American Pie - Don McLean (Single)

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American Pie - Don McLean (Single)

Single Track from Don McLean - Genre: Pop - Release Year: 2010

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Review of "American Pie - Don McLean (Single)"

published 20/09/2010 | JOHNV
Member since : 13/07/2000
Reviews : 886
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About me :
2000-2015, 886 reviews. Thanks all - it was fun while it lasted, but nothing lasts forever.
Pro Great chorus, and a fascinating lyric
Cons None
very helpful
Quality of Lyrics/Music
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"Remembering the day the music died"

The original album cover

The original album cover

‘The day the music died’ was a phrase which entered common usage nearly forty years ago. It came from one of the classic songs of the era, Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’.

A No.1 hit in America and No. 2 in this country at the start of 1972 (as well as making No. 12 in the UK on reissue in 1991), ‘AP’ was one of the most fascinating lyrics of its time. In eight and a half minutes, it told the story of rock’n’roll. McLean readily admitted that the opening lines were autobiographical, as he recounted his love of Buddy Holly, and his sadness as he learnt of the deaths of Buddy and fellow singers Richie Valens and the Big Bopper in a plane crash in February 1959. As for the rest of it, he resisted all pressures to analyse it. But he never needed to – the clues he left were fairly transparent anyway.

I won’t go through the song line-by-line, otherwise this would be an extremely long review. But from the early days, listeners were quick to make their own interpretations, even if they did not always agree. ‘The jester (Bob Dylan) sang for the King (Elvis Presley) and Queen (Connie Francis, or Queen Elizabeth II, according to some – how did they figure that one out?) in a coat he borrowed from James Dean’. ‘While Lenin (Lennon?) read a book on Marx (Karl or Groucho?), the quartet practised in the park (the Beatles on their last live gig at Candlestick Park?)’.

Later on we read, or rather hear, references to ‘Helter Skelter’, the Beatles’ song which allegedly drove Charles Manson to run amok (conspiracy theories, you may say, but let’s not go there), ‘Eight Miles High’, the Byrds’ song which was apparently one of the first hits about drugs, in the days when only the really hip understood such things, ‘There we were, all in one place’, (the Woodstock Festival), ‘the sergeants played a marching tune’ (‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’), and ‘Jack Flash sat on a candlestick’ (Mick Jagger, alias ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’). Even further on is ‘the girl who sang the blues’, who could be either Billie Holliday or Janis Joplin.

What does the song mean, McLean was asked. Referring to the huge success of the record and album it came from, McLean dryly said that it mean he never had to work again. He resisted the temptation to retire on the proceeds, and to his credit he is still performing live and working in his mid-sixties.

When it was first released as a 7-inch 45 in America and the Britain, the song was cut into two roughly equal halves, both just over four minutes long, faded out during the chorus following the second verse on side one, and faded back in on side two. In its entirety, it was paced rather well, with a slow first verse and chorus before taking a more jaunty pace until the final verse and chorus, bringing it back to the same gently reflective mood in which it started. In fact, after the rich procession of images throughout the verses, the last verse

And the three men I admired the most
The father, son, the holy ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died

all followed by two final choruses ends it on a very peaceful note.

The instrumental backing is functional without ever being intrusive, confined to the basics of acoustic rhythm and lead guitar, bass and drums.

It is one of the landmarks singles of the 1970s, one of those great records that not only has enough lyrics to keep listeners guessing for a lifetime, but also has an easily recognisable chorus, and somehow it never sounds dated or out of time. A few other acts have covered it, among them Mott the Hoople, who used to sing the first verse up to ‘the day the music died’, after which vocalist Ian Hunter would face the audience and ask, ‘Or did it?’, and Madonna, whose version went to No. 1 in 2000. Personally I think Madonna would have done better never to touch it, but obviously many record buyers disagreed with me.

Most people who release such a mega song near the start of their career find it difficult to follow up. McLean was one of the lucky ones. A second song from the same album, the tender ‘Vincent’ (about painter Vincent Van Gogh) only made No. 12 in America, but topped the British charts. Yet ‘American Pie’ remains the song for which he will always be remembered best. And as anyone who has ever taken an acoustic guitar into a pub for a singalong session will testify, nobody will need any persuasion to join in the chorus.

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Comments on this review

  • 80smusicreviewer published 08/05/2011
    Great review of a great song.
  • silverstreak published 02/12/2010
    How quaint that it was split between two sides of the record!
  • KarenUK published 24/11/2010
    Great song & I love Vincent too.
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Product Information : American Pie - Don McLean (Single)

Manufacturer's product description

Single Track from Don McLean - Genre: Pop - Release Year: 2010

Product Details

Artist(s): Don McLean

Title: American Pie

Release Date: 21/05/2010

Genre: Pop

Rights: This compilation (P) 2010 Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited / Virgin Records Ltd / EMI Records Ltd

Release Year: 2010


Listed on Ciao since: 13/08/2010