The song “American Pie,” “the day the music died” tackles the evolution of rock and roll through the 60s. Also, it discusses the 1959 plane crash that led to the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper.
McLean explored many of the significant events of the 60s. These included the moon landings, Dylan’s rise and crash, the dominance of The Beatles, and the death of Janis Joplin.
It is said that “American Pie” is one of the most extended songs ever penned. With this, it made history in the music industry specifically in country music. But the most thought-provoking part is not about its lyrics’ longevity. Instead, it’s the in-depth meaning which stirs debate and affects the people’s thoughts of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Don McLean penned, recorded, and released the song on his “American Pie” album in 1971. The single became No.1 in the US hit for four weeks in 1972. Also, it topped the charts in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. In the UK, the single reached No. 2 on its original 1972 release. Moreover, the reissue in 1991 reached No. 12.
In addition, the song was listed as the No. 5 song on the RIAA project Songs of the Century. A condensed version of the song was covered by Madonna in 2000. It reached No. 1 in several countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
The repeatedly mentioned phrase “the day the music died” refers to the plane crash in 1959 which killed early rock and roll performers Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. In fact, the accident was unknown until McLean’s song became a hit.
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.
While his magnum opus is known for its deep, almost cryptic lyrics, for many years McLean left its meaning up to the speculation of others, feeling no need to explain things himself. Asked by one interviewer what the song meant, McLean said:
“It means I never have to work again.”
McLean first revealed the intended meaning of his lyrics in 2015. This was when the original manuscript and notes were sold at auction for a fee of $1.2 million.
Although the lyrics might no longer be enigmatic, McLean’s track will forever be regarded as a poetic look into the past of rock and roll.
The Evolution Of The Song…
While it has claimed that Don McLean began writing the song in upstate Saratoga Springs, New York at Caffe Lena, Don McLean disputed this claim. Some employees at Caffe Lena claimed that McLean started writing the song there, and then continued in both Cold Spring, New York, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
McLean claimed that the song was written in Cold Spring and Philadelphia. Tin & Lint, a bar on Caroline Street in Saratoga Springs, argued that the song was written there. While some said that it was created at Saint Joseph’s University, where the song was first performed. McLean insisted that the song made its debut in Philadelphia at Temple University where he opened for Laura Nyro on March 14, 1971.
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Buddy Holly, Don McLean, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper
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