Don McLean’s American Pie

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Don McLean’s American Pie

Don McLean's American Pie

Folk Rock

This epic song captures a side of the 1970s as we looked back on the changes from the 1950s and the turbulence of the 1960s. “American Pie” is in memory of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper who died on February 3, 1959. It was written by folk rock singer-songwriter Don McLean and released in 1971 as a single. The song became an international charting success, going to #1 in 1971 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and U. S. Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart as well as #1 in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It was #2 on the U.K. Chart, #9 in Norway, and #10 in The Netherlands. The song was also on Don McLean’s 1971 album titled American Pie. McLean’s song “Vincent,” a tribute to Vincent van Gogh, on that album was also a big success.

The phrase “the day the music died” in Don McLean’s song gave a  name to the event and the feeling around the plane crash on February 3, 1959, near Clear Lake, Iowa. Killed in the crash were Buddy Holly (age 22), Ritchie Valens (age 17), The Big Bopper (age 28), and the pilot Roger Peterson (21). McLean has talked about how he was folding papers for his paper route when he learned of the crash. This is reflected in the lyrics” But February made me shiver / With every paper I’d deliver/ Bad news on the doorstep.” The lyrics go on to talk of other sad things, including a girl who is interested in someone other than the singer, with references to The Monotones, Bob Dylan, James Dean, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the death of Meredith Hunter at the Altamont free Concert in 1969, Charles Manson, Janis Joplin Christianity, and other things. In this reflection on the end of the 50s and what happened in the 60s, it felt as though things were going in the wrong direction.

“American Pie” was part of a red thread, as it were, through the 1970s of nostalgia for earlier, simpler times. This was shown in the success of TV Shows such as Happy Days and movies such as Grease.

Here are the lyrics to “American Pie” by Don McLean:

A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while

But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
So

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

Did you write the book of love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?
Do you believe in rock and roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

Well, I know that you’re in love with him
‘Cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym
You both kicked off your shoes
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues

I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died
I started singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

Now, for ten years we’ve been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rolling stone
But, that’s not how it used to be

When the jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me

Oh and while the king was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned

And while Lennon read a book on Marx
The quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died
We were singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
And singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

Helter skelter in a summer swelter
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter
Eight miles high and falling fast

It landed foul on the grass
The players tried for a forward pass
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance

‘Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?
We started singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
And singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

Oh, and there we were all in one place
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again

So come on Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend

Oh and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan’s spell

And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died
He was singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away

I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

And in the streets the children screamed
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
And they were singing

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

They were singing
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die

For More 70s Tunes

The System has daily featured music from all sorts of genres of 1970s music. You’re welcome to listen to any of the 40+ selections in The System. Thank you for stopping by. Hope you enjoyed “American Pie” by Don McLean.

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