What is the true meaning behind American Pie? Is it about the loss of innocence and America’s downfall? Or is it something more personal for Don McLean? In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the lyrics and try to piece together what the song could be about.
You know, I remember her premiere! 1971 South Sakhalin. The Japanese island of Hokkaido is in good weather – within line of sight. A bunch of neighbor radio stations in the MW band. And I am a 12-year-old boy, clinging to the dynamics of the Violet-2 tube radio. And on the air – a new thing by Don McLean of the folk-rock direction “American Pie.” Then I quickly learned it by heart since “Violet” allowed me to write everything at once from the air and then endlessly drive this record.
And it’s lucky! On some intuition, not knowing, of course, Japanese, he pressed the red record key literally a second before the initial beats of the a-drip
— A long, long time ago…
I can still remember…
That is, without missing a single note or word from zero seconds!
The Story of the Song «American Pie» – Don McLean
On February 3, 1959, three young rock and roll pioneers, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and Big Bopper, tragically died in a plane crash. Despite their young age, they managed to have a particular influence on the development of this style of music, so their tragedy shocked America. Subsequently, singer-songwriter Don McLean called this day “The Day the Music Died,” The biographical song “American Pie” about these and many other historical events was ranked fifth in the top 25 cult American songs.
“American Pie” is a folk rock song by Don McLean for the 1971 album of the same name. The song peaked at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 for a month, peaked at number one on the Australian music chart, and reached the top 10 on the Danish and Norwegian charts.
This song refers partly to the history of the tragedy that happened to young musicians and pioneers of rock and roll in 1959 and partly to the history of the United States in the idealized 1950s and gloomy 1960s. Don McLean wrote this song, inspired by his own youthful memories and the emotions that the news of Buddy Holly’s death aroused in him. This musician and songwriter enjoyed his success for only a year and a half. Still, he strongly influenced the development of the style of many other musicians (including The Beatles and other British bands of that time).
The American cult song “American Pie” presents an abstract story of the author’s life from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s while simultaneously showing the evolution of music and politics popular at the time. In a figurative sense, the events described in the song can be transferred to the present. This is not a composition about nostalgia; according to critics, the music has changed along with the country itself. The song is also a kind of manifesto and the result of the decade that followed the death of the American rock idol of the 1960s.
The song “American Pie” is eight and a half minutes long, consisting of 14 verses and six choruses. The song talks about how music in the 1960s ceased to be danceable, simple, and life-affirming. The musician says that she lost her early charm of rock and roll, and the music became frustrating due to social and other overtones. Don McLean, in this song, talks about how sad he was about the sensual and emotional piece of the 1950s when it did not yet belong to political and pseudo-religious movements.
At the same time, although the American Pie album was dedicated to Buddy Holly, neither he nor the other two musicians who died in a plane crash are personally mentioned in the song. Don McLean avoided answering direct questions about the song’s lyrics in every way in his interviews, which is why many interpretations exist. Separate programs and talk shows were devoted to the clues to the meaning of the text of this song; after a detailed analysis, it became clear that the song contains references to all the key figures in the musical, social and political spheres of those years.
The second time the song “American Pie” became a hit was in 2000, when Madonna made a cover version based on it, leaving only the lyrics that mention nostalgia for past music.
Meaning of the song «American Pie» – Don McLean
Wrong, it would not be an exaggeration to say that for Don, in the late 60s and early 70s, rock and roll was something of a religion. He lived for them. He breathed them. And, of course, he knew the origins of this musical direction well. And knowing the sources, how could one ignore such a magnitude as Buddy Holly? Or Big Bopper with Ricci Valens? Musicians who died on February 3, 1959, in a plane crash and on whose guitar riffs a whole generation later grew up, which included Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles.
According to the memoirs of Don himself, then still a simple newspaper deliverer to the addresses of subscribers, the news of the death of his idols in a plane crash literally struck him on the spot. When learning the information, he was engaged in laying out the newspapers for February 3. A line from the song “February gave me the creeps / As the newspapers were delivered …” refers to this moment.
