It's been many decades now since it's mattered, but if things had failed to pan out in music for Van Dyke Parks, he could've easily fallen back on a career in acting, having actually started his career in show business not as a singer-songwriter but as a child actor. But after spending a good chunk of the 1950s working with everyone from Grace Kelly (in The Swan) to Jackie Gleason (on The Honeymooners), Parks ultimately went off to college, where he majored in music at Carnegie Tech before opting to drop out in favor of simply pursuing a musical career sans a degree.
Moving to California with his brother, Carson Parks, the sibling duo soon became part of a group called the Greenwood County Singers, but by the mid-1960s, Van Dyke had become known on his own as a songwriter, and once he met Brian Wilson in 1966... Well, he might not have known it at the time, but as history reveals, it was that encounter which effectively cemented his career in the music business for the long haul. Hey, that's what co-writing "Heroes and Villains" will do for you...
In 1967, Parks released his debut solo album, Song Cycle, and over the years he's continued to release LPs sporadically, each one distinctive and none of them destined for massive commercial success. Then again, it's not as if he was ever actively seeking commercial success, only artistic satisfaction, and it's fair to say that he achieved that each and every time.
Additionally, Parks has had the benefit of being able to consistently keep employment coming in as a result of his gifts as a songwriter, producer, musician, and arranger, something that's enabled him to work within a myriad of musical genres and provide him with the opportunity to work with a Beatle (Ringo Starr), a Beach Boy (the aforementioned Mr. Wilson), Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, U2, T-Bone Burnett, Silverchair, Divinyls, the Chills, Laurie Anderson, Rufus Wainwright, and many, many others.
To celebrate Parks' birthday, Q has compiled a collection of songs to which he's contributed in some capacity or other, and we think you'll find that it makes for a fascinating listen, revealing just how diverse his discography is and how talented he was, is, and - God willing - will continue to be for quite some time to come.