That Cuss the Kangaroo: The Ultimate Zoo Soundtrack

by Ben Cober

wearing-headphonesRecently I really enjoyed Bryan Wawzenek’s Theme Park Insider post about the top ten songs about theme parks. I started to plunge into the depths of the internet to seek out the best jams about our beloved zoos, and was shocked to find out that there currently exists no central repository for tunes on this great topic!

Therefore, as we celebrate the opening of Heart of Africa at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the beginning of zoo season, I present the Top 10 Songs about Zoos. These have been pulled from some of the darkest corners of discussion forums and web obscurity, so most might not bring on the waves of nostalgia that Freddy Cannon’s Palisades Park might, but are still a great journey through artists’ love of these great destinations.

At the Zoo
Simon and Garfunkel
Single (1967)

At the Zoo is a tribute by Paul Simon to his hometown of New York City. While it chronicles Simon’s trip to the Central Park Zoo, the song was later licensed in advertisements to the Bronx and San Francisco Zoos in the 1970s. The song hit #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 when it was released and its lyrics were adapted by Paul Simon in 1991 into a children’s book.

Going to the Zoo
Peter, Paul, and Mary
Peter, Paul, and Mommy (1969)

Going to the Zoo was released on side two (you read that right, remember when albums had SIDES?!) on Peter, Paul and Mommy by Warner Brothers. It was the group’s first children’s album, and took home a Grammy the following year for the Best Album for Children.

Zoo Song
Alison Steadman and Roger Sloman
Nuts in May (1967)

Nuts in May was a comedy movie for TV that was broadcast on the BBC in the late 1970s. The movie follows a nature-loving, self-righteous couple trying to enjoy their idyllic camping holiday. A nearby camper comes to check out their campsite, and is reluctantly treated to a song the couple “made up last year” about their trip to a zoo in London. The banjo and guitar skills are….questionable, and the lyrics are rather…uninspired, increasing the awkward tension between the poor guest and the couple.

Perfect Day
Lou Reed
Transformer (1972)

If you do a little research, this song gets deep. While not solely about the zoo, Perfect Day is thought to allude to Reed spending a day in Central Park with his first wife, Bettye Kronstad, that includes “feed animals in the zoo.” The song was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, and was featured in 1996’s Trainspotting; a 1997 BBC charity single which made it the UK’s number one single for three weeks; an AT&T commercial during the 2010 Olympics; and commercials for the PlayStation 4 and Downton Abbey. {Editor Note: This is my favorite. Stacey}

Funky Gibbon
The Goodies
Single (1975)

The Goodies were a comedy trio in the 1970s and 1980s that released a number of humorous tracks, Funky Gibbon among them. The song is an “instructional video” that teaches a dance the group made up about their favorite primate while they were at the zoo. It was their most successful single, and entered the UK singles chart at #37 in the spring of 1975. Slightly awkwardly, in the “About” section on the above clip, one of The Goodies shows’ biggest claims to fame was that it was so funny that it actually killed a man from King’s Lynn by making him laugh himself to death. Ok…

Sonntags im Zoo (“Sundays at the Zoo,” translated from German)
Die Toten Hosen (“The Dead Pants” – Google Translate, don’t ask)
Unsterblich (“Immortal”) (1999)

Despite the rough, punk-rock sound of this German thrash, the song is actually about a really nice day at the zoo and loving all the different animals. Don’t believe me? First verse: “Look at the giraffes, their necks are long. Look how they smile, they say thank you.” The chorus? “Here we are happy – you and I. Here we are free – on a Sunday at the zoo.”

The band is originally from Dusseldorf, their name colloquially meaning “The Dead Beats.”  Amazingly, this album is considered as one of their more “peaceful and quiet” ones, and the band apparently hated the album cover – a filtered photo of the Alps with pine trees and a sign reading “until we meet again!” Sounds pretty punk, anti-establishment to me!

5 Years’ Time
Noah and the Whale
Single (2007)

Once again, similar to Lou Reed’s Perfect Day, 5 Years’ Time isn’t really directly about a zoo, but more about a couple imagining what their relationship will be like in five years – as they walk around the zoo. (That’s a nice sentiment, right? A couple’s dream spot in the future is a zoo!)

