Sunday, June 16, 2013

Van Dyke Parks, "Donovan's Colours."

Van Dyke Parkes is a musical genius who surprised and mostly delighted the rock crit world in 1968 with an album titled Song Cycle. My friend Michael Simmons calls it "The Great Overlooked Classic Of American Popular Music." I certainly overlooked it for many years. Before the album was released, one of the cuts, "Donovan's Colours" (video above), appeared pseudonymously as performed by "George Washington Brown." In his story linked above, Michael tells of his and his colleagues', and the members of Moby Grape's, efforts to figure out who GWB was. The Mobys at least had him sending his recordings to Parkes, who was then an in-demand L.A. studio musician. Parkes later said he had it released under a nom de guerre because he "craved anonymity." Here's the original "Colours" by Donovan: Parkes does a classical thing with the song. He begins with a statement of the theme, but at about 1:20 in the video at the top of this post the theme dissolves into variations. The theme is reasserted triumphally at about 2:50. Michael notes the similarity of the sound to that of a music box. I also sensed a similarity to that of a Trinidadian steel band, another musical style of which Parkes was fond. Donovan was also a fan of Trinidad's calypso music.