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Van Dyke Parks (born January 3, 1943) is an Americanmarker composer, arranger, producer, musician, singer, and actor. He has worked with performers including Grace Kelly, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Loudon Wainwright III, Silverchair, Ry Cooder and Joanna Newsom.

Early career

Born in 1943 in Hattiesburgmarker, Mississippimarker and reared in Lake Charlesmarker, Louisianamarker, Parks attended the American Boychoir School '57 in Princeton, New Jerseymarker. He began his career as a child actor. Between 1953 and 1958 he worked steadily in films and television, including the 1956 movie The Swan (which starred Grace Kelly). He appeared as Ezio Pinza's son Andrew Bonino on the NBC television show Bonino. One of his costars on Bonino was 14-year-old Chet Allen, who appeared as Jerry Bonino. Parks and Allen were roommates at the Boychoir School. Parks also had a recurring role as Little Tommy Manacotti (the kid from upstairs) on Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners.

Parks originally studied the clarinet, but had moved to the piano before enrolling (majoring in music) at the Carnegie Institutemarker in Pittsburghmarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, where he studied from 1960 to 1963. In January 1963 Parks learned to play the guitar and soon relocated to Los Angelesmarker to play with his older brother Carson Parks (writer of "Somethin' Stupid") as The Steeltown Two (later enlarged to the Steeltown Three), which eventually became the folk group The Greenwood County Singers (Parks took a short hiatus from this group, moving to New England to be part of The Brandywine Singers).

By 1964, Parks had an artist contract at MGM Records. In 1966 he was persuaded by producer Lenny Waronker to switch to Warner Bros. Records. During this time he worked frequently as a session musician, arranger and songwriter. Parks met Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson through Terry Melcher (who was then producing The Byrds). During 1966 Parks performed on The Byrds album Fifth Dimension (David Crosby later asked Parks to join the band, but Parks refused) as well as on the ill fated Beach Boys project Smile. Also during this period, Parks' compositions, such as the hit "High Coin" for Harpers Bizarre, were becoming known for their lyrical wordplay and sharp imagery.


In 1966 Brian Wilson commissioned Parks to write lyrics for the Beach Boys' next LP, the ambitious but ill-fated SMiLE. Parks and Wilson collaborated on songs for the album. Members of the Beach Boys strongly opposed Smile, notably Mike Love who negatively called Parks' lyrics "Acid Alliteration". The combination of resistance from the group and their record company, and Wilson's growing mental health problems and spiraling drug use, led Parks to quit the project in early 1967. 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." Other songs slated for Smile, including "Cabinessence" and "Surf's Up," were compiled by Carl Wilson and included on subsequent LPs.

Smile acquired legendary status as one of the great lost works of the sixties. In 2004, Brian Wilson made a surprise announcement that he was going to finish the mythical record using his current touring band. He contacted Parks, and the duo re-recorded the album.

Solo music career

In 1968, Parks released his first solo album, Song Cycle which combined orchestral textures and traditional Americana-meets-psychedelic pop song structure. AllMusic's Jason Ankeny has described the album as
an audacious and occasionally brilliant attempt to mount a fully orchestrated, classically minded work within the context of contemporary pop.
As indicated by its title, Song Cycle is a thematically coherent work, one which attempts to embrace the breadth of American popular music; bluegrass, ragtime, show tunes -- nothing escapes Parks' radar, and the sheer eclecticism and individualism of his work is remarkable.
...[T]he album is both forward-thinking and backward-minded, a collision of bygone musical styles with the progressive sensibilities of the late '60s; while occasionally overambitious and at times insufferably coy, it's nevertheless a one-of-a-kind record, the product of true inspiration.
Song Cycle established Parks' signature approach of mining and updating old American musical traditions, including ragtime and New Orleans-style jazz, and includes the Randy Newman song "Vine Street". Although widely praised by some critics, the album sold poorly.

Four years later, Parks' travels to the West Indiesmarker inspired his second solo album Discover America. Discover America was a tribute to the islands of Trinidad and Tobagomarker and to calypso music. Parks re-arranged and re-produced obscure songs and calypso classics. This direction was continued in the 1976 release Clang of the Yankee Reaper.

Parks' 1984 album Jump! featured songs adapted from the stories of Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit. The album features a Broadway-style reduced orchestra plus Americana additions like banjo, mandolin, and steel drums. Parks composed the album but did not arrange or produce it. Martin Kibbee contributed to the lyrics.

Following Jump!, in 1989 Warner Brothers released Tokyo Rose. This concept album focuses on the history of Japanese/U.S. relations from the 19th century to the "trade war" of the time of its release. The songs are pop tunes with an orchestral treatment including Japanese instruments and old Parks Caribbean favorites like steel drums. The album did not sell well and was not widely critically noticed.

In 1995 Parks teamed up again with Brian Wilson to create the album Orange Crate Art. Parks wrote all of the songs on the album, except "This Town Goes Down At Sunset" and George Gershwin instrumental "Lullaby", with vocals by Wilson. Orange Crate Art is a tribute to the Southern California of the early 1900s, and a lyrical tribute to the beauty of Northern California.

