Forgive the hyperbole, but there’s nobody quite like Van Dyke Parks. Composer, arranger, producer, singer, musician, actor, author, raconteur, Parks is one-of-a-kind. Known for his dazzling, sometimes oblique wordplay, and sheer musical invention, Parks has contributed production, arrangements and songs to an incredible number of renowned artists over the years, often blazing new trails while harnessing his vast knowledge of popular music. For the first time, the renaissance man’s work as a multi-hyphenate is being collected. Fifteen tracks are being compiled for September 20 release by the artist’s own label, Bananastan, as Arrangements, Volume 1.
Arrangements is drawn primarily from the catalogue of Warner Bros./Reprise, where Parks toiled as artist, producer, arranger and A&R man, often working closely with his good friend Lenny Waronker. While at Warner Bros., Parks lent his considerable skills to Randy Newman, The Beau Brummels, The Mojo Men, Ry Cooder, Little Feat, and others. Still, these names just scratch the surface. Consider some of his other musical cohorts: The Byrds, Tim Buckley, Harry Nilsson, U2, The Everly Brothers, Carly Simon, Gordon Lightfoot, and Cher. Parks’ work isn’t exclusive, though, to classic artists. He’s lent his expertise to a younger generation of musicians including Rufus Wainwright, Joanna Newsom, Silverchair, Inara George and Fiona Apple.
Did I forget something? Oh, yeah. Parks also was the co-architect of The Beach Boys’ SMiLE, playing lyrical foil and inspiration to Brian Wilson’s limitlessly creative composer. (Though Capitol Records has been quiet in recent months, plans are still afoot to finally release that legendary lost album later this year.) Though Arrangements spotlights some of his favorite collaborations, Parks has also included a number of his own performances, making a collection of material, both familiar and tantalizingly rare, that is a veritable tour of American music. (The emphasis, however, is not on cuts from Parks’ solo albums, but rather singles and rarities. Anybody who’s read this far shouldn’t hesitate to explore 1968’s Song Cycle – in many ways a further exploration of the modular songwriting employed on SMiLE – and his other offbeat solo confections for some of the wildest, most devilishly creative music out there.)
Hit the jump to find out just which Arrangements have been included, plus discography and pre-order links!
Parks’ musical tastes are nothing if not catholic, so the compilation is a diverse one. One of the more familiar tracks is Stephen Stills’ song “Sit Down, I Think I Love You,” covered by The Mojo Men in Parks’ skillfully ornate arrangement. Two far-out tracks are reprised from Rhino Handmade’s new deluxe edition of The Beau Brummels’ Bradley’s Barn, both sides of a 1969 single by Brummels singer Sal Valentino. All of the varied strains of American popular music run deep in Parks, and so the old folk/blues chestnut “One Meat Ball” is heard in Ry Cooder’s rendition, and another traditional tune, “Valley to Pray,” is performed by Arlo Guthrie in a Parks production based on Doc Watson’s adaptation. Parks himself tackles Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s “The Eagle and Me,” from their 1944 musical Bloomer Girl. The song is also one of Stephen Sondheim’s favorites, and a great example of Harburg’s own lyrical virtuosity: “Ever since that day/When the world was an onion…”
The Parks composition “Come to the Sunshine” will be familiar to Harper’s Bizarre fans (another act on which he worked his magic) as well as to those who own the Rhino Handmade Nuggets compilation which adopted the song as its title. “Sunshine” appears along with its B-side, “Farther Along,” from a 1966 MGM Records single. Another impossibly rare track is Dino Martin’s “Sittin’ Here in Limbo.” Martin (son of Dean) was one-third of Dino, Desi and Billy, and was signed by Reprise in 1972 with Parks producing. Bringing the volume to a close is a Moog organ track written for The Ice Capades of 1967! Its composer told Davis Inman of American Songwriter: “The work I was doing in 1967, with the Ice Capades and AT&T commercials, I taught the machine how to say the words ‘Ice Capades’ as the skater came close to the lens after an axel. I did that ad music because I was in an act of counter-culturalism… I wanted to prove that I could be commercial…[In] 1967 and ’68, it was frontier activity, and it showed how hard I worked and how outside the box [I was] with Moog.”
In Parks’ own words, ”Here’s Volume One, dating from my earliest studio adventures in the ’60s…Throughout, you’ll hear what I learned about arranging. Bear in mind I went on to scratch out my own hard-scrabble life as an underpaid arranger, yet able to propel three offspring through their collegiate careers. They learned enough to avoid my occupational mistakes, pursuing other careers. Volume Two will be a different matter, with an exponential craft improvement on my part. Still, this must be my confession, as a review of my past work may offer great instruction to others who move the recorded arts beyond my wildest dreams. Clearly, my best work lies ahead”.
Four tracks off Arrangements, Volume 1 are already available as MP3s from the usual digital suspects, and they join a number of digital/vinyl singles of Parks’ newest songs being offered by Bananastan. Arrangements will arrive on both CD and vinyl on September 20, and with any luck, Volume 2 might just be around the corner.
Van Dyke Parks, Arrangements Volume 1 (Bananastan, 2011)
- Donovan’s Colours (mono) – George Washington Brown (Warner Bros. single 7026, 1967)
- Come to the Sunshine – Van Dyke Parks (MGM single K-13570, 1966)
- The Eagle And Me – Van Dyke Parks (Warner Bros. single 7409, 1970)
- Friends and Lovers – Sal Valentino (Warner Bros. single 7289, 1969)
- Alligator Man – Sal Valentino (Warner Bros. single 7289, 1969)
- Farther Along – Van Dyke Parks (MGM single K-13570, 1966)
- Valley to Pray – Arlo Guthrie (Reprise single RS-20951, 1970)
- Out On The Rolling Sea When Jesus Speak To Me – Van Dyke Parks (Warner Bros. single 7409, 1972)
- Sittin’ Here in Limbo – Dino Martin (Reprise single, 1972)
- Wah She Go Do – Bonnie Raitt (Warner Bros. single BS-2729, 1973)
- Sit Down I Think I Love You – The Mojo Men (Reprise single 0539, 1967)
- One Meat Ball – Ry Cooder (Reprise LP 6402, 1970)
- Cheek To Cheek – Lowell George (Warner Bros. LP BSK-3194, 1979)
- Spanish Moon – Little Feat (Warner Bros. LP 56030, 1974)
- Ice Capades – Moog Music (’67) – Van Dyke Parks (1967)