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VINE VOICEon 26 October 2006
Parks was a child actor from Hollywood with a talent for words and an old-fashioned take on things. He famously collaborated with Brian Wilson, but more tellingly wrote "Come in the Sunshine" for Harper's Bizarre.

This album is like Harper's Bizarre if they had been truly bizarre. We get snatches of other tunes, apparently "wrong" key changes, instruments it's almost impossible to identify, polyrythymic effects married to slightly effete vocals, tunes apparently rooted in the 1920s flapper-scene Americana and plenty of playful fun (where else can you get a tune called "Van Dyke Parks" published in the Public Domain and a tune called "Public Domain" published by Van Dyke Parks?

Why does this record divide reviews so much? I've just been looking at the Amazon reviews for the Fiery Furnaces and it strikes me first how much the reviews of both are polarized as well as how similar the music is. More than the Furnaces, even, Park's music sounds like what a music-hall revue might sound like after you've been given a deadly cocktail of narcotics and you're about to die. Underwater.

Why do people like this, then? Becuase it doesn't give up all it's secrets on the first (or fifth) listen. Even after years of listening, I'm still noticing things I've not noticed before. It flaunts its differences and revels in its eccentricity.

If you've a taste for brave experiemental music, where the unexpected can happen at any time, then this one's a must. What do you mean, not available?
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#1 HALL OF FAMEon 19 April 2002
The music of the late 60's can still throw up classics you weren't previously aware of- 'Song Cycle' is such a one. I found myself listening to 'Surf's Up' (the song) frequently and that combined with an article in an old Uncut on Dyke Parks reissues and the song 'Love is the Answer' and 'Song Cycle' being referenced as an influence on Jim O'Rourke's 'Eureka'...well, I thought it was time to buy it.
Rykodisc give us the best reissues- look at the deluxe version of Big Star's 'Third/Sister Lovers': brilliant sound, great cover, liner notes, photos etc...The album?- rather strange and takes a few listens- kind of sounds like Syd Barrett singing 'Surf's Up' in a general way. Not one song stands out- they all flow to and from each other. This is a great Sunday morning sun coming up kinda album- the arrangements are subtle and this has to be the best use of accordion prior to Tom Waits 80's excursions...We get great sound effects of birds and the beach, brass and strings, country inflected guitar and a rich, individual voice. This album was very much informed by the work Parks completed (but never released) with Brian Wilson- the mythic 'Smile'...There is also a bonus track- the single 'The Eagle & Me'- which opens as a jazzy chamber piece, reminding me of the soundtrack to 'Jules et Jim' if Donovan sang over the top of it (a Donovan track is covered also here).
This album is great for listeners with open minds- its influences alone show the experimental, transcendental ambitions for the popsong that Wilson began (and ended?) with 'Good Vibrations'- Gershwin, Mozart, Dylan Thomas, Dylan, Donne, Pynchon, Beckett, Rodgers & Hammerstein and Resnais amongst others...There is nothing quite like this album- which ranks with late 60's innocent-strangeness like Love's 'Forever Changes' or 13th Floor Elevators 'Bull in the Woods'. A great discovery waiting to be found. Again.
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on 24 December 2005
Lots of people won't get this stuff. They may cast it aside as rubbish, denigrate it as purile meaningless junk, castigate it as self-indulgent. The way I look at it is thus: Van Dyke Parks made an album, and this is the way he made it. I think you can safely say he made no attempt to pander to anyone. If you want to hear one of the rare occasions when somebody uses music in a entirely original way, but without descending into the avant garde or brash art noise, then you will find it here. You might not like it, but you won't ever hear anything else like it.
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on 3 November 2004
It took me many listens before I cracked this album. As with (surely) most other listeners, I first heard the name Van Dyke Parks in connection with the Beach Boys 'Smile' era recordings. Even the most complex of those did little to prepare me for the density of this album. But what at first seems impenetrable is in fact peppered with ways in: hook lines here and there which make repeated listenings increasingly rewarding. 'The All Golden' emerges as insanely uplifting, though on first
hearing(s) just plain odd; 'Donovans Colours' is recognisable for about three bars. Lyrically we are also closer to Finnegan's Wake than 'Help Me, Rhonda' but it is the enduring genuine weirdness of this album that makes it so compelling.
How Parks ever worked again given the amount this must have cost to record and the amount it probably recouped is a mystery all of it's own. Enjoy the sound of one man's eccentric musical vision presented in glorious Technicolour.
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on 16 September 2002
Poor old Van Dyke Parks. After his high-profile collaboration with Brian Wilson (as lyricist on the abortive Smile album), everything must have seemed to be going his way when Warners bankrolled his own ambitious, lavish and hugely expensive Song Cycle. Trouble was, it didn't sell. Why? I suppose simply because the cool kids wanted pop/rock music and this just wasn't a pop/rock album. Certainly there's a psychedelic flavour to the surreal lyrics and musical twists and turns, but in Van Dyke Parks' universe that experimental edge is applied not to rock and roll but to folk, showtunes, Tin Pan Alley - the songs America was singing before Elvis hit. The result is a truly unique album, containing some of the richest and most rewarding music of the sixties. Essential.
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on 31 March 2000
From listening to this album I think that Van Dyke Parks is the sort of man many people would shy away from in supermarkets. He collaborated with Brian Wilson and the Byrds on some of the best songs they ever did, and still he made "Song Cycle" highly original. It sounds beautifully soothing and flowing, and sounds like a natural expression of his mind, but his mind is a playful child with a vividly strange imagination. It is a tragedy that Capitol had to increase the profile of this album by giving away coupons in US music papers so you could "buy one, get one free". In a soundbite, like Jonathan from Mercury Rev singing in front of the Magic Band, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Gershwin, whilst some incredibly elliptical songs fall out of the air. Don't avoid Van Dyke Parks next time you're holding your ticket at the fish counter.
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on 11 November 2014
This has to be one of the greatest albums ever made. So much happening Just wonderful
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on 17 December 2004
The reputation of this recording rests solely upon it's cult status - a bit like 'Smile' really. However, since the proper release of 'Smile', the realisation that it's quite good, its subsequent elevation to THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE by the music press and those prepared to fork out £60 to be in a room with a confused former genius, we all need something 'culty' to cling on to, don't we? Well, in this case, no.
Brian's still functional, Arthur Lee goes from strength to strength and even Sky Saxon does the odd gig. All three men have a body of important work to back up their reputations. Van Dyke Parks is perhaps more famous for his collaborations - lyrics, production and creative input to 'Pet Sounds','Smile' and the criminally neglected Beach Boys lp 'Surf's Up' - better than both of the above.
Van Dyke's lyrics are, at best, cryptic. At worst, they're meaningless. This usually escapes the listener to Beach Boys albums who are usually knocked out by the harmonies - who cares about the words when you've got the middle eight of 'Til I die?'
Unfortunately, with Wilson's melodic and harmonic savvy absent, this collection - pretentious title notwithstanding - does little for Parks's cause as a lyricist or song writer. The cover photo of a studious looking Parks is a prelude to a baffling saunter through the man's mind. Melodies struggle to find their way out of the arrangements. The musicians sound like they're struggling to find their way out of the studio.
I played my copy to a friend recently provoking the reaction: 'Is this a joke? This is a joke isn't it?'
I have to confess, I have never listened to this all the way through because of the sneaking suspicion that it might well be a joke after all. 'If you can remember the 60s, you weren't really there' - or so goes the saying. This collection of songs explains why.
(If you want a genuinely neglected 'culty' album so you can feel special, buy 'American Gothic' by David Ackles instead.)
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