1998 saw the release of Parks' first live album, Moonlighting: Live at the Ash Grove, which shows a love of the work of 19th-century American pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk as well as performances of several of Parks' better (and lesser) known songs. The live ensemble includes Sid Page as concertmaster.

Work for other artists

Parks has produced, arranged, or played on albums by artists including Tim Buckley, U2, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, The Byrds, Cher, Rufus Wainwright, Sam Phillips, Ringo Starr, Frank Black, The Beau Brummels, Medicine, Keith Moon, Carly Simon, Little Feat, T-Bone Burnett, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Victoria Williams, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Case, Gordon Lightfoot, Fiona Apple, Sheryl Crow, Ry Cooder, Joanna Newsom, The Everly Brothers, Saint Etienne, Silverchair, The Thrills, Scissor Sisters, Laurie Anderson, and Susanna Hoffs/Matthew Sweet's covers collection.

In 2006 he collaborated with singer Joanna Newsom on the orchestral arrangements for her second album, Ys. He and David Mansfield are co-credited with the music for the 2006 mini-series Broken Trail. He also contributed orchestrations to the Danger Mouse produced second album by UK psychedelic three piece The Shortwave Set in 2008.

He also composed orchestral arrangements for the fifth Silverchair album, Young Modern, on three songs, "If You Keep Losing Sleep", "Those Thieving Birds/Strange Behavior", and "All Across The World". Daniel Johns, the band's lead singer, traveled to Praguemarker with Parks to have the arrangements recorded by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. The album's title is a nickname Parks uses for Johns. This followed his work on the band's fourth album, Diorama, contributing orchestral arrangements on "Across The Night", "Tuna In The Brine", and "Luv Your Life".

Music in film and television

Parks has also scored a number of motion pictures, including Sesame Street's Follow That Bird, Jack Nicholson's The Two Jakes and Goin' South, Casual Sex?, Private Parts, Popeye (with Harry Nilsson), and The Company.

Disney hired Parks to arrange Terry Gilkyson's Academy Award nominated song "The Bare Necessities" for the 1967 feature The Jungle Book. Parks had four songs featured in the 1986 direct-to-video Disney film, The Brave Little Toaster. He worked closely with David Newman on the film's score as well. He composed the theme song for Rudy Maxa's Savvy Traveler radio program on NPR.

The HBO Family series Harold and the Purple Crayon, is narrated by Sharon Stone with music and lyrics written and sung by Parks.

Parks composed the faux-psychedelic song "Black Sheep" (a parody of SMiLE and Brian Wilson's style in general) for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, sung by John C. Reilly, who portrays the titular character.

Other career

Parks has taken small TV and film roles including appearances in Popeye, The Two Jakes, and as Leo Johnson's defense attorney Jack Racine in episode #2005 of Twin Peaks.

Parks wrote a series of children's books (Jump (with Malcolm Jones), Jump Again and Jump on Over), based around the Br'er rabbit tales, illustrated by Barry Moser, and loosely accompanied by Parks' own album Jump!. The books contain sheet music for selected songs from the album.

Parks was given the job of heading the audio/visual department of Warner Bros. records in September, 1970.This department was the earliest of its kind to record videos to promote records.

New projects

Parks has completed work with Brian Wilson on a new narrative song cycle entitled That Lucky Old Sun .

He also contributed to the new record by The Shortwave Set, tentatively titled Replica Sun Machine, which features a 24-piece orchestra and further input from John Cale. That disc is set for release early 2008.

Parks worked with Inara George on a record released in 2008, An Invitation, and they performed two songs together on 8 January 2008 at the Walt Disney Concert Hallmarker in Los Angelesmarker, as part of the program Concrete Frequency: Songs of the City.

Parks is a guest musician on Echo by Mari Iijima, due to be released in August 2009. Iijima sang "Calypso," on Parks' album Tokyo Rose.



  • "Number Nine / Do What You Wanta", 1966, single 45
  • "Come to the Sunshine / Farther Along", 1966, single 45
  • "Donovan's Colours, Pt. 1 / Donovan's Colours, Pt. 2" 1968" single 45 (under the pseudonym George Washington Brown)
  • "The Eagle and Me / On The Rolling Sea When Jesus Speak to Me" 1970, single 45
  • "Occapella / Ode to Tobago" 1972, single 45

Solo Albums

Compilation Albums

With Brian Wilson

Other albums

Replica Sun Machine by The Shortwave Set with Danger Mouse and John Cale.

So Damn Happy by Loudon Wainwright III

Strange Weirdos by Loudon Wainwright III

As Producer

As Arranger

  • Rufus Wainwright
  • Kristian Hoffman
  • Joanna Newsom, Ys


Goin' South (1978)


  • Jump
  • Jump Again


  • Pirore, Dominic, SMiLE, Omnibus Press


  1. cit. Barney Hoskyns, "All But Done."
  2. Jason Ankeny, Review: Van Dyke Parks, "Song Cycle." AllMusic website. 3 April 2008.
  3.!!.html Message from Mari Iijima.

External links

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