Sadly the song didn’t do too well when it was first released; but when the group re-released it in August of 2008, it became the group’s first top-ten hit, climbing to number 7 on the UK charts. The music video kind of feels like a Wes Anderson film, and was featured in a 2008 SunChips commercial.

The Carnival of the Animals
Camille Saint-Saëns
Composed 1886

So this gets really interesting. Carnival is a musical suite comprised of fourteen movements by French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns, which follows a jaunt through the zoo and the different animals met along the way. It’s a rather comical piece, based on earlier works it references in more playful manners.

Saint-Saëns actually didn’t want Carnival published until after he had died, since he had written it “for fun” and was worried it would detract from his more serious, professional works. Little did he know that it would go on to become one of his best-known works. Covers of the various movements can be found in Fantasia 2000, Space Mountain, a trailer for The Godfather Part II, Babe, Charlotte’s Web, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Simpsons, The Ren and Stimpy Show, How I Met Your Mother, France at Epcot, the famous piano duel between Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, during red carpet premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, and even Weird Al Yankovic did a cover called Carnival of the Animals, part II.

Daddy’s Taking Us to the Zoo Tomorrow
Sung by Patsy Biscoe
Sings Favorite Children’s Songs (1993)

If Funky Gibbon by The Goodies can make the list, so can DTUttZT by Patsy Biscoe. The song is a pretty straight-forward children’s tune about going to the zoo, although sadly hasn’t achieved the notoriety or reach that many of the other songs on the list have.

Biscoe herself though is pretty fascinating. She was born in Shimla, India, and moved to Australia with her family after the Partition of India (which is basically when the Punjab and Bengal provinces were divided along with a number of assets). She studied medicine at the University of Tasmania, singing and playing music at a local jazz club on Sunday nights, and was a finalist on the Starflight International talent quest on Australian Bandstand. She was really popular on the local Adelaide children’s shows Here’s Humphrey and Channel Niners; and has been Deputy Mayor of the Barossa Council local government and a naturopath (which is a form of alternative medicine that says special energy called “vital energy” or “vital force” guides bodily processes).

Walking in the Zoo
Alfred Vance
Live (1870)

The internet refuses to relinquish the actual music, but here are the lyrics.

Vance’s real name was Alfred Peek Stevens, being that “Alfred Vance” was a stage name he used throughout English music halls in the mid-1800s. Walking in the Zoo chronicles Vance’s day at Regents Park’s Zoological Gardens in London with a lady, ending with a horrific mauling by a cockatoo. The song has two fascinating precedents set within it. First, it’s the earliest known use in the UK of the term “O.K.” in the sense that we actually think about it today – something being all right or good. Second, it’s also one of the earliest uses of the term “zoo” instead of “zoological garden” – which actually really upset some stuffier “zoological garden” professionals of the era.

Sumatran Tiger (aka Endangered Song)
Portugal the Man
Smithosonian’s National Zoo (2014)

From National Zoo: “There are only 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild. That’s why the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute partnered with indie rock band Portugal. The Man, bringing science and music together to distribute a previously unreleased song titled “Sumatran Tiger.” The song was lathe-cut onto 400 custom poly-carbonate records designed to degrade after a certain amount of plays. There are no other copies of the song in existence. The records were sent to 400 participants asked to digitize and share the song through their social channels with the hashtag #EndangeredSong. The song will go extinct unless it’s digitally reproduced. The Sumatran tiger will go extinct unless we take action. 

So what can you do? We need your help to share our message and raise awareness about the critically endangered Sumatran tiger and need for conservation efforts.

Scour the internet and search for the song using the #EndangeredSong on sites like SoundCloud, Radio Reddit, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook. 

Retweet, repost and tell everyone you know. Visit www.endangeredsong.si.edu to learn more about the initiative and how to help perpetuate the song. 

Conservation is a multigenerational issue that needs a multigenerational solution. We must reach and inspire the next generation of conservationists.”

All sorts of great tunes! Feel free to make that playlist and sing along on the commute to your zoo!

 

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