I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while.
American Pie is a 1971 album by Don McLean. It was his second, more successful album after his more moderately received debut album, Tapestry (1970). It's best remembered for "American Pie", a Celebrity Elegy written about the young death of rock 'n' roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. The long song was originally released on a dual-sided single and radio stations back then only played the first part. Although the singer has admitted it's mostly about the death of these three musicians other parts of the lyrics remain Shrouded in Myth, as McLean himself has always refused to comment on its meaning. "American Pie" has become the singer's Signature Song, although "Vincent" also had some success, albeit more in the United Kingdom where it even became a number 1 hit song over "American Pie".
"American Pie" has become a Tough Act to Follow for McLean, since he never had such a commercial success again, except for one more top 5 single in 1980, "Crying". However, not many remember it.
If you're looking for the film of the same name, see here.
- "American Pie" (8:33)
- "Till Tomorrow" (2:11)
- "Vincent" (3:55)
- "Crossroads" (3:34)
- "Winterwood" (3:09)
- "Empty Chairs" (3:24)
- "Everybody Loves Me, Baby" (3:37)
- "Sister Fatima" (2:31)
- "The Grave" (3:08)
- "Babylon" (1:40)
And this will be the day that I trope
- Age-Progression Song: "American Pie" starts "a long long time ago" with the singer as a young boy with a paper route, continues on to the "teenage bronkin' buck" phase, and looks back on the past in the final verse.
- Alliterative Title: "Till Tomorrow".
- American Title: "American Pie".
- As the Good Book Says...: "Babylon" is based on the 137th Psalm from the Bible. "American Pie" also refers to the Bible:Did you have faith in God aboveIf the Bible tells you so?
- Break Up Song: "Empty Chairs" is an especially melancholy example.Never thought you'd leave, until you went
- Celebrity Elegy: "American Pie", lamenting the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. "Vincent" mourns the tragic life of Vincent van Gogh, while "The Grave" mourns for the unnamed soldier and his comrades.
- Concept Album: "American Pie" was inspired by Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles and intended as a similar unified work.
- Cynicism Catalyst: Amidst all the Word Salad Lyrics, the title song repeatedly references "the day the music died" — the day of the plane crash that killed rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.
- Dead Artists Are Better: "Vincent" is about Vincent van Gogh's troubled life and how no one appreciated him until after he died.
- Epic Rocking: The 8:33 "American Pie".
- Face on the Cover: The singer is featured on the album cover, but his hand is seen in a more extreme close-up than his face, which is shown in the background.
- Homage: McLean dedicated "American Pie" to Buddy Holly. "Vincent" is a tribute to Vincent van Gogh.
- "I Am Great!" Song: The narrator in "Everybody Loves Me, Baby" claims that he's got everything in the world, except the person who he's singing the song to.
- Intelligence = Isolation: "Vincent" sings how Van Gogh was a creative genius ahead of his time, but that this made him a recluse too, misunderstood by others.
- Last Chorus Slow-Down: The final verse of "American Pie".
- Lyrical Cold Open: "American Pie".
- Mad Artist: "Vincent", about Vincent van Gogh's mental troubles.Now I understandwhat you tried to say to meand how you suffered for your sanityand how you tried to set them freethey would not listen they did not know howperhaps they'll listen now.
- Miniscule Rocking: The 1:40 "Babylon".
- Morality Ballad: "American Pie" has been interpreted as a warning about the cultural breakdown of The '60s.
- One-Man Song: "Vincent".
- One-Woman Song: "Sister Fatima".
- One-Word Title: "Vincent", "Crossroads", "Winterwood", "Babylon".
- Patriotic Fervor: McLean shows his hand on the album cover and the thumb is in the color of the American flag.
- Pun: "American Pie" has the line "Lennon read a book on Marx", which has been understood as both a pun on Vladimir Lenin, who was a Marxist, and Groucho Marx, as Lennon's public persona was often seen as a musical Groucho Marx.
- The Power of Rock: "American Pie"I can still rememberHow that music used to make me smileAnd I knew if I had my chanceThat I could make those people danceAnd maybe they'd be happy for a while
- Protest Song: "The Grave", against the Vietnam War.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: "American Pie" was inspired by the fatal plane crash in 1959 in which rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper were killed. McLean was indeed a 13-year old paper boy at the time, as he sings in the song.
- Refrain from Assuming: The "levee" in "American Pie" was the name of a bar, not something else.
- Satan: "American Pie"I saw Satan laughing with delight, the day the music died
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: In "American Pie" near the end:And the three Men I admire the most,The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,Had caught the last train for the coastThe day the music died.
- Shout-Out: That "American Pie" alludes to the plane crash which killed off Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper is well known. But there are also shout-outs to:
I was a lonely teenage broncin' buckWith a pink carnation and a pickup truckWhen the jester sang for the king and queen / in a coat he borrowed from James DeanAnd while Lennon read a book on Marx
- Marty Robbins' 1957 song "A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Carnation)"
The quartet practiced in the parkHelter skelter in a summer swelter(...) while the sergeants played a marching tune
- The Beatles, who played their final concert in Candlestick Park, San Francisco, released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and had a song called "Helter Skelter" on The White Album
The birds flew off with the fallout shelterEight miles high and falling fast
- "Eight Miles High" by The Byrds
Jack be nimble, jack be quick, jack flash sat on a candlestick
- The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and their concert at Candlestick Park.
- "American Pie" has been covered by Madonna but not the entire song, inspired the title of the 1999 Sex Comedy American Pie (which has nothing to do with the song or the album whatsoever) and as the "Weird Al" Yankovic parody "The Saga Begins" which made references to the then new Star Wars movie The Phantom Menace.
- "Vincent" was used during the meteor shower scene in The Simpsons episode "Scuse Me While I Miss The Sky". In the episode "So It's Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show" Granpa paraphrases the line: "This world was never meant for someone as beautiful as you."
- Surprisingly Happy Ending: The deleted seventh verse in "American Pie" (never publicly revealed until the original manuscript for the song lyrics were auctioned off in 2015), which apparently alludes to the rebirth of rock music with the rise of British acts such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.And there I stood alone and afraidI dropped to my knees and there I prayedAnd I promised him everything I could giveIf only he would make the music liveAnd he promised it would live once moreBut this time one would equal fourAnd in five years four had come to mournAnd the music was reborn
- Take That!: "American Pie" uses a lot of religious imagery, with God lamenting the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper while at the same time, the Devil celebrates it. In other words, the song is an extended middle finger to the Moral Guardians who say that rock-and-roll is demonic in origin, and corrupting the youth.
- Teenage Death Songs: "American Pie" in a sense, because it references the death of Ritchie Valens, who was 17 when he died. "The Grave" is about a young Marine dying in the Vietnam War.
- Also, the line "We Sang Dirges In The Dark" could be a reference to the spate of teen death songs in the early 1960's.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: "Vincent"But I could have told you, Vincent, this world was never meant for someone as beautiful as you.
- War Is Hell: "The Grave" is a protest song against the Vietnam War.
- 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.