Depending on the source, the original title of the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” was either “Remember the Zoo” or “Our Freaky Friends”. Whatever the name, there’s no debate as to where the cover photo of this landmark album was taken (the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park) or when (February 1966).
“I can’t remember who came up with the idea,” said Brian Wilson, mastermind of the Beach Boys, recently from Los Angeles. “I think I did.”
Not so, says Al Jardine, who is now on the “Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary World Tour” with Wilson. Jardine blames the band’s art department at the Capitol record company for choosing the zoo.
“The animals we posed with in the zoo were wearing us because they were used to people feeding them,” said Jardine from his Big Sur home. “The goats were the most aggressive and that’s why that big white goat on the cover was on my face when I fed them. We were pretty much thrown into that thing. “
The specific place was the children’s petting zoo. The cover picture of the album, taken by George Jerman, shows the five Beach Boys feeding five goats. The animals seem enthusiastic, while most of the band members seem cautious.
“I always felt that ‘Pet Sounds’ was about romance and unrequited love,” Jardine said with a laugh. “And here, in this San Diego zoo, we posed with goats for the album cover. It was a little bit opposite! “
Why the confusion?
“Apparently the Capitol photography department hadn’t listened to the album and thought it was animals,” he replied. “I don’t think they even put a needle in the groove of the record. We also have a beautiful zoo in Los Angeles. What the hell were we doing in San Diego? It was a strange day. “
According to Wilson, the photo shoot with the goats lasted “about half an hour”. More photos were taken elsewhere in the zoo, but only the petting zoo shot made the final cut for the cover.
Did one of the goats try to bite one of the Beach Boys?
“No, they weren’t trying to bite anyone,” Wilson replied. “We fed them apples. We stretched them out and they took them out of our hands. “
As so often the memories differ.
The then new Beach Boy Bruce Johnston was at the zoo, but couldn’t be put on the cover picture for contractual reasons. He criticized the wild and woolly behavior of the animals.
“The goats were terrible!” Johnston told an interviewer several decades after the photo shoot. “They would jump over you and bite. One of them ate my radio. The zoo said we would torture the animals, but they should have seen what we had to go through. We did all the suffering. “
The zoo officials may have stopped using the word “torture” but the Beach Boys reportedly did not make themselves popular during their visit.
At least they didn’t, according to a February 13, 1966 column in the San Diego Union by Frank Rhoades, who apparently wasn’t a huge fan of rock bands in general, or the Beach Boys in particular. Here’s what he wrote:
The Beach Boys, the American counterpart to the British Beatles, gave the San Diego Zoo a very bad time. … The six millionaire musicians (including a fill-in) came from Hollywood to do a cover photo for their upcoming album “Our Freaky Friends”.
Before leaving, the zoo’s public relations director Bill Seaton said the caged animals were “on the verge of collapsing.” … Zoo officials weren’t interested in associating their beloved animals with the album’s title, but relented when the Beach Boys announced that animals are a “hot” thing with teenagers. And that the Beach Boys were rushing to beat the rock and roll group called “The Animals”. …
The Beach Boys, “two with long Beatle hair and each with fun boots,” arrived with an art director, a cameraman and four girls, Seaton said. After posing with a baby elephant and a baby gorilla, the cubs took a tour of the zoo …
“First of all,” Seaton said, “one of them knocked a carrot off the head of one of our tigers. Another tried to stick the head of a small antelope through some iron bars. Then they went around with puppies and chicks, put them outside, and walked away.
“A few young girls who saw the Beach Boys like this were certainly disaffected. The cameraman and art director were terribly nice people, but things just got out of hand and they couldn’t control the situation. “
Zoo Superintendent John Muth, a former marine sergeant major, said the Beach Boys are not welcome and never would be.
So Rhoades’ story closed with Brian Wilson’s affinity for the San Diego Zoo.
“Have I ever been back? No, ”he said. “Never again.”