Song Of The Day 4/16/2015: Van Dyke Parks – “Opportunity for Two”

You Pick the Artist III: Greg Chapin gave me Van Dyke Parks. Man, this was even harder than Ween. By way of introduction… actually, it’s hard to describe Parks’ biography in the space of a paragraph. He was a doggedly anachronistic force in the L.A. music scene in the 1960’s. His first big project was collaborating with Brian Wilson for the lyrics of the Beach Boys’ famously abortive Smile album (which I hold in just as much estimation as Pet Sounds, i.e., huge). He signed to Warner Bros. and recorded Song Cycle, a thickly layered concept album that polarized most who heard it. (Which, aside from critics and Warner Bros. employees, weren’t a whole hell of a lot.) Parks established himself as a music historian par excellence, since Song Cycle and many of Parks’ subsequent albums mixed the glittery Americana of the golden age of Hollywood with existentialist travelogues and homages. I mean, what teenybopper wouldn’t love that stuff?

My first Van Dyke album was 1984’s Jump! and no, it wasn’t made up of reinterpretations of Van Halen with chamber quartets and steel drums. Jump! was a concept album – basically the only kinds of albums Parks ever did – based on the folktales accrued by Joel Chandler Harris, centering on the fictional narrator Uncle Remus and partially featuring the exploits of Brer Rabbit. At times the Uncle Remus stories – especially as told in the out-of-circulation Disney flick Song of the South – proved to be a lightning rod of debate about racism, slavery and African-American stereotypes. Jump! sidestepped that discussion and focused on the stories, sounding exactly like the original cast recording of a Broadway period musical comedy. (It had a lot in common with Roger Miller’s Tony-winning Big River, which landed on Broadway the year after Jump!) I don’t remember if the album had a libretto but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. If so, “Opportunity For Two” would have been placed as the opening song of the musical, following the overture. As for why it’s my favorite Van Dyke Parks, I have no real insight, but for the fact that I last heard it 30 years ago and have never forgotten it.

Thanks, Greg!
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