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Credit: Beach Boys

The Cover Uncovered: Horsing around with The Beach Boys on 'Pet Sounds'

To try and accurately describe the wide and varied impact of The Beach Boys seminal 1966 album Pet Sounds is impossible. The songs created by Brian Wilson and the rest of the band will live long in the annals of music history for decades to come. The LP was inspired by The Beatles revolutionary record, Rubber Soul which is considered Wilson’s favourite album of all time. Equally, Pet Sounds has been cited by Paul McCartney as the main inspiration behind his own conceptual masterpiece Sgt. Pepper.

One difference between The Beach Boys and The Beatles, other than the Atlantic Ocean, was their artistic vision. For Wilson, it was all about the music. He thought songwriting was the most important part of being a pop star and rarely engaged in much extra-curricular design. Meanwhile, The Beatles were the foreword in stylish delivery. As well as sounding like nothing else on the planet, the Fab Four also looked like nothing else on the planet. It’s easy to see this disparity when looking at the album cover of Pet Sounds.

Inspired by Rubber Soul and then inspiring both Revolver and Sgt. Pepper, the differences between the album covers is plain to see. The Beatle used strange techniques, odd compositions and highly-stylised illustration for their respective record, meanwhile, for Pet Sounds, the band simply went to their local zoo.

The band’s eleventh studio album was released in the spring of 1966 and initially received a tepid response from reviewers. If there was one reason for the original reception of the album, we’d hazard a guess that it was the album cover’s fault. Never judge a book by its cover they say, we’d argue that the same rule applies to albums too. Pet Sounds is one hell of an album with a pretty awful cover.

The same can probably be said for the name of the record as well. Nobody is quite sure where the title of Pet Sounds came from. Brian Wilson has often hinted it was a homage to the infamous wall of sound producer Phil Spector, taking his initials and changing them into something else. Carl Wilson later said about the album title: “The idea (Brian) had was that everybody has these sounds that they love, and this was a collection of his ‘pet sounds.’ It was hard to think of a name for the album because you sure couldn’t call it ‘Shut Down Vol. 3,'”

Carl added “It was just so much more than a record; it had such a spiritual quality. It wasn’t going in and doing another Top Ten. It had so much more meaning than that.” As one might expect, Mike Love also laid a claim to being the album title’s originator, “We were standing in the hallway in one of the recording studios, either Western or Columbia, and we didn’t have a title,” he recounted. “We had taken pictures at the zoo and…there were animal sounds on the record, and we were thinking, well, it’s our favourite music of that time, so I said, ‘Why don’t we call it Pet Sounds?'”

This would, of course, suggest that the band didn’t decide on the name of the record until after the photoshoot, which feels pretty unlikely. Shot in February of 1966 at San Diego Zoo, the front cover of one of the greatest albums of all time, see The Beach Boys feeding cuts of apple to seven goats amid a petting zoo paddock. The photograph was taken by the band’s official photographer of the time, George Jerman and captured the band during one of the more pleasant moments at the zoo.

It is this strange notion that underpins the absurdity of the shot. Not only is it a rather mundane image for such a pivotal album, but it also shows the band laughing and joking while the reality was far different. The band did not endear themselves to the zoo’s staff, leading some of the members of the zoo to claim the group had mistreated the animals, while the band claimed the animals were “pushing us all over the place.”

There’s has perhaps never been an album cover that more sincerely concealed the greatness within than the mundanity of The Beach Boys seminal record Pet Sounds.

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