Van Dyke Parks

From Academic Kids

Van Dyke Parks also refers to a place in Leighton Buzzard, home of James Davis and Kajagoogoo.

Van Dyke Parks (born January 3, 1941) is an American composer, arranger, producer, and musician, noted for his collaborations with Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys on the song "Heroes and Villains" and the recently released cult-classic-album, Smile.

As a child Parks acted in the 1956 movie The Swan, which starred Grace Kelly. Early on, Parks also played in the folk group, "The Greenwood County Singers" with his brother, Carson Parks. After relocating to Los Angeles, Parks then worked as a studio musician and songwriter for Warner Brothers, writing hits for many artists such as Harper's Bizarre ("High Coin"); he became known for his clever lyrical wordplay and sharp imagery. He also played on several important recordings by The Byrds, whose producer Terry Melcher was a close friend of Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson, and this connection led to the meeting of Parks and Wilson in 1965.

In 1966 Parks was commissioned by Wilson to write lyrics for the Beach Boys next LP, the ambitious but ill-fated Smile project. Parks and Wilson collaborated on the songs for the album, which was conceived as an allegorical journey across America from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii, and which was to have been recorded as a seamless 'collage' of songs and instrumental pieces. Unfortunately, the Smile project was strongly opposed by members of the Beach Boys (notably Mike Love). The combination of resistance from the group and their record company, and Wilson's growing mental health problems and spiralling drug use, led to Parks quitting the project in early 1967 and it was shelved a few months later. Several Wilson/Parks songs from the Smile sessions later appeared on the Beach Boys' replacement album Smiley Smile, including "Heroes and Villains" and "Wind Chimes"; several other songs slated for Smile, including Cabinessence and Surf's Up, were compiled by Carl Wilson and included on subsequent LPs.

Smile soon acquired legendary status as one of the great lost works of the rock era. In 2004 Brian Wilson, now recovered from his mental health problems and having returned to touring and recording, made the surprise announcement that he was finally going to re-record the work using his current touring band. He contacted Parks, the duo finished the uncompleted parts of the album, and it was then recorded by Wilson and his band and released to enormous critical acclaim, earning Wilson a Grammy award for the Best Rock Instrumental Performance for the piece "Mrs O'Leary's Cow" (aka "Fire").

In 1968, Parks released his first solo project, the critically acclaimed album, Song Cycle, a "head trip" of orchestral textures and traditional Americana-meets-psychedelic pop song structures. Song Cycle established Parks' signature approach of mining and updating old American musical traditions, including ragtime and New Orleans-style jazz, with literate, playful lyrics, and is also notable for the inclusion of a song by Randy Newman. Although praised by critics, the album sold extremely poorly.

Four years later, Parks' many travels to the West Indies inspired his second album, Discover America. Among other things, Discover America was a rich tribute to the islands of Trinidad and Tobago and the native Calypso music. Van Dyke Parks was clearly at home re-arranging and re-producing obscure songs and calypso classics. The laid-back tropical feel of the songs and production made Discover America a fan favorite.

Parks' 1984 album Jump featured songs centered around the tales of Uncle Remus. Jump solidified Parks' reputation as a pop songwriter with some childlike tendencies. Production on the album was slick and the sound was focused and cohesive.

In 1995 Van Dyke teamed up again with Brian Wilson, this time to create the album Orange Crate Art. Parks wrote all of the songs on the album and the vocals were done by Brian Wilson. Orange Crate Art is a beautifully harmonic tribute to the Southern California of the early 1900s. The songs are rich and beautifully orchestrated.

Parks has produced, done string arrangements, or played on albums by artists including U2, Randy Newman, The Byrds, Cher, Rufus Wainwright, Sam Phillips, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, silverchair, Carly Simon, T-Bone Burnett, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Victoria Williams, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Case, Gordon Lightfoot, Fiona Apple, Sheryl Crow, Ry Cooder, The Everly Brothers and The Esso Trinidad Tripoli Steelband.

Parks has also scored a number of motion pictures, including Jack Nicholson's The Two Jakes, Casual Sex, Private Parts, Popeye (with Harry Nilsson ), and The Company.


  • "Number Nine/Do What You Wanta", 1966, single 45
  • "Come To The Sunshine/Farther Along", 1966, single 45
  • Song Cycle, 1968 album
  • Discover America, 1972, album
  • Clang of the Yankee Reaper, 1976 album
  • Jump!, 1984 album
  • Tokyo Rose, 1989 album
  • Fisherman & His Wife, 1991 album
  • Orange Crate Art Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Park, 1995 album
  • "Idiosyncratic Path: Best Of Van Dyke Parks" 1996
  • Moonlighting: Live at the Ash Grove , 1998 album



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