Song Of The Day 9/8/2015: Jo Ann Campbell – “A Kookie Little Paradise”

The Hidden '60s, Part 1 – America had a thirst for island culture in the ’50s and ’60s. First it was the Polynesian-inspired tiki culture, brought to the front by returning U.S. servicemen who’d been stationed in places like Bora Bora, where extra-courteous women and fanciful beverages temporarily took The Greatest Generation’s minds off MacArthur's next bed check. Next thing you knew Don The Beachcomber had turned our American cities into bamboo shrines.

Similarly, calypso and Caribbean music found their way to the mainland via soldiers who’d been stationed in Cuba, Jamaica and Trinidad. Harry Belafonte, born in Harlem to Jamaican and Martiniquan parents, set sales records with his faithful reproductions of traditional songs. Calypso was so pervasive and equitable that even Robert Mitchum made a classic record in the form. (I'm not kidding -- it's classic.) Throw in the massive success of Les Baxter’s Exotica album in 1957 and it became difficult to listen to popular music without travel vaccinations.

Jo Ann Campbell, from Jacksonville, was a very gifted entertainer who helped shaped the cause of rock and roll for women in the late ’50s. Not that she held equal stature to the leather-clad machismo of the time, or that she worked exclusively in the rock vein, but her voice often showed flashes of the lusty grit that would come to define artists like Wanda Jackson a few years later. Her hit “Mama, Can I Go Out” pulled off the neat trick of sounding childlike and sensual at the same time, which can be highly uncomfortable, but I’m glad somebody came up with it.

“A Kookie Little Paradise” (#61, 1960), a bizarre yet wonderful-in-its-way song, was her single attempt to mesh the sounds of the islands with the extracted teenybopper image of utopia at the time – hot roadsters, equal distribution of boyfriends, unmanageable ice cream novelties and the pizza explosion of the ’50s. Finally, as if the situation wasn't incongruous enough, there’s an imported Tarzan yell to represent the population of fictional British babies that were abandoned in Africa and raised by apes. Paradise had an admirably big tent back then.

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