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American Pie the story behind Don McLean’s number one hit
"['American Pie' is] autobiographical and presents an abstract story of Don McLean's life from the mid 1950s until wh...
The Man Behind “American Pie” - Don McLean <ul><li>Born 2 October, 1945, Don McLean grew up in New Rochelle, NY. </li></ul...
The Success of “American Pie” <ul><li>“ American Pie” hit number one on 9 December, 1969. </li></ul><ul><li>The song was i...
<ul><li>Understanding the Lyrics of </li></ul><ul><li>“ American Pie”: </li></ul><ul><li>introducing multiple theories, ve...
A NOTE: <ul><li>All of the following is interpretation, and barely any of it can be cited as fact because of Don McLean’s ...
<ul><li>A long, long time ago… </li></ul><ul><li>I can still remember how that music used to make me smile. </li></ul><ul>...
<ul><li>So bye bye, Miss American Pie, </li></ul><ul><li>Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry. </li></ul><ul...
<ul><li>Did you write the book of love? </li></ul><ul><li>And do you believe in God above, if the Bible tells you so? </li...
<ul><li>Now for ten years, we’ve been on our own </li></ul><ul><li>And moss grows fat on a rolling stone, but that’s not h...
<ul><li>Helter skelter in a summer swelter </li></ul><ul><li>The birds/Byrds flew off without a fallout shelter - Eight mi...
<ul><li>And there we were all, in one place </li></ul><ul><li>A generation, lost in space, </li></ul><ul><li>With no time ...
<ul><li>I met a girl who sang the blues, </li></ul><ul><li>And I asked her for some happy news, but she just smiled and tu...
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American Pie

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Transcript of "American Pie"

  1. 1. American Pie the story behind Don McLean’s number one hit
  2. 2. &quot;['American Pie' is] autobiographical and presents an abstract story of Don McLean's life from the mid 1950s until when he wrote the song in the late 1960s. It is almost entirely symbolized by the evolution of popular music over these years and represents a change from the lightness of the 1950s to the darkness of the late 1960s.” -- americanpie.com
  3. 3. The Man Behind “American Pie” - Don McLean <ul><li>Born 2 October, 1945, Don McLean grew up in New Rochelle, NY. </li></ul><ul><li>Death was a prominent feature in McLean’s life - his father died when he was only 15, and he was later affected by the deaths of Buddy Holly and John F. Kennedy. </li></ul><ul><li>McLean was acquainted with many influential folk singers of his time, including Pete Seeger, the Weavers, and Jim Croce. </li></ul><ul><li>McLean had moderate success with his early recordings, but will always be known for the song “American Pie” which hit the coveted number one spot on the Billboard chart. </li></ul>
  4. 4. The Success of “American Pie” <ul><li>“ American Pie” hit number one on 9 December, 1969. </li></ul><ul><li>The song was included on a list of the “Songs of the Century,” and was voted into the number five spot, just below “Over the Rainbow,” “White Christmas,” “This Land is Your Land,” and “Respect.” The list was compiled by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the National Endowment for the Arts. </li></ul><ul><li>Don McLean is quoted as saying &quot;So when people ask me what &quot;American Pie&quot; means, I tell them it means I don't ever have to work again if I don't want to.” He did not exaggerate the success of the song. </li></ul><ul><li>“ American Pie” was performed on Top of the Pops, and was covered by Madonna. </li></ul><ul><li>One of McLean’s performances of “American Pie” supposedly inspired Roberta Flack to write and record her hit single “Killing Me Softly (With His Song).” </li></ul><ul><li>McLean recorded a total of 25 albums, studio, live and compiled, but American Pie remains his most well known. </li></ul>Don McLean performs “American Pie” on Top of the Pops.
