Monday, November 23, 2009

Van Dyke Parks – Donovan’s Colours (1967)

VDP colours1 Post-Smile, Van Dyke Parks makes his Warner Bros debut under an assumed name.

By Robin Platts


By the time his debut album, Song Cycle, appeared in 1968, Van Dyke Parks was already something of a musical Zelig. In the mid-to-late 1950s, he was a choirboy, while maintaining a successful career a child actor in TV and movies (his acting work included a recurring role on The Honeymooners). As the ‘60s began, Parks studied piano at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, then moved to Los Angeles in 1963 to play in a folk group with his brother Carson (who later wrote the Frank and Nancy Sinatra hit Something Stupid).

vdp cttspromo1 By 1964, Van Dyke had landed a record deal with MGM, for whom he cut a couple of singles, Come to the Sunshine and Number Nine.

Both singles flopped, but Come to the Sunshine was later revived by Harper’s Bizarre and made the charts.

Parks kept busy as a session musician and songwriter over the next couple of years, before being chosen by Brian Wilson to write the lyrics for the Beach Boys’ ill-fated Smile LP.

Smile Parks bailed out of the Smile project in early 1967 and ended up at Warner Bros Records with his own record deal, a huge recording budget and a huge amount of artistic freedom.

Typically, Parks began his tenure at Warner Bros with a decidedly uncommercial venture: His first release for the label was a charming but barely recognizable instrumental version of the Donovan hit Colours, credited to George Washington Brown.

“It was a pseudonym,” Parks explained to me in a 1995 interview. “This was right after the Kennedy assassination and, in the turmoil of that period, I had no interest in fame or name recognition. To me, that suggested a series of complicated developments. Fame wasn’t something that I desired. It still isn’t of any great consequence to me. And I thought it should be avoided at any cost. And so I put that first single I did at Warner Bros out under an assumed name. And I wanted to keep things that way, but I was persuaded not to by my attorney. But I enjoyed doing that single – that was a happy time.”

The single flopped and Parks reverted to his own name for the Song Cycle album; however, ditching the pseudonym didn’t help get the album in the charts.

Parks Song Cycle Song Cycle was a costly flop, but Warners kept Parks on their roster and he recorded a handful of albums for the label over the next three decades.

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