It’s November 15, 1980. Ronald Reagan has just won the presidential election, so the Carter administration is coming to an end. Elliott Gould is hosting his 5th episode of Saturday Night Live… the first of season 6. Big changes are starting with new writers and cast members… and a wider variety of musical acts. Tonight’s musical guest is “Kid Creole and the Coconuts”.
Did I see this episode in its first run? I honestly can’t remember. Elliott Gould was a popular host, so it may have been a rerun in later years when I first saw this episode. Whatever the case, I instantly became a fan of KC&tC. “Mister Softee” and “Grace of God” were never to be found on my radio, but I wanted more than the memory of seeing them live from New York late one Saturday night.
Kid Creole and the Coconuts was not built for the era before music videos. I’ll link you to some concert footage in the comments and you’ll see what I mean. Hot Latin rhythms, sharp threads, and the simply-yet-effectively-choreographed (but way more than just visually stunning) backup singing Coconuts. A party band experience a la The New York Dolls, with the stage-filling energy of a Miami Sound Machine. Imagine Lou Bega and The Spice Girls had a bunch of children. And those kids started a band. That’s Kid Creole and the Coconuts.
Musically, this isn’t even Kid’s best work, but the opening track, “The Lifeboat Party,” is a banger! And Island Records didn’t put out discs in the early 80s just to fill slots in record stores. If you dig Desi Arnaz, Tito Puente, and Celia Cruz, there is plenty here to enjoy, while waiting for the torch to be passed to Gloria Estefan and the soundtrack from Jim Carrey’s “The Mask”.
Side one has fun, and invites you along. The Coconuts get their turn on the lead mic on “Distractions”, and prove they have the skills to do more than shake in triplicate. August “Kid Creole” Darnell has plenty of vocal power to front the other tracks’ fully-orchestrated brass and percussion licks.
Side two turns up the heat like you might expect in a South Beach nightclub. The Cuban influences are more focused here, and the “feel good” lyrics from side one (which border on silly in “If You Wanna Be Happy”) give way to some more socially observant fare in side two’s “There’s Something Wrong in Paradise” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Daryl Hall lends a hand on “Bongo Eddie’s Lament,” and we’re all left playing Six Degrees of Separation to figure out how THAT collaboration came about. By the time you get to the closing track, “Seven Year Itch,” you might just believe it’s 3AM and you have to walk the palm-tree-lined streets back to your hotel on the beach… after one more dance under the lights.
This isn’t a set to spin when you have no intention of getting out of your recliner. Expect the kids to bounce around with a stuffed animal dance partner. This one is from an era when an album was an opportunity to tell a story, and Doppelgänger tells a cogent story – both in the tracks and on the liner notes!