"Bye-bye, Miss American Pie..."
By far best known for "American Pie" (which was voted Number 5 of the 365 Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts), Don McLean is an influential folk-rock singer/songwriter. He reached the height of his success in the 70s with his album, American Pie
, which contained the titular hit as well as the other notable single, "Vincent."
"American Pie" was written in memory of Buddy Holly
, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, who were killed in a plane crash in 1959. The song popularized the phrase "The Day the Music Died" in reference to the event. The lyrics also reflect the impact that event had on McLean's childhood and the song is semi-autobiographical in nature. It reached number one on the charts for four weeks in 1972 and holds the record for the longest song to occupy that slot, with a run time of 8 minutes 36 seconds (though only half the song was on the A-side; the other half was on the B-side).
After "American Pie," McLean continued to write and perform songs. He found further success in the UK, but never again saw such popularity in the States. He is known for covering the songs of Buddy Holly
, for obvious reasons, and also Roy Orbison
—his substantial vocal range fits Orbison's repertoire well.
He/His work contains examples of:
- American Title: "American Pie"
- Black Sheep Hit: "American Pie", which effectively dogged his career because everyone wanted him to write another song just like "American Pie".
- Creator Backlash: "American Pie", not just for the fact that it's overshadowed his other songs tremendously, but also McLean's eternal annoyance at constantly being asked what the song means.
- So much so that part of McLean's contract stipulates that any advertising must list at least five other songs of his if they want to tout "American Pie". How many songs of McLean's do you know?
- Go Mad from the Revelation: Similar to the Total Perspective Vortex from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "Infinity" appears to be about being confronted by the smallness of Earth in the universe.
- Grief Song: "American Pie" for the three victims of The Day the Music Died, and "Vincent" for Vincent van Gogh and "The Grave" for the unnamed soldier and his comrades.
- I Am Great Song: "Everybody Loves Me, Baby"
- Intelligence Equals Isolation: "Vincent"
- Last Chorus Slow Down: The final verse of "American Pie".
- Lyrical Cold Open: "American Pie"
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Primetime"
- Also "Have You Seen Me?", which is a rollicking number about... child soldiers.
- Morality Ballad: "American Pie," sort of. Faithful fans and analysts of the song have more-or-less concluded it's a warning about the cultural breakdown of The Sixties—that America had been severely damaged by it.
- One-Hit Wonder: While "Vincent" and "Crying" both reached the top twenty on the American charts, "American Pie" was his only number one and the song he is most famous for.
- Rearrange the Song: Madonna's version of "American Pie" took a few liberties, to say the least. McLean himself gave it a positive review, however, saying that the album's cover was "a gift from a goddess", and that her version was "mystical and sensual".
- McLean himself did this with his own "Castles in the Air", and wound up having a much bigger hit with the remake.
- Refrain from Assuming: There are some people who know "American Pie" as "The Day the Music Died".
- Also, the song "Vincent" is not "Starry Starry Night".
- Somewhere Song: "Castles in the Air"
- Teenage Death Songs: "The Grave", about a young Marine dying in the Vietnam War.
- Three Chords and the Truth
- Titled After the Song: American Pie
- The Walrus Was Paul: On the subject of "American Pie," the only concrete explanation McLean has ever given is that it means he'll never have to work again.
- He has admitted that the line "February made me shiver/with every paper I'd deliver" was about him learning about the deaths of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens while he was folding papers for his paper route.
- Word Salad Lyrics: "American Pie"
"This will be the day that I died."