Friday, February 17, 2017

American Pie Lyrics Sold McLean Explains Imagery

1. The Incident Happened:
It was nearly 60 years ago when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. The Big Bopper  were killed on February 3, 1959. These three rock and roll musicians died in a plane crash near Iowa, their pilot Roger Peterson included. 

The tragedy was known as The Day the Music Died, as singer-songwriter Don McLean referred to it in his 1971 song American Pie.

2. The Song Was Written:
Many interpretations as to the meaning of the song appeared in the media after it was released but no one could pin-point the symbolic phrases behind the composition until lonestarsound* who produced the video, claimed that he spoke first hand with many of the people who knew the truth behind the accident. One of them was Tommy Allsup who flipped the coin with Ritchie Valens and Valens sealed his own fate with the toss.

Many people are still discussing the song today and I find it to be one of the best originally composed musical thesis ever written. It is how a song should be written was the remark made when it received an award. Even Madonna has made a cover of the hit.

McLean has since sold his original copies of the lyrics for more than a million US dollars in 2015.

3. The Composer Explained:
"People ask me if I left the lyrics open to ambiguity. Of course I did. I wanted to make a whole series of complex statements. The lyrics had to do with the state of society at that time."

"I was around in 1970 and now I am around in 2015. There is no poetry and very little romance in anything anymore, so it is really like the last phase of American Pie.

"Basically in American Pie, things are heading in the wrong direction. It is becoming less idyllic... It is a morality song in a sense."

Three Quotes From Washington Post: by Justin Wm Moyer: 8.4.2015. Edited.

                               *lonestarsound produced this video.

4. The Singer Came:
Singapore had a taste of American Pie when McLean came to Singapore in 2011. He performed at the Esplanade Concert Hall in February that year with: And I Love You So, Empty Chairs, Winterwood, Crossroads, Castles In The Air, Wonderful Baby, Beatles' cover of In My Life, Love Hurts, Jerusalem, Tulsa Time and Superman's Ghost. Not forgetting, Vincent, American Pie. The applause was rapturous with standing ovations'

The concert, according to the writer who attended the show fell short of his expectations. It was only 90 minutes as compared to the Eagles gig which lasted 3 hours.  His song arrangements were in lower keys and McLean did not sing from his new album, Addicted To Black. Still the writer enjoyed McLean's concert - by Han Chiaw Juan from: Don McLean Online (Edited).

Images: Google.



The story behind the lyrics of AMERICAN PIE by Don McLean is well known. Delving deeper into the imagery of the lyrics needs more thought and opens itself to one's interpretation.

Rare nowadays to see poetic value in the lyrics of a song. Another example from this era would be MACARTHUR'S PARK. Both of these songs are not easy to pull off. Both requiring good diction, phrasing emotive expression as well as good vocal chops.


AMERICAN PIE was not only a comment on the tragedy of 1959 but the degenerating society of 1970 America when the song was written. McLean alluded to the fast transient way of life and the bubblegum music he could not identify with.

EGO said...

End of 1959 I became a qualified teacher. The song AMERICAN PIE is a sad song about Buddy Holly, etc. Takes me back so long ago. Thanks for the memories.


Hi Andy,

Thanks for your post. AMERICAN PIE is an iconic and folksy song. For Don McLean, it's one of the greatest songs he ever wrote and indeed the greatest hit he ever had.

The song encapsulated the mood of American in the early 70's (Vietnam War era) and for him it was the tragic plane crash of Buddy Holly when he was just a teen in high school.

Asked about the song, he said in an interview: "I was bringing Buddy Holly back to life."

He also said: "American Pie came out at a turbulent time when society was becoming unglued, people were rioting, cities burning, kids were dying (in Vietnam)."

To my mind, the lyrics of the song are complex and unless you are singing with a script, you are bound to miss out some words in the endless lyrics. I think that's the reason why we don't hear much of the song performed in public.

Anyway Andy, what's your take on this song?

henri gann said...

An interesting interview with Don Mclean on the CBS evening news ( 5/29/2017)

Don Mclean has been singing American Pie for 45 years now. People have been trying to pin him down on the meaning of his song. He said that it is about an American dream of some sort and that his song is meant to entertain people of all levels; the most enduring of which is his lyrics collection of "a long list of opaque illusions to the bold face names of the 60s." Mclean said that there are many interpretations going on with his song and that he will continue to sing American Pie at every concert. But that does not mean that he will clear up any question of his lyrics " the day the music died." When he was pressed further for the meaning of that, he simply said that it means that " he will never have to work again." :)