Born and raised in New York, Don McLean suffered from asthma as a child which curtailed is ability to play sport. He turned instead to music becoming a huge fan of Buddy Holly. According to his parents, Don knew more than one hundred songs by the time he was two years old.
Despite his love of Buddy’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, by the time he was a teenager, Don had become infatuated with folk music. He bought a guitar and began performing shows for family and friends. While still in high school he made his first recording. He then attended Villanova University for a short while where he became friends with fellow singer/songwriter Jim Croce.
the day the music died
It was prior to these teen experiences that Don worked a schoolboy newspaper route. One morning, as a 12 year old, he cut into his bundle of papers and saw the headline announcing that his hero Buddy Holly, along with Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, had been killed in an aeroplane crash.
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
Don’s first album, Tapestry, was rejected by 34 recording companies (some sources say 37) before being released by Media Arts. Both the album and the single from it, Castles in the Air, were flops.
Undeterred, Don commenced work on his second album, American Pie. It was released by United Artists in November 1971 and was an instant success moving up the charts faster than any other UA record in history. It reached #1 on the US album charts in January 1972 and remained there for nearly four months. American Pie sold more than three million copies as a single, five million as an album.
- American Pie was recorded early in 1971 and released as a single and as a track from the album of the same name, in November of the same year.
- American Pie hit #1 in the US and remained there for four weeks. It reached #2 in the UK.
- American Pie is Don’s recounting of the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper.
- American Pie was listed at #5 on the RIAA’s Songs of the Century project.
- With a running time of 8 minutes and 33 seconds, American Pie is the longest song to reach #1 on the US singles chart. It was too long to fit on one side of a 45 rpm record and so was split into two parts. Many radio stations played only part one of the original split-sided single release.
- Over the years, many attempts have been made to interpret the meaning American Pie. Don has resisted responding to direct questions about the lyric’s. He simply refers to them as “poetry that is beyond analysis.” What we do know is that the first verse is mainly about the day Buddy Holly et al died. The third verse (“Now for ten year we’ve been on our own”) onwards is said to represent a symbolic “loss of innocence” for 1960s youth.
- A number of artists have sung cover versions of American Pie – often only singing a verse or two, or altering the lyrics to sing about something relating to themselves, their lives, or the town they’re playing in. The first English language cover version was by The Brady Bunch in 1972. Since then it’s been sung by Catch 22, Mott the Hoople, Chris de Burgh and Eddie Vedder. In 2000, Madonna released a version to promote the soundtrack to her film The Next Best Thing.
- A number of comedians, including Weird Al Yankovic, have released parody versions.
- In 1971, a singer named Lori Lieberman saw McLean perform American Pie at the Troubadour theater in Los Angeles. She claimed that she was so moved by the concert that her experience became the basis for her song Killing Me Softly With His Song which was a huge hit for Roberta Flack in 1973. Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, the song’s composers deny this, however.
- American Pie lyrics
american pie – don mclean – 1971 – video
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