Van Dyke Parks
Van Dyke Parks ain't no slouch as a songwriter, producer and instrumentalist, but his work as an arranger -- a combination of classical compositional technique and playful pop wit -- has left the most indelible mark on popular music since he first made the L.A. scene in the 1960s. Records under his own name enjoyed relatively marginal success compared to that of top-billed collaborators like the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Randy Newman, Sheryl Crow and Cher. Even so, Parks' great early accomplishment as a solo artist, 1968's Song Cycle, shows him bursting into blossom and remains one of the most elaborate pop records ever made. He was a child actor before taking up the clarinet and piano and studying music at the prestigious Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. He moved to Los Angeles in the early '60s and scored a contract with MGM. In '66 he played on the Byrds' Fifth Dimension (he was asked to join the band, but refused) and co-wrote much of the ill-fated Beach Boys opus Smile with Brian Wilson. His own debut came two years later, and he was deeply connected to the Los Angeles industry throughout the next three decades, producing and arranging dozens of ground-breaking records.