Tag Archives: American Pie

What inspired Don McLean’s song American Pie?

2 Apr

A road trip beckoned today as part of an all-too brief holiday through Australia’s southern states.

Fortunately, it wasn’t the kind of horrific trip most of us endured with our parents in childhood when all we wanted to know was ‘Are we there yet?’ Instead, this one was fun. The kind with roadies, stereotyping of small country towns and CD compilations featuring the best movie songs of all time (BTW does anyway know the film that featured Belinda Carlisle’s Mad About You?).

Anyway, one of the tracks that boomed through the speakers was Don McLean’s American Pie – all 300+ minutes of it (or so it seemed). And it took me back to my twenties, when it was considered a badge of honour to remember every word.

It’s a skill I still boast today. And as I sang of jesters and thorny crowns, I got to wondering about the inspiration behind the lyrics.

For half the song I decided they were about the JFK assassination. But my supposing wasn’t enough – I wanted to know the real story.  Yet no clear answers were forthcoming – and that’s exactly how the artist likes them.

In an interview here, McLean had this to say:

“The idea that I had, was that it was about American politics in music running in sort of a parallel trough, if you will. That was a concept in my head. Then I decided to make up a dream using rock and roll and other kinds of imagery to move forward from the death of Buddy Holly right up to the end, and that’s how it came out.”

Further clarification comes from his website

“American Pie is partly biographical and partly the story of America during the idealised 1950s and the bleaker 1960s. It was initially inspired by Don’s memories of being a paperboy in 1959 and learning of the death of Buddy Holly. American Pie presents an abstract story of McLean’s life from the mid-1950s until the end of the 1960s, and at the same time it represents the evolution of popular music and politics over these years, from the lightness of the 1950s to the darkness of the late 1960s, but metaphorically the song continues to evolve to the present time. It is not a nostalgia song. American Pie changes as America itself is changing.”

Musical aficionados who have studied the song pin meanings to certain lyrics. For example, the jester who sang for the king and queen is rumoured to be Bob Dylan. But this has never been confirmed.

In short, what McLean hopes is that fans find their own meaning and inspiration in the song. And he must be on to something since it remains a classic more than 30 years since its release in 1971.

Here’s a few other American Pie facts…

* It was named as one of the five greatest songs of the 20th century in a poll by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America. The other four songs were This Land is Your Land, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Respect and White Christmas.
* It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003.
* It has been played more than three million times on American radio alone.

And now let’s watch him sing it live.