Behind The Songs – Blog 4

American Pie – Don McLean

Don McLean started writing this song in 1969 and it was eventually released on his debut album “American Pie” in 1971. The year 1969 represented the 10th anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly, Richie Havens and J.P ‘The Big Bopper” Richardson all of whom perished together in a plane crash in Iowa on February 3rd, 1959. Holly, a huge star in America was only 22 years old while Havens was just 17. Because of the lyrics of McLean’s song this event has now become known has “the day the music died”. (“I can’t remember if I cried/the day the music died”). The song also references many events in the sixties with McLean commenting on musicians such as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Beatles , The Rolling Stones and The Byrds. He also sings about events such as the assassination of civil rights activists, the Charles Manson murders and the murder of a patron at a Rolling Stones fan at the hands of the Hells Angels. Unlike the plane crash , the lyrics of which are straight forward to decipher it took years for McLean to explain the rest of the song so music critics tried to do it for him. McLean was a 13 year old school boy delivering newspapers when he read about Holly’s death (‘But February made me shiver/with every paper I delivered’). Ten years later when McLean wrote the song he claims he was still trying to exorcise the grief he had felt when he first heard about Holly’s death. Holly was McLean’s childhood hero and the album ‘American Pie’ is dedicated to him. The most McLean has ever said about the song is that in his mind the death of Holly ended the innocence of America and that life in the sixties became much more sinister with political assassinations, civil rights riots and music that exalted in the “counter-culture” of America promoting free love and use of mind altering drugs, all of which McLean was against. American Pie went to number one in the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and number two in the UK. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) ranked the song the 5th most significant song in the twentieth century.

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