Van Dyke Parks, “Come To The Sunshine”

Written by November 14th, 2011 at 6:28 am

Before the historic Beach Boys sessions, the Smile lyricist finds a place in the sun

A few weeks ago, The Beach Boys famous “lost” masterpiece was finally released in its original intention as The Smile Sessions. When Brian Wilson retreated to the studio in November 1966 to begin work on what would have become Smile, he tapped a young pianist, songwriter, arranger, and composer named Van Dyke Parks to help bring his vision to light.

Parks, born in Mississippi but raised in Louisiana, has long been a Californian. We profiled Parks last year as part of our MoogFest coverage. He was one of the first musicians to be given a test run on the Moog synthesizer in the mid ‘60s, and composed an instrumental vignette called “Ice Capades (Moog Music)” for the traveling ice skating show. In September 2011, Parks released the song on a new album called Arrangements, Volume 1, which also includes songs he produced and arranged like Ry Cooder’s “One Meatball” and Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon.”

Parks met Brian Wilson in February 1966 and helped him pen classics like “Cabin Essence,” “Surf’s Up,” and “Heroes and Villains,” giving lyrical shape to Wilson’s far-flung melodic ideas. Parks and Wilson’s Smile was a playful and oftentimes bizarre journey through America, famously beginning at Plymouth Rock and ending in Hawaii.

But after a falling out with Beach Boy Mike Love in December of 1966 during the recording sessions for Smile, Parks abandoned the project, and so did the Beach Boys. (Love was allegedly critical of Parks’ lyrical contributions. Parks chooses not to comment on Smile to this day.)

However, before those monumental Beach Boys sessions, Parks released several singles on MGM Records, before moving to Warner Brothers, including the classic ode to fair weather, “Come To The Sunshine.”

Though the exact timeline is hazy some forty odd years later, Parks recalls, “I signed to MGM in ’64, putting out two singles. The second of these was ‘Come to the Sunshine.’ It’s most probable that was written summer of ’65, released that fall.”

Parks says the song’s arrangement was inspired by his father’s dance band, The White Swan Serenaders, who make an appearance in one of the song’s lines. The bright lyrics and coastal imagery are a clear precursor to Smile, and foreshadow Parks and Wilson’s clever wordplay on the songs they would co-write just one year later.

Looking back today, Parks says, “It’s good work! A fine example of plectrum arranging.” The song features multiple overlapping vocals by Parks, as well as a jazzy piano and a busy mandolin.

“I believe the instrumentation was fuelled by my love for Tommy Garret’s ‘Fifty Guitars Go South of the Border’,” says Parks, before adding humorously, “Actually, [it was] only 37 guitars – but why quibble. The days that Liberty record was recorded, all able guitarists in L.A. were monopolized.”

Parks says he wrote “Come To The Sunshine” over a few days while he was living in the rear apartment at 7222 1/2 Melrose Avenue. “The verses and the events they described were well formed before I sat down to write,” he remembers.

A year later in 1967, “Come To The Sunshine” was covered by the Warner Brothers sunshine pop group Harpers Bizarre, as the opening track on their debut album, Feelin’ Groovy.

Parks went on to release Song Cycle in 1968, a psychedelic pop concept album highlighting his eclectic tastes and far-reaching skills as a songwriter and arranger. Today, “Come To The Sunshine” stands as a great early document of a fascinating and very musical life.

“Come To The Sunshine

Come to the sunshine
Hang your ups and down
You comes to the sunshine
To the sunshine
You know, I know, you know, that I love you

Weather here could not be finer
It suits to sail off Carolina’s shore
I’ll tell ya more and more over
Cotton threads to keep me cool
In the sun-swept afterglow
I know I’m a fool
But I’m hoping that you’ll be mine in time

Sailboats sail by two-by-two by
I think a lot of you,
I really doubt you think about me
Like I do you

Come to the sunshine
Hang your ups and down
You comes to the sunshine
To the sunshine
You know, I know, you know, that I love you

While they play the “White Swan Serenade”
Cornered, struck, I watched them promenade
Comforted, got it made over
Dunn and Bradstreet, Vanity Fair,
Who wears what, how much, and who’s been where
But I really don’t care
Unless we share

I have missed you since we
Went down to Port au Prince
The wicked way you rubbed the tinsel
Off my Independance Day
Mal de Mersy becomes you
If you chercher les femmes
I want you my one and only
We should stay together

Written by Van Dyke Parks


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