Van Dyke Parks
moved on from the Beach Boys
' abortive SMiLE
sessions to record his own solo debut, Song Cycle
, an audacious and occasionally brilliant attempt to mount a fully orchestrated, classically minded work within the context of contemporary pop. As indicated by its title, Song Cycle
is a thematically coherent work, one which attempts to embrace the breadth of American popular music; bluegrass, ragtime, show tunes -- nothing escapes Parks
' radar, and the sheer eclecticism and individualism of his work is remarkable. Opening with "Vine Street," authored by Randy Newman
(another pop composer with serious classical aspirations), the album is both forward-thinking and backward-minded, a collision of bygone musical styles with the progressive sensibilities of the late '60s; while occasionally overambitious and at times insufferably coy, it's nevertheless a one-of-a-kind record, the product of true inspiration.