 7, 2024 3:19 pm
Reply to  mt58
rollerboogie
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February 7, 2024 3:21 pm
Reply to  mt58

And as a midwestern Catholic boy, I’m obligated post this
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7csGhMQoQms

cstolliver
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February 7, 2024 6:25 pm
Reply to  mt58

I’d argue for Mellencamp’s “Smalltown,” but I do realize that other than the performer himself that song is not specific to Indiana.

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