But the poet’s soul already lived in the press deliverer – otherwise, there is no way to explain the deep depression that attacked Don after that “day the music died” – this is how he, a 14-year-old teenager, reacted to the death of this musical trio. And the first verse of “American Pie” was born as an attempt to get rid of such depression.
Do you remember how the third verse begins? After all, ten years have passed since the death of the musicians and before the start of work on the text. That is, in the yard – 1969. Far behind is not only the end of idols but also the assassination of Kennedy. And the beginning of the escalation of the Vietnam War. And the peak of the hippie movement in 1968. And, finally, the past rock festival in Altamont, which, in theory, was supposed to be an alternative to Woodstock. But instead, it not only exacerbated the feeling of “loss of innocence” in American youth rock culture but also thoroughly discredited this culture. And Don, no longer a naive and cheeky teenager but a young man with a particular taste and intellectual baggage, from that moment on, finally moves away from the protest movement and switches entirely to creativity.
Researchers of McLean’s work have the opinion that the leitmotif of “American Pie” is permeated through and through with this Altamont disappointment. True, Don himself never confirmed this version.
There are many printed and oral interpretations of the song (including from American DJs on radio stations). There were even full-scale talk shows with debates about the meaning of the text as a whole or one or another of its stanzas. In line with the views of Don himself, the version was even seriously discussed that the line “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” was dedicated to none other than the dead Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, and Ricci Valens. And someone agreed that we are talking about J.F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King.
By the way! The song is not about the culinary symbol of America – the American apple pie (although it is mentioned in the context). After all, Americanism pie is the same generally accepted expression referring to a beloved or desired girl, or woman, like “darling,” “honey,” and “sweety.” “Darling,” “sweet”… But after ten years after the death of the musicians, Donald McLean, least of all, thought about Holly’s widow, Maria Elena. “Dear,” “sweet” for him was the finally bygone time of America, in which music was full of feelings and pure emotions and not polluted by later political and religious meanings. And really? “Goodbye, American baby! Chevrolets and Cadillacs that will take you to the embankment will be gone. As there will be no dates in the car and kisses in it. In the new era of this old school – communism, rock, revolution,
As for the exact meaning of the song, no one could fully unravel it, and there are only many interpretations. Don himself usually laughed off direct questions. For example, he once said that the point of Pie was to feed the author for the rest of his life. Or he explained that this is poetry, so the search for the exact meaning will only kill him.
Of course, the thing became popular! “Miss American Pie,” for several decades, has taken pride of place in the top twenty rock and folk-rock compositions in the United States and Great Britain, as well as in Germany, Finland, and Japan. There were also covers of “Pie,” the most famous of them were versions from Madonna (single to the soundtrack in the film “Best Friend”) and from Rod Stewart. And yet, the version of Don McLean himself is considered a reference. It is in it that you can fully feel the atmosphere of the Midwest of America with its Adirondack mountains, the strumming of the banjo of village orchestras in Saratoga Springs, where Don was from, and the measured life, which, as it seems, cannot be shaken by any external troubles.
«American Pie» – Songfacts
The chorus includes the line “Drove my Chevy to the levee.” Chevrolet used the song in their TV commercial. Also on their billboards was the inscription: “But they don’t write songs about Volvo.”
The song is mainly dedicated to Buddy Holly, written under the impression of the news of his death. The line ‘that’ll be the day that I die’ references the Buddy Holly song That’ll be the day. There are also many references to various themes and band names in the music.
In 2000, Madonna covered this song for the movie The Next Best Thing. This song was suggested to the singer by her friend, actor Rupert Everett.
Critics reacted coolly to the cover, and in a BBC Sixth Channel poll, the song was named the worst cover of all time.
Songwriter Don McLean, however, was enthusiastic about Madonna and her cover: “I’ve heard her version, and I think it’s sensitive and mystical. I also think she chose autobiographical verses reflecting her career and personal stories.” “Hopefully, this will make people think about what’s going on with American music. I’ve received gifts from God, but the first time from a goddess.”