  5. 5. <ul><li>Understanding the Lyrics of </li></ul><ul><li>“ American Pie”: </li></ul><ul><li>introducing multiple theories, verse by verse </li></ul>
  6. 6. A NOTE: <ul><li>All of the following is interpretation, and barely any of it can be cited as fact because of Don McLean’s refusal to explain any lyrics from the song, with the exception of confirming the reference to Buddy Holly, stating that he would rather “make [his] statement and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.” </li></ul>THE LAST WORD (PROBABLY) ON &quot;AMERICAN PIE&quot; As you can imagine, over the years I've been asked many times to discuss and explain my song &quot;American Pie&quot; [June25]. I have never discussed the lyrics, but have admitted to the Holly reference in the opening stanzas. I dedicated the album American Pie to Buddy Holly as well in order to connect the entire statement to Holly in hopes of bringing about an interest in him, which subsequently did occur. This brings me to my point. Casey Kasem never spoke to me and none of the references he confirms my making were made by me. You will find many &quot;interpretations&quot; of my lyrics but none of them by me. Isn't this fun? Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence. - Don McLean Castine, Maine (as cited on The Annotated American Pie, Kulawiec)
  7. 7. <ul><li>A long, long time ago… </li></ul><ul><li>I can still remember how that music used to make me smile. </li></ul><ul><li>And I knew if I had my chance, that I could make those people dance, and maybe they’d be happy for awhile </li></ul><ul><li>But February made me shiver, with every paper I’d deliver. </li></ul><ul><li>Bad news on the doorstep - I couldn’t take one more step. </li></ul><ul><li>I can’t remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride, </li></ul><ul><li>But something touched me deep inside, the day the music died. </li></ul><ul><li>The song “American Pie” was released 13 years after the death of Buddy Holly. </li></ul><ul><li>Rock and roll’s main purpose during Buddy Holly’s era was to accompany dancing at social events, and McLean has (reportedly) cited this as his inspiration for becoming a musician. </li></ul><ul><li>The date of Buddy Holly’s death was 3 February, 1959. The “paper” refers to the job McLean had as a paperboy. </li></ul><ul><li>Buddy Holly had been married on 15 August, 1958, just a little over six months before his death. His wife was pregnant, but later miscarried. </li></ul><ul><li>3 February was deemed “the Day the Music Died” because two other musicians, Richie Valens and the “Big Bopper,” were also killed in the crash. </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>So bye bye, Miss American Pie, </li></ul><ul><li>Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry. </li></ul><ul><li>Them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye, singing, </li></ul><ul><li>“ This’ll be the day that I die.” </li></ul><ul><li>Different theories state that “Miss American Pie” was used for different purposes. One says that Don McLean was dating a candidate for the Miss America pageant when Buddy Holly died, and another says that “American Pie” was the name of the plane that crashed. Both theories have, essentially, been disproved. </li></ul><ul><li>Possibly a reference to three students attempting to register black voters who were murdered and buried in a levee in Mississippi. The levee being dry could also be a nod to the talent lost on the Day the Music Died; with that talent taken from the “levee,” it was left “dry.” </li></ul><ul><li>The “good old boys” could be Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper. </li></ul><ul><li>Buddy Holly and the Crickets had a hit with the song “That’ll be the Day,” which contained the line “That’ll be the day when I die” in its chorus. </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>Did you write the book of love? </li></ul><ul><li>And do you believe in God above, if the Bible tells you so? </li></ul><ul><li>Now do you believe in rock and roll? </li></ul><ul><li>Can music save your mortal soul, and can you teach me how to dance real slow? </li></ul><ul><li>Well, I know that you’re in love with him, cause I saw you dancing in the gym. You both kicked off your shoes, </li></ul><ul><li>Man, I dig those rhythm and blues! </li></ul><ul><li>I was a lonely, teenage broncin’ buck, with a pink carnation and a pickup truck, </li></ul><ul><li>But I knew I was out of luck, the Day the Music Died. (refrain) </li></ul><ul><li>In 1958, the Monotones had a hit entitled “The Book of Love” that included the lyrics “Oh I wonder who wrote the book of love?” </li></ul><ul><li>Don Cornell released a song entitled “The Bible Tells Me So” in 1955, or this could be a reference to the classic Bible school children’s song “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” </li></ul><ul><li>In the hit by the Lovin’ Spoonful, “Do you Believe in Magic?” they sing “do you believe in magic” and “it’s like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll.” </li></ul><ul><li>In the late 1950’s, before the onset of the idea of “free love,” slow dancing was an intergral part of teenage relationships. </li></ul><ul><li>A reference to sock hops. Schools held dances in the gymnasiums, which had floors that would be ruined by street shoes, so teenagers would dance in their socks. </li></ul><ul><li>Rhythm and blues was a predecessor of rock and roll. Many rhythm and blues songs, performed by black artists, were covered by white