Saturday, January 15, 1972

Don McLean’s “American Pie” hit #1: January 15, 1972

Originally posted January 15, 2012.

February 3, 1959, is often called “the day the music died” because of a plane crash that killed early rockers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. Although singer/songwriter Don McLean doesn’t mention any of them by name, he immortalized the legendary trio with his epic song “American Pie.”

McLean has stated that Holly “was the first and last person I ever really idolized as a kid.” BR1 Holly was, in fact, McLean’s inspiration for taking up the guitar in the first place. TB

McLean learned of the tragedy while folding newspapers for his paper route. WK McLean lamented that by 1964 Holly had been largely forgotten, but as McLean said, “I didn’t forget him.” TB In fact, he acknowledged that in writing the song’s first verse, he “exorcised his long-running grief over Holly’s death.” WK

The song expresses a general theme about the death of idealism in the 1960s, BBC but its lyrics maintained enough ambiguity to inspire radio stations to devote entire shows to analyzing “American Pie.” HL It has been amusingly suggested that one could “obtain a doctorate by writing on its hidden meaning.” HL

McLean has done little to help in the interpretations, saying merely that it was an “attempt at an epic song about America and I used the imagery of music and politics to do that.” KN

“American Pie” was an epic in more than just theme; its nearly eight-and-a-half minute running time meant that the song was split into two parts to fit on the 45 RPM single format of the day. Initially, some stations played only the first side, but as the song grew in popularity, stations succumbed to playing it in its entirety. WK

This song is featured in the DMDB book The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999.


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