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47 | Top 100
'American Pie'

Don McLean
Hailed as one of the most original singles of all time, Don McLean's 'American Pie' - so long at 8 minutes 27 seconds that it had to be split over two sides of a 7" 45rpm single - was kept off the top in January 1972 by Chicory Tip's 'Son Of
Don Mclean
Song facts
Composer Don Mclean
Album American Pie
Released 1971

My Father'. The song was inspired by the events of 3 February 1959, when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash. For Don McLean - a 13 year-old paperboy at the time - it was "the day the music died". Twelve years later, McLean wrote 'American Pie' in a single day and the hit version was recorded in just one take. Although the song's general theme is the death of idealism during the 1960s, over the years McLean has been evasive about the precise meaning of his lyrics. Perhaps the closest he has come to decoding his best-known song was: "an attempt to describe a certain loss I felt in American music. Buddy Holly's death, for me, was a symbolic death… The music never dies though, and all I was saying…was that people lack the basic trust to believe the music will happen again."

The song's rich and detailed symbolism make it unique, but just who are those mysterious characters in 'American Pie'? "The jester" is Bob Dylan "the King and Queen" are Elvis Presley and Joan Baez and "the quartet" practising in the park are The Beatles. "Helter Skelter in a summer swelter" refers to Charles Manson and his "Family" murdering actress Sharon Tate in 1969 - Manson had apparently managed to convince himself and his followers that The Beatles' song 'Helter Skelter' was a call to arms. "Jack Flash" is Mick Jagger and "as the flames crawled high into the night, I saw Satan laughing with delight" refers to the Rolling Stones' performance at the 1969 Altamont festival, during which a Stones' fan was murdered by Hell's Angels.

In the song's final verse, the "girl who sang the blues" was Janis Joplin. Finally, and most enigmatically, "the three men I admire most" are either the Father, Son & Holy Ghost or President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King or Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. Take your pick!  And the man himself? What does 'American Pie' mean to its author after all these years? "It means" smiles Don McLean "that I don't have to work if I don't want to."

Don Mclean: In his own words.
Don Mclean American Pie
Don McLean talks about the pride he has in his hit single American Pie, truly a classic track of the 1970s.

Other versions
 American pop mega icon Madonna had a huge hit with her grittier and sexy cover version of Don's 'American Pie' in 2000.

This song completely captures the mood and culture of the sixties, using crypic but poetic lyrics

C Askew

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Songwriting tips

Look for unusual words and phrases to make your song different. More in Writing a Song.
Try the stream of consciousness approach. More in Writing Lyrics.
Test your knowledge

Whose coat did the jester borrow in American Pie? Are you sure?


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