Van Dyke Parks - Van Dyke Parks, Public Domain 
Donovan's Colours - Van Dyke Parks, Donovan 
Laurel Canyon Blvd
By the People
Van Dyke Parks' visionary 1968 debut, Song Cycle, rose phoenix-like from the ashes of his fabled Smile collaboration with Brian Wilson. Parks' breathtaking high-wire act fused the pop genius of Phil Spector, Stephen Sondhe... more »im's Broadway vertigo and the orchestral flare of American composer Charles Ives and made it wholly his own. Our definitive pressing of this landmark Warner Bros. album is sourced from the original analog master, and pressed on high-definition vinyl.« less
Van Dyke Parks' visionary 1968 debut, Song Cycle, rose phoenix-like from the ashes of his fabled Smile collaboration with Brian Wilson. Parks' breathtaking high-wire act fused the pop genius of Phil Spector, Stephen Sondheim's Broadway vertigo and the orchestral flare of American composer Charles Ives and made it wholly his own. Our definitive pressing of this landmark Warner Bros. album is sourced from the original analog master, and pressed on high-definition vinyl.
D. Stewart | Glasgow, Scotland United Kingdom | 07/26/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 1968 Warner Brothers were preparing to make pop music history by releasing an album by a young musician and songwriter called Van Dyke Parks. Song Cycle's budget of $$,$$$ made it the most expensive album ever recorded back then. The Warner bosses weren't worried, they knew it was going to be the biggest thing since Sgt Pepper and probably bigger. They were wrong, they were very wrong.
When Song Cycle was released it just didn't sell. It had received unprecedented pre-release rave reviews saying it things like:
"The most important, creative and advanced pop recording since Sgt Pepper";
"a work of creative genius";
"the most vital piece of musical Americana since Gershwin".
Parks also had an impressive pedigree as a musician on The Byrds '5D' and the first Tim Buckley album; songwriter for Harpers Bizarre and others; a musical arranger on Disney's 'The Jungle Book' and most famously as a collaborator with Beached Boy Brian Wilson. Despite the advance press and the pedigree it's hard to see how on earth Warners thought this was going to be a real big seller. It is undoubtedly a work of unique vision and ambition. Truly a masterpiece but with zero "radio friendly" 3 minute sound bites packed with catchy hooks. Even today Song Cycle is not an easy listening experience but it is a challenging and ultimately rewarding one.
I can think of no other record like it.Song Cycle is a musical travelogue, a sonic trip across the America of Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Busby Berkeley musicals and John Ford Westerns. It has moments of real beauty such as 'The All Golden' and 'Donavan's Colours' but just as you're beginning to feel like you know which direction you're moving in, it whisks you up like a hayseed in the wind and then lands you somewhere completely different.
Warner Brothers reaction to the lack of sales was a strange but entertaining one. They started to run a series of adverts in the press stating they didn't care they, 'lost $$,$$$ on the album of the year', because it was a great album and people shouldn't worry about them, as they could afford it as they were making lots of money from lesser artists. Then they offered people the chance to send their worn copies of the album with one penny to Warners and they would send back two new copies, 'one to educate a friend with'. After all they had so many copies pressed up.
Whether or not this reaction by Warners was a bluff or not they have stuck by Van Dyke Parks, continuing to finance his self indulgent, uncommercial but often wonderful fare. The latest of these releases being a collaboration with Brian Wilson 'Orange Crate Art'. For me 'Song Cycle' remains his finest work."
A tape he made, suffice it to say it didn't make the grade
Girl.Scout.Heroin | replacing my toilet | 12/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a really trippy, funny, and bizarre album. Not trippy in the vein of say California contemporaries Jefferson Airplane or the Dead. NO. Way better and much more surreal. Comparison is pointless. Song cycle is immaculately orchestrated, yet detatched, and free of any "hippy bandwagon" fodder. I couldn't care less about connections to Americana or Gerschwinism. This album is a much more psychedelic and abstract than anything to come from a bunch of long haired LSD enthusiasts in their VW vans. What was this dude on?
