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.
- one of the top 1000 songs of all time
- Cash Box’s Top 100 Songs, 1958-1996
- Grammy Hall of Fame
- Mojo Magazine’s Top 100 Songs of All Time
- one of the RIAA’s top 365 songs of the 20th century
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll
- top 100 adult contemporary songs of all time
- top 100 classic rock songs of all time
- one of the top 100 songs of the 1970s
Resources and Related Links:
- the DMDB page for “American Pie”
- the DMDB Music Maker Encyclopedia entry for Don McLean
- BBC BBC Radio 2 (2004). “Sold on Song Top 100”.
- BR1 Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). New York, NY: Billboard Books. Page 305.
- HL Michael Heatley and Spencer Leigh. (1998). Behind the Song: The Stories of 100 Great Pop & Rock Classics. London, England: Blandford Books. Page 62.
- KN Steve Knight (2007). The Top 25 Rock Songs of All-Time are…
- TB Thunder Bay Press (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA. Page 132.
- WK Wikipedia.org