Van Dyke Parks (born January 3, 1943) is an American musician, songwriter, arranger, and record producer who has composed various film and television soundtracks. He is known for his 1967 album Song Cycle and for his lyrics on the Beach Boys’ unfinished album Smile. In addition to producing or arranging albums by Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Phil Ochs, Little Feat, Happy End, Ry Cooder, and Joanna Newsom, Parks has worked with performers such as Syd Straw, Ringo Starr, U2, Grizzly Bear, Inara George, Kimbra and Silverchair.
Raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Parks spent his childhood studying clarinet, piano, and singing at the American Boychoir School in Princeton, New Jersey. He started his professional career as a child actor. During the 1950s, he worked steadily in movies and television, and in the early 1960s, he majored in music at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. After dropping out of university in 1963, he relocated to Los Angeles, where his first paid gig was arranging "The Bare Necessities" for the 1967 Disney film The Jungle Book. Following this, he involved himself with the growing West Coast music scene, subsequently playing with—or appearing on records by—acts like the Mothers of Invention, the Byrds, Judy Collins, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and Harpers Bizarre. His LP Song Cycle (recorded on a budget exceeding $70,000) mixed a number of genres (including bluegrass, ragtime, and show tunes) and framed classical styles in the context of 1960s pop music. It was released to underwhelming sales, but attracted a cult following in later years.
Starting in the 1970s, Parks made repeated excursions into Afro-Caribbean music, notably on his 1972 album Discover America and on records he produced for the Esso Trinidad Steel Band and Mighty Sparrow. At the same time, he managed the audio/visual department of Warner Bros. Records, which was the earliest of its kind to produce music videos for artists. Since then, he established himself in motion pictures and over the years has directed, arranged, produced, and composed soundtracks for theatrical films and television shows such as Popeye (1980), Sesame Street Presents: Follow that Bird (1985), and The Brave Little Toaster (1987). Much of his more recent work has been in commissioned orchestral arrangements for lesser-known indie acts.