When it comes to controversial rock and roll bands, The Beach Boys are not the first act that generally comes to mind. Starting off as a squeaky clean quintet who sang about surf, summer, and girls. The Beach Boys only got mildly boundary-pushing when headier drug influences began to invade their work. Still, they sang about drug use directly, and following Brian Wilson’s break from the band in the late 1960s, Mike Love almost immediately turned The Beach Boys into a nostalgic, family-friendly touring act.
During the photo shoot for the band’s most famous and beloved album, however, The Beach Boys found themselves in hot water. After finishing their magnum opus Pet Sounds, the band dutifully trekked out to the San Diego Zoo for a day out with the animals. A picture of the five band members feeding goats eventually landed on the front cover, but the band spent an entire day hanging out with animals to find the right shot. That evidently did not go over well with the zoo’s staff.
In a 1966 article from the San Diego Tribune, The Beach Boys were accused of “mishandling the animals” and even listed a number of complaints that included “bouncing a carrot off a tiger’s head, attempting to put an antelope’s head through metallic bars, and carrying baby chickens and puppies around, putting them down, and walking away without returning them.”
“[The Beach Boys] came down from Hollywood to take a cover picture for their forthcoming album Our Freaky Friends,” the contemporary article states, using the working title of the album in place of its eventual name. “Zoo officials were not keen about having their beloved beasts connected with the title of the album, but gave in when the Beach Boys explained that animals are an ‘in’ thing with teenagers. And that the Beach Boys were rushing to beat the rock and roll group called The Animals.”
Even though he wasn’t featured on the cover photo, then-new band member Bruce Johnston that, “The goats were horrible! The zoo said we were torturing the animals but they should have seen what we had to go through. We were doing all the suffering.”
Still, a quote San Diego Zoo superintendent John Muth made it clear: “The Beach Boys are not welcome back and never will be.” It’s uncertain whether any of the band members tested the certainty of this ban after Pet Sounds became a touchstone of music history, but it’s probably safe to just stick to the Los Angeles Zoo instead.
Check out a behind-the-scenes look at The Beach Boys’ day at the San Diego Zoo down below.