Musically, the orchestration is way out there. All the rules and standards were thrown out. Read the credits. Look at all of the unusual instrumentation and droves of players who got the challenge of their lives. Imagine their reaction upon seeing the notation before them in the studio. Then perhaps they were even more bewildered (amazed, disgusted?) to hear the final product, complete with the processed vocals and innovative studio effects. Parks sounds like a hallucinating midget. The lyrics are equally odd. This is the most psychedelic album to come out of the USA! Not by a goateed tye-dier, but a better-groomed guy who'd look square at the love-in. Quite brilliant, indeed."
Forming New Sonic Landscapes since 1968
k.w. | Jupiter, Florida United States | 08/28/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Great, great, great stuff. Song Cycle is best listened to as one long story, these are not songs that will individually strike many as catchy, but as a whole, the record is an epic. So many ideas, so much theory, such a persistent and hard-headed ambition. Often in need of a more disciplined, traditionalistic producer, the work could have benefitted from slightly less rambling songwriting. But there exists nothing else like this, the flaws are easily overlooked. This is what it sounds like when talent is allowed to go full-tilt, because this was the most expensive record ever produced when it was released. Van Dyke Parks walks the walk here, he is the real deal. Extraordinary and challenging, demanding, rewarding, chock-full of instruments and moves, ahead of its time, but timeless. Shakes up your imagination and rattles your consciousness in the same way the very best music does. "Song Cycle" introduces interesting and divergent worlds and sonic landscapes, colorful and old-fashioned, heavily layered, multi-faceted, with rabbit-hole benefits. It's a joyously busy piece of Americana, a completely unique sound, one of the best American records. My favorite song on it is "Palm Desert" because I'm a big old pop brat, but I couldn't even decide which my favorite musical moment of the work is. There's so so many. Thousands. Song Cycle-Van Dyke Parks. Fifty stars."
Californiana (Once upon a time there were orange orchards)
Steven P. Lynn | Outside Tucson, Arizona | 05/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I couldn't get any of my friends to sit through this when it came out. It's sales at the time indicated the kind of reception the album got across the board, but this is classic Americana/Californiana music and I will not forget my fellow Californians who laughed at it.
The music here is dense, idiosyncratic, and difficult to get through, although it is much more lyrical than given credit for. It is easy to understand why Warner Brothers thought it would be an immediately famous debut. It was; it just did not get any airplay or reception. This album and the excellent "Orange Crate Art" with Brian Wilson proclaim a vision of golden California pre/post World War 2, and being a native and having grown up in the 1950's and 60's I understand perfectly well the semi-urban,semi-rural feeling of Los Angeles in that era. Pasadena was high-powered in a quaint kind of way, Santa Monica and the coastal stretches were untrammeled, and the desert was WAY out there.
People like my grandmother lived in neighborhoods, and knew their neighbors. The residents of Hollywood had bungalows and gardens. The car was not critically important. Mostly, Southern California had a community atmmosphere. This music reflects all that.
Joan Didion would like the presentation on these two albums. The atmosphere would suit her, I think."
33 years of listening
Bob McKee | 03/09/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I bought Song Cycle while in college in '67, I was immediately captivated by the clever, quirky lyrics, the rapid shifts in sound and tempo, and the way this record demands your full attention. That said, I didn't know anyone else who liked it! I loaned it to an English professor, who returned it with the droll comment, "Well, there's intelligence and perhaps even talent there." Whether or not you love it, there is nothing like Song Cycle in your collection. Even later VDP albums, offbeat as some of the concepts were, did not approach Song Cycle for individuality. Song Cycle stands with B,S,&T's Child Is Father To the Man as the two late '60's albums for my Desert Island collection. What a thrill to find that such a commercial failure is available on CD. I'm ordering my copy right now!"