When this LP first came out I bought it, even though it was a rather unlikely addition to my musical library, but I'd grown up during that era when radio airplay was far more eclectic than formatted, and AM skip meant one could pick up all sorts of renegade stations in various atmospheric conditions. Anyway, I wasn't musically intelligent enough to articulate why I liked 'Song Cycle' (none of my friends got it at all) but like it I did (loved it, actually, and still do), just as I did the first Randy Newman LP (why hasn't someone done a 33 1/3 monograph on '12 Songs' or 'Sail Away'). Now that I've aged (less like fine wine than moldy cheese) I'm far more capable of hearing what Parks was doing (thank heaven that sense hasn't flagged), and would unhesitatingly recommend this magnum opus to any uninitiate.
Innovative series, loved the unhurried way the author approached the album, the artist and his milieu. Honestly I didn't really know what I had ordered, so was surprised by such a fresh approach: an entire monograph about one album; like liner notes on steroids.
The author provides so much excellent information about Van Dyke Parks, Song Cycle, and the people and events surrounding them, that I had to give it 5 stars in spite of the sometimes eye-roll-inducing showoff-iness of his language. (The kind of language the young Van Dyke of Song Cycle was known for.) Great book.
This is my second in this series of pocket-sized mini-books devoted to individual rock albums -- or in this case an album of unpopular "popular music." Henderson does an excellent job of setting the scene for the recording of Parks' first solo album, delivering many startling facts -- e.g., as a child actor, Parks performed in a movie with Grace Kelly. The following section, devoted to the album itself and the circumstances of its recording, seems a little rushed in comparison -- there's so much we want to know -- but still delivers plenty of fascinating info. For instance, I was struck by the low-tech means employed to create some of the album's high-tech sounds, as in the "Farkle" used to create what the author describes as the "spooky, subaquatic atmosphere" of the opening of "The All Golden." The book's final section brings the reader up to date on Parks' subsequent career, right up to his wonderful recent work with Joanna Newsome and Inara George. As we wait patiently, 42 years later, for a sequel to Song Cycle -- which will of course never come -- it's a pleasure to deepen our understanding of this brilliant one-off achievement so that we can appreciate the album we do have in new ways.
Ever wonder what happens to people when they drift away and off into the vast urban cosmos? Chronicling the accomplishments of heroes might be a good answer. So it is with Henderson's genuinely insightful treatise on Parks. Henderson, an old friend springs out of the abyss with this little tome and gets it all right. Thanks RB... How's Nell?