An American singer-songwriter and a New York native, Don McLean is undoubtedly one of the best folk artists ever. The best proof lies in the story of his songs which are commonly deep, reflective, and meaningful. His best-known song, “American Pie,” is a massive hit in 1971, dedicated to the three rock and roll performers who died in a plane crash. The incident was infamously called “the day the music died.” In addition, other songs that have rung the bell under McLean’s name include “And I Love You So” popularly sung by Elvis Presley, “Castles in the Air” which McLean notably recorded twice, and many others. However, one of his best songs that have gone to other parts of the world was a tribute to a great painter in history.
As popularly known, “Vincent” is Don McLean’s tribute song to the Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890). A lot of people have enjoyed the mellow, calm voice of McLean as if it were a lullaby singing someone to sleep. However, many still do not have any idea what inspired Mclean to write about the painter.
About the Song
A great singer and songwriter, Don McLean was the artist behind the words that make up the song “Vincent.” He crafted the almost four-minute folk rock song with Ed Freeman as the producer for United Artists Records. “Vincent” was officially released on June 17, 1972.
The song was indeed a chart-topper in 1972. In fact, it was a hit in the United Kingdom peaking at no. 1 on the U.K. Singles Chart. Meanwhile, it reached no. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary, no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, and no. 11 on the U.S. Cash Box Top 100.
In addition, aside from the U.S. and the U.K., the song also penetrated music charts in six other countries. Most notably, it ranked 2nd in Canada, 3rd in Australia, and 7th in New Zealand. On the other hand, it went to no. 16 in the Netherlands, no. 21 in Germany, and no. 30 in Belgium.
Overall, Billboard ranked “Vincent” as the 94th best song for 1972.
“Vincent”, Vincent Van Gogh, and Don McLean’s Inspiration
As mentioned earlier, “Vincent” is McLean’s way of showing his appreciation to Vincent Van Gogh. In 1971, McLean came across a book about the life story of the Dutch artist. He was so inspired that he took his pen and started scribbling the first words for the would-be known as the song “Vincent.“
Referencing Van Gogh’s famous artworks, the song starts with the opening line, “Starry Starry Night.” Obviously, it was based on Van Gogh’s 1889 painting, The Starry Night. Furthermore, the song also features and describes other more paintings by Van Gogh.
In an interview, McLean shared something about creating the song:
“In the autumn of 1970 I had a job singing in the school system, playing my guitar in classrooms. I was sitting on the veranda one morning, reading a biography of Van Gogh, and suddenly I knew I had to write a song arguing that he wasn’t crazy. He had an illness and so did his brother Theo. This makes it different, in my mind, to the garden variety of ‘crazy’ – because he was rejected by a woman [as was commonly thought]. So I sat down with a print of Starry Night and wrote the lyrics out on a paper bag.”
WATCH: Don McLean sings his tribute to the great Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh, with his 1972 hit, “Vincent”.
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