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Last on

Wed 1 Aug 2012 21:00 BBC Radio 2

57 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 01 August 2012

Paul Gambaccini looks at the life and career of Don McLean, whose magnum opus, American Pie, first topped charts around the world 40 years ago.

It was a remarkable and unusual hit: more than eight minutes long, it reflected the experiences of the American generation which lived through the painful transition from the innocent 50s to the turbulent 70s. Combining a rousing chorus with cryptic, poetic verses, the song transfixed an entire culture and, along with its follow-up single Vincent, made Don an international star.

Impossible to pigeonhole, Don began his career on the Greenwich Village folk scene. His debut album, Tapestry, was recorded in Berkeley, California, in 1969. Turned down by more than 30 record labels, it signalled the start of an uneasy relationship between Don McLean and the music business. But Tapestry included, And I Love You So, a love song that would be made into a standard by Perry Como in 1973. And Don later found himself appreciated and covered by artists as varied as Fred Astaire, Madonna and George Michael.

Don was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004. American Pie has also been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2001 it was named the fifth most historically significant song of the 20th Century by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Endowment for the Arts. It was performed by Garth Brooks at Barack Obama's pre-inauguration concert and Madonna's cover version topped charts in 2000.

More recently, the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards honoured Don McLean with a Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his great contribution to songwriting.

This programme traces Don's career with help from American Pie producer Ed Freeman, Don's former manager Herb Gart, producer and promoter John Francis Peters, and singer Lori Lieberman. While Don himself tells Paul Gambaccini about the boyhood dreams and diverse musical obsessions that helped make him an award-winning, yet genre-defying, artist.


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