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Book reveals mystic secret behind Van Dyke Parks' "Song Cycle"

In 1968, Warner Brothers Records advertised that they "lost $35,509.50 on the 'Album of the Year,' (dammit)."  Van Dyke Parks' ambitious "Song Cycle" was then offered for a penny by the company to show an interest in the public's opportunity to hear some of the great new music they were putting out, later crystallized by the Warner "Loss Leader" double album series, showing off the good taste they were bringing to the world (Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell and many other great signings by the label were featured).

Van Dyke Parks
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In the mix, "Song Cycle" got lost in the shuffle, basically more of an audio film tapestry than the generalized "Rock" albums that were selling in 1968.  You know the type, lots of long guitar solos (Warner Brothers artist the Grateful Dead, for example) and spooky themes.  Cool, fine and dandy, but Columbia experienced a similar studio-music sales failure with Curt Boetcher's production of The Millennium.  A great lot was put into this, and "Song Cycle," with the LPs completely missing the late '60s hippie market.  

But wait; a whole new generation of counter-culture rose during the '90s, and after a brief interruption, came back tenfold during the second half of the 2000s.  (That, perhaps, would be two different "generations").  These clever bunches of audience seem less inclined to worship "the boogie" and seem to really go for the clever chord change instead.  And this is how a "Song Cycle" gets new life.  Today, Van Dyke Parks has made great records with both Inara George and Joanna Newsom, and Richard Henderson has released a book about "Song Cycle" on Continuum's "33 1/3" series.  Perhaps now is the best time, if you have not already gone for Van Dyke Parks' solo opus after recording with Brian Wilson the lost Beach Boys' album "Smile"... to fully delve into "Song Cycle" the album... and the book.


  • Jim Cherry, Classic Autos Examiner 5 years ago

    VDP's own words re: Song Cycle, "I forgot to write songs."

  • Scott Brookman 5 years ago

    DOM: You've resurfaced! Great. Glad see you are continuing to write this thing. I'm continuing to read it.

    Yours from rural America,

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