Song Cycle

Song Cycle

On Song Cycle (1967), Van Dyke Parks creates his own micro-genre: psychedelic cinematic folk-pop. His debut album is a densely-woven sonic tapestry, blending bits of old-time movie themes, patriotic marches, Cole Porter-style cabaret tunes, sea chanteys, tangos and just about everything else from the Western musical tradition. The results are heady, confusing and often exhilarating — beneath all of his cleverness, Parks reveals a droll sense of humor and a real love for his American heritage. Adding to the dazzling swirl of his music are his complex, pun-filled lyrics, with tilted portraits of city-bound country boys (“The All Golden”), Hollywood gadabouts (“Palm Desert”) and nostalgic dreamers (“The Attic”). Especially charming is his reworking of Donovan’s “Colours” into a polychromatic instrumental suite. Hints of social commentary peek out of “Widow’s Walk” and “By The People,” though you have to listen hard to catch them amidst the odd arrangements. The album takes some effort to get into — and needless to say, it wasn’t a commercial success. But this rich soufflé of sweet melodies, cryptic words and quirky orchestrations is truly like no other musical work of the last 40 years. Song Cycle is quite a ride.

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