Vinyl-a-Day 44: *GUEST POST* Van Dyke Parks - “Discover America” (Warner Bros., 1972)
My guest post for today comes our my pal Tristan Smith. Tristan is a beautiful young boy from Florida. His interests include good music, Richard Nixon, trash cinema, and he makes a unique brand of hipster-redneck music (check out his song “Mandy”).
Van Dyke Parks has been a lot of things in his life: Brian Wilson collaborator, producer, brief member of the Mothers Of Invention, singer-songwriter, composer, and on this record, a calypso singer.
Released 5 years after his “disastrous” debut album “Song Cycle” (the most expensive pop album ever produced at the time), “Discover America” was quite the departure both in sound and themes, featuring mostly covers of public domain Calypso songs by some of the hottest from Trinidad and Tobago, it’s a dreamlike record that takes you on a lulled and cloudy tour through the Caribbean. The marriage of classic calypso songs and Park’s iconic command of arrangement make for an insanely warm, rich and complex listening experience.
Featuring tight arrangements (by Parks), superb backup vocals, silky strings, bombastic horns, wild drums, and weird and beautiful songs about FDR, J Edgar Hoover, and Bing Crosby, its very much so a view of American culture through the songs of those who live 200 miles from its southernmost point.
Its not hard to believe that it was a commercial failure, but it is hard to believe that after almost 50 years, it’s still barely talked about. I mean, Brian Wilson called it “the greatest album ever made” in 1998 for a reason. If you don’t listen to it after reading this, then I’ll gladly volunteer. Tristan says “check it out!”