American Pie by Don McLean

"It's the first Rock dream"
- Don McLean, BBC Radio 1 Interview

Don McLean

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Having reputedly been turned down by thirty four record companies, McLean signed with the record label Media Arts in 1969. Written in 1971 as the finale to his stage performances, American Pie was the culmination of ideas gathered over ten years. "That song didn't just happen," said Don. "It grew out of my experiences. 'American Pie' was part of my process of self-awakening; a mystical trip into my past." Don called the song a complicated parable open to different interpretations. "People ask me if I left the lyrics open to ambiguity. Of course I did. I wanted to make a whole series of complex statements. The lyrics had to do with the state of society at the time." (Ref: internet)

Some see the song as McLean's justification for giving up rock and roll and turning more to folk music. He had been touring for about a year with Pete Seeger on a project called 'The Hudson River Sloop Restoration,' sailing on the Hudson River in an ecology campaign and soon after the song was released.

Strangely when Don performed it to the public for the first time, asking a young girl to hold up the pages of lyrics, he was greeted with an indifferent reaction from the audience. Though, some may say they were just stunned into silence!

Recorded on May 26th 1971 in New York, the song got its first radio play in the U.S at the end of June on WNEW-FM & WPLJ-FM to mark the closing of Fillmore East the famous New York concert hall.

The full version of the song was eight and a half minutes long & in November 1971 it was released on a double sided single. It was too long to fit on one side of a 45 rpm single. This was still the most common format at the time of the songs release. It was not played fully on radios or by DJ's as it would have required turning the record over. It was also during an era when for every song played, an advert was played. To this day, in the age of the CD, night clubs still only play part of the song!

Since sifting through all the research about the song, it's evident that American Pie is about McLean giving up rock & roll since the death of such great stars as Holly, and the emergence of artists who had become money obsessed.

However the song has tones, which come across even more strongly than these points about society as a whole changing. The sadness about the Vietnam war, the threat of nuclear attack from Russia, race riots, and the death of JFK shattering the idealism. This for me is the picture that McLean paints so well in this song. His disillusionment becomes more apparent as the song progresses. As McLean puts it "American Pie speaks to the loss that we feel. That's why that song has found the niche that it has" - Don McLean, VH1 Interview

The song is also about the degeneration of America in terms of religion & McLean's longing for the wholesome days of the 50s when musicians were God fearing & which some believe a metaphor for American Pie. (Ref: M Green)

For McLean 50s Rock represented his innocent years. The song chronicles important events in the 60s as well as McLean's own growth & loss of innocence as well as his attempt to retain it. The song is in fact highly autobiographical, with McLean featured in every verse. (Ref: Mark Jordan)

In the late sixties and early seventies, Don was obsessed with what he called "the death of America" -- the loss of many things he believed in while growing up. "In a sense, 'American Pie' was a very despairing song but it can also be seen as very hopeful. Pete Seeger has said that he saw it as a song in which people were saying something. They'd been fooled, they'd been hurt, and it wasn't going to happen again. (Ref: donmclean.com)

Many people have theorized about what the words "American Pie" actually mean: It's a metaphor for the times (Ref: Marv Bloom). I think Don took different episodes from the American music and political events from the 60's. I think it is an analogy - The pie is the American events of the decade of 60´s, and the slices are every episode he is describing. (Ref: Alex J)

You may disagree, so read this interpretation and then make up your own mind.


Saul Levitt
Site Creator
p.s you may wish to download a copy of the
interpretation to read offline as its quite long!

Download for Offline Reading

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