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Music / Van Dyke Parks

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Van Dyke Parks (born January 3, 1943) is an American songwriter/producer whose musical career is known through different parts of Pop music and Americana. Aside from a wide variety of collaborators, his best known work is with Brian Wilson for The Beach Boys' SMiLE.

Growing up in Mississippi, Van Dyke had a musical upbringing yet started as a child actor since the age of 10, appearing in movies such as The Swan or having a recurring role on The Honeymooners (he stopped acting after getting into music and only came back once for playing in an episode of Twin Peaks). He dropped out of university before having his first music gig as an arranger for the song "Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book (1967). His musical career had a kickstart when he came to California and worked with various rock acts such as The Byrds, The Mothers Of Invention and Paul Revere and the Raiders on top of forming a folk duo with his brother Carson.

He also got involved in the Beatnik scene and managed to get in contact with Brian Wilson through the use of psychedelics (Van Dyke recalled that Brian viewed people consuming drugs as enlightened). Collaboration between the two songwriters wouldn't happen until the making of the infamous SMiLE album which remained unfinished for decades (for a variety of reasons, Van Dyke personally had a problem working with fellow Beach Boy Mike Love). Van Dyke left the recording sessions (which has since been viewed as a breaking point for the album's shelving) in order to focus on a solo career and he released his first album in 1967, Song Cycle, which had a weak reception but got a cult following later on.

Inspired by the counterculture of the late sixties, Van Dyke tried to stray away from the pop scene and invested himself in carribean music genres such as calypso, getting in contact with a steel band working for Liberace and "saving" them from him. His second album Discover America explores that calypso genre. After releasing his third album Clang of the Yankee Reaper, he focused way more on composing soundtracks (notably The Brave Little Toaster). He would reunite with Brian in 1995 for their collaborative album Orange Crate Art and later on during the completion of SMiLE. After an unsuccessful hand surgery in 2014, he performed his last piano performance. He remains an active musician since, occasionally working as an writer/arranger for a variety of artists including Joanna Newsom, Skrillex or Ringo Starr.


  • 1967 - Song Cycle
  • 1972 - Discover America
  • 1975 - Clang Of The Yankee Reaper
  • 1984 - Jump!
  • 1989 - ''Tokyo Rosell
  • 1991 - Fisherman & His Wife
  • 1995 - Orange Crate Art (with Brian Wilson)
  • 2013 - Songs Cycled

Film Roles

Television Roles

  • 1953 - Bonino
  • 1955 - The Honeymooners
  • 1982 - Faerie Tale Theatre
  • 1990 - Twin Peaks

His work provides examples of:

  • Arch-Enemy: Mike Love, though most of the hatred comes from Van Dyke. The two have on on-going misunderstanding over the lyrics written for SMiLE, and Mike was quite mischevious when the two met again during the recording of the album Summer in Paradise.
    "For the first time in 30 years, he was able to ask me directly, once again, 'What do those lyrics — Over and over the crow flies, uncover the cornfield — mean?'" Parks said about that meeting in '95. "And I was able to tell him, once again, 'I don't know.' I have no idea what those words mean." (...) Parks says Love asked if he could fly back to L.A. in the plane with him. "We had a nice chat and he insisted that he wanted to split the cost of the flight with me, so he gave me a card with his number on it. The next morning, I called to discover it was a disconnected number. And that was the last time I saw Mike Love."
  • Band of Relatives: Early in his career, he formed a folk duo called The Steeltown Two with his brother Carson Parks.
  • Celebrity Song: Discover America contains the track "Bing Crosby".
  • Cover Album: Discover America contains old Calypso songs which were in the public domain during the album's recording.
  • Eagleland: One of the main themes in Parks' songwriting, mostly relevant in SMiLE.
  • Every Man Has His Price: When Japanese band Happy End went to Los Angeles with the hope of working with him, he refused to write a song for them. The band's manager offered a suitcase full of $100 bills and the song "Sayonara America" was recorded.
  • Former Child Star: He rarely got back to acting after starting his music career.
  • Genre Roulette: Continuously throughout his career, yet Song Cycle remains notorious for its constant change of genre from one track to another (or even during one single track).
  • Sibling Team: The Steeltown Two was a band formed by Van Dyke and his brother Carson.
  • Song Style Shift: Song Cycle is the best example of this.
  • Title Track: Song Cycle features a track called "Van Dyke Parks".
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Recurring in his songs. One specific event during the recording of SMiLE was the argument Van Dyke had with Mike Love about the lyrics of the song "Cabinessence". When the two met again decades later, Mike still asked him about the lyrics' meaning.