Discover America

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Discover America
Discover America.jpg
Studio album by
LabelWarner Bros.
ProducerLinda Perry, Durrie Parks
Van Dyke Parks chronology
Song Cycle
Discover America
Clang of the Yankee Reaper
Professional ratings
Review scores
Allmusic4.5/5 stars [1]
Rolling Stone(Not Rated)[2]
Pitchfork(8.5/10) [3]

Discover America is the second studio album by Van Dyke Parks released by Warner Bros. in 1972. Its sound is a major departure from his debut record, Song Cycle (1967), featuring all cover versions of previously written songs.

The album mostly features songs popularized by early Calypso musicians, as well as songs by Allen Toussaint ("Occapella" and "Riverboat"), Little Feat ("Sailin' Shoes"), John Philip Sousa ("Stars and Stripes Forever") and one song of unknown origin ("Be Careful").

The title of the album is derived from the poem "I Am Waiting" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.


Most of the album's songs were originally written by early Calypso musicians between the 1920s and 1940s, but had fallen into the public domain by the time Discover America was recorded in 1972. As such, nearly all of the songs are listed as "Public domain; arranged & adapted by Van Dyke Parks." Lyrical themes run a wide range of American history, from John Paul Jones, to early 20th-century musicians Bing Crosby and The Mills Brothers, actor Jack Palance, and political figures Franklin Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover.

Parks would continue his study of Calypso and Caribbean music on his third album, Clang of the Yankee Reaper, released in 1975. Throughout the 1970s, Parks acted as producer on Calypso albums for other artists, including The Esso Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band's Esso in 1971, and The Mighty Sparrow's 1974 album, Hot and Sweet.

Song information[edit]

The first track on Discover America, "Jack Palance", is a one-minute clip of The Mighty Sparrow's actual version of the song. Parks did not cover any Mighty Sparrow songs on the album, but would later produce Sparrow's 1974 Warner Bros. release, Hot and Sweet; Parks would later re-release Hot and Sweet on his own record label, Bananastan in 2011.

"Introduction" is credited to Samuel Alter, and features an unknown man (likely either Alter or Parks) speaking into a tape recorder about Parnassus, Pennsylvania, Mount Olympus, and Daylight Saving Time.[4] The third track is Parks' cover of "Bing Crosby", written by Roaring Lion. "Steelband Music" prominently features The Esso Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band on vocals and steel drums; "Steelband Music"'s original writer is unknown, and it may be a traditional Calypso song.[5]

"The Four Mills Brothers" was written by The Lion (also known as Roaring Lion), and it speaks about the history and fame of jazz vocal group The Mills Brothers. The song's chorus is lifted from that of 1915 song "I Ain't Got Nobody", a song covered in the 1930s by The Mills Brothers.

"Be Careful" has been described by AllMusic as "a piece of advice from a father to a son when the offspring is approaching the age when love is being considered. A brilliant, almost chamber string arrangement carries the overall melody, yet this is combined with the Trinidad steel band music that Van Dyke Parks was fully and happily involved in at the time."[6] AllMusic credits the song to Leo Robin, but this is an error. The author is currently unknown.

"John Jones" was performed by Trojan Records artist Rudy Mills in the late 1960s. "FDR in Trinidad" was written by Attila the Hun, and speaks about United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1936 visit to Trinidad.[7] "FDR in Trinidad" also features performances by members of the band Little Feat.[7]

A Rykodisc version of Discover America contains a bonus track, a cover of Joseph Spence's "Out on the Rolling Sea (Where Jesus Speaks to Me)".


Many songs on the album have been sampled during live shows by the Australian plunderphonics artists The Avalanches. Even citing Van Dyke Parks as an inspiration for both of their albums.

Track listing[edit]

All songs "public domain; arranged & adapted by Van Dyke Parks" unless otherwise noted.

  1. "Jack Palance" (Mighty Sparrow) – 0:59
  2. "Introduction" (Samuel Alter) – 0:27
  3. "Bing Crosby" (The Lion) – 2:21
  4. "Steelband Music" – 2:11
  5. "The Four Mills Brothers" (The Lion) – 1:28
  6. "Be Careful" – 2:48
  7. "John Jones" (Rudy Mills) – 3:08
  8. "FDR in Trinidad" (Fitz McLean)[8] – 2:27
  9. "Sweet Trinidad" – 0:56
  10. "Occapella" (Allen Toussaint) – 2:41
  11. "Sailin' Shoes" (Lowell George) – 2:09
  12. "Riverboat" (Allen Toussaint) – 3:02
  13. "Ode to Tobago" (Lord Kitchener; arranged & adapted Van Dyke Parks) – 5:13
  14. "Your Own Comes First" (Lord Kitchener; arranged & adapted Van Dyke Parks) – 3:24
  15. "G-Man Hoover" (Sir Lancelot) – 2:55
  16. "Stars and Stripes Forever" (John Philip Sousa) – 1:00

A Rykodisc edition added "Out on the Rolling Sea (Where Jesus Speaks to Me)" to the end of the album.

Copyrights and legalities[edit]

Nearly all tracks on Discover America are listed on the album sleeve as being "Public domain, arranged & adapted by Van Dyke Parks". However, many of the songs' original artists were still alive in 1972, but were not given writing credits on the album. At the time, The United States' Copyright Act of 1909 allowed for a copyright term of 28 years, followed by an optional one-time renewal for a second 28-year term. As such, the longest copyright allowed was 56 years from the original creation date.

The Copyright Act of 1976, signed into law only four years after Discover America was recorded, greatly changed copyright laws in the US, extending the copyright of the artist to either 75 years or the life of the author plus an additional 50 years.


  1. ^ Planer, Lindsay. Discover America at AllMusic. Retrieved October 13, 2018.
  2. ^ Rolling Stone review
  3. ^ Pitchfork review
  4. ^ AllMusic review: "Discover America."
  5. ^ AllMusic review: "Steelband Music."
  6. ^ AllMusic review: "Be Careful."
  7. ^ a b AllMusic review: "FDR in Trinidad."
  8. ^ Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (4 April 1998). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. p. 27–. ISSN 0006-2510.

External links[edit]