In 1986, I spent six weeks of varying gloriousness in Harbor Beach, Michigan, on a summer exchange program. It was a memorable summer in many ways but one of the highlights was that I got to taste New Coke. They were exciting times because not only was there Classic Coke and New Coke, there was also Cherry Coke and Diet Coke, which had been introduced to the Finnish market two years earlier as Coca-Cola Light.
Now, I considered myself something of a cocacologist – still do, I even wrote a paper on Coke’s marketing in the university – and since New Coke wasn’t sold in Finland, a trip to Michigan opened a door I had thought impossible to open. It was something of a Holy Grail, if you will.
I was one of those people that would never have mistaken Coke for Pepsi or Pepsi or Coke in a blind test – oh and people tried – and a few years ago I even got to prove it in an official Pepsi Max test in Oslo as Son as my witness.
I have since switched camps, but in Harbor Beach in 1986 I was firmly in the Coke camp, and would drink Pepsi only in an emergency, such as when our local kiosk sold it for 2,50 Finnish markka a can. Half price. My loyalty had limits.
Anyway, it was in Harbor Beach that I walked into a grocery store and bought my first can of New Coke (and a REO Speedwagon tape) to get a taste of it. I’ll admit to not having an entirely open mind. After all, I had read MAD Magazine’s New Coke jokes and I really liked Classic Coke, and didn’t want them to call it Classic. I thought it was silly, and I thought Coca-Cola should have just stayed Coke.
And having drunk up that first can, I knew. I didn’t like New Coke. I’d stay loyal to Classic.
That was the summer of Coke for me. It was the same summer that Wham! played their farewell concert at Wembley, although I don’t remember being aware of it then. I was surprised, though, to see their “Edge of Heaven” music video as a preview to Poltergeist II, which I saw in Harbor Beach’s only movie theatre.
I was pleasantly surprised, and when I got home from the US, I bought the duo’s last album, Final, a collection of their hits and a few new songs. One of the news songs I really liked was “Where Did Your Heart Go”, a Was (Not Was) cover.
One of the lines goes, “Come down sometime, we’ll share a rusty can of corn” but for some reason – my hearing, George Michael’s wailing of ‘coooooooorn’ – I always heard it as “we’ll share a rusty can of Coke.”
I couldn’t fathom him singing about a can of corn. I probably didn’t even know corn came in a can, and also, I would rather have shared a rusty can of Coke.
And with the right person, even a can of New Coke.
This is the From The Desk of Risto Pakarinen 2017 advent calendar. Behind every door, you’ll find something related to the 1980s.