The Epic 2017 Project #174: 170623
Don McLean – American Pie (1971)
A protégé of Pete Seeger, ‘American Pie’ was Don McLean’s second album. It was intended as a unified work, as McLean had said that he was influenced by the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album and envisioned American Pie to be a similar piece of work. Believing that an artist’s work should stand by itself, McLean generally did not offer explanations for his song’s themes or meaning,though he did describe the title song as involving “a sense of loss”. The album was dedicated to Buddy Holly, a childhood icon of McLean’s, and was released in 1971 on the heels of the ’60s, the defining decade of McLean’s generation. It has a melancholy feel and rather sparse arrangements. At the time of the writing McLean’s first marriage was failing and the optimism and hopefulness of the 1960s was giving way to the nihilism and hedonism of the 1970s.
The album’s title song though, made McLean a household name. The single was a number-one US hit for four weeks in 1972. In the UK, it reached No. 2 on its original 1972 release and No.12 on a reissue in 1991. It was listed as the No. 5 song on the RIAA project Songs of the Century and a truncated version was covered by Madonna in 2000 and reached No. 1 in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
The repeatedly mentioned “day the music died” lyric refers to the 1959 plane crash which killed early rock and roll performers Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. The meaning of the other lyrics has long been debated, and for decades, McLean declined to explain the symbolism behind the many characters and events mentioned. However, the overall theme of the song is the loss of innocence of the early rock and roll generation as symbolized by the plane crash which claimed the lives of three of its heroes