Van Dyke Parks-Song Cycles (1968)
The majority of Van Dyke Parks career has been spent trying to chase the concept of America. The culture, the musical styles, the icons…all of this fascinated Parks. He dedicated most of his work to discovering America and sharing his interpretation of it.
His first breakthrough was with the “most American band in existence”, The Beach Boys, during Brian Wilson’s SMiLE sessions. Wilson and Parks “teenage symphony to God” didn’t fully flourish for 37 years, but that experience led Parks to take on his own solo work: Song Cycles.
Song Cycles rotates through the early American music experience, tackling bluegrass, ragtime, show tunes, vaudeville and more, and then demonstrating how they are all just pop. Like a musical Roy Lichtenstein, Parks was looking at what identified our culture, the disposable entertainments of the past, and refurbished them as a modern sound. This was America to Parks.
Song Cycles was just the first in Parks long exploration of the American experience. His follow up, Discover America takes the concept even further, immortalizing icons like Jack Palance, FDR and Bing Crosby. This nation is a never ending font of ideas to Parks, and still today he’s still examining it.