rock and roll artists. </li></ul><ul><li>In 1957, Marty Robbins had the hit “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation.” Pickup trucks were considered a sign or symbol of the independence of young men, as well as a sexual symbol of “potency.” </li></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>Now for ten years, we’ve been on our own </li></ul><ul><li>And moss grows fat on a rolling stone, but that’s not how it used to be, </li></ul><ul><li>When the jester sang for the king and queen, </li></ul><ul><li>In a coat he borrowed from James Dean, </li></ul><ul><li>In a voice that came from you and me. </li></ul><ul><li>Oh, and while the king was looking down, the jester stole his thorny crown </li></ul><ul><li>The court room was adjourned - no verdict was returned. </li></ul><ul><li>And while Lennon/Lenin read a book on Marx </li></ul><ul><li>The quartet practiced in the park </li></ul><ul><li>And we sang dirges in the dark, the Day the Music Died. (refrain) </li></ul><ul><li>The song was written roughly ten years after most of the events mentioned. </li></ul><ul><li>The “rolling stone” might be Bob Dylan, referencing his song “Like a Rolling Stone,” or could be the Rolling Stones, who most musicians considered “sell outs.” The Buddy Holly song “Early in the Morning” had a similar line. </li></ul><ul><li>The “jester” is definitely Bob Dylan, and the “king and queen” could be either Elvis Presley and Connie Francis or Little Richard, or the Kennedys. </li></ul><ul><li>On the cover of his album Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan , Dylan appears in a coat similar to the one James Dean wore in the film Rebel Without a Cause. </li></ul><ul><li>A reference to Woody Guthrie’s song “This Land is Your Land,” which contains the lyrics “this land was made for you and me.” </li></ul><ul><li>This is most likely referring to the rise of Bob Dylan and his movement and the fall of Elvis and rock and roll, but has also been interpreted as referencing John Lennon’s quote about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus. </li></ul><ul><li>This reference could tie in to an earlier reference to the Kennedys - John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was killed before a verdict in his trial, so “no verdict was returned.” </li></ul><ul><li>The interpretation of this line depends on whether it is “Lennon” or “Lenin” - the Beatle or the Communist leader. It could reference Lenin’s introduction to Marxist theory, or it could reference the introduction of politics to the music of the Beatles. </li></ul><ul><li>“ The quartet” could be the Beatles, but might reference the Weavers, a musical group blacklisted during the McCarthy era. </li></ul><ul><li>Dirges are funeral songs referring to the funeral for the three dead musicians. </li></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>Helter skelter in a summer swelter </li></ul><ul><li>The birds/Byrds flew off without a fallout shelter - Eight miles high and falling fast </li></ul><ul><li>It landed foul on the grass </li></ul><ul><li>The players tried for a forward pass, with the jester on the sidelines, in a cast. </li></ul><ul><li>Well the halftime air was sweet perfume, </li></ul><ul><li>While the sergeants played a marching tune </li></ul><ul><li>We all got up to dance, oh, but we never got the chance </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Cause the players tried to take the field, but the marching band refused to yield. </li></ul><ul><li>Do you recall what was revealed, the Day the Music Died? (refrain) </li></ul><ul><li>“ Helter Skelter” is a song by the Beatles on the White Album , which cult leader Charles Manson cited as his inspiration for the Tate-LaBianca murders, which occurred in August, 1969. </li></ul><ul><li>The Byrds, a rock group, had a song called “Eight Miles High” on their album The Fifth Dimension . Fallout shelters were sometimes referred to as the “fifth dimension” in the 1950’s. The line might also mimic a line out of the song “Helter Skelter” which goes “I’m coming down fast, but I’m miles above you.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Grass” is a drug reference; one of the members of the Byrds was arrested for marijuana possession. </li></ul><ul><li>After being injured in a motorcycle accident, Bob Dylan went into seclusion for 9 months, giving other musicians a better chance at recognition or a “forward pass.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Sweet perfume” is another drug reference or possibly referring to students at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National convention who were sprayed with tear gas. </li></ul><ul><li>“ The sergeants” could either be the Beatles, who released the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or the sergeants of the IL Police and National Guard who marched protestors away from the convention. The “marching tune” may also refer to the military draft. </li></ul><ul><li>Not getting the chance to “dance” may refer to protestors being broken up, or may refer to a 1966 Beatles Candlestick park show which lasted only 35 minutes. </li></ul><ul><li>This line could refer to the aforementioned DNC, or might refer to the protests at Kent State, the prominence of experimental rock over traditional rock and roll, or, again, the protests over the drafting of soldiers. </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>And there we were all, in one place </li></ul><ul><li>A generation, lost in space, </li></ul><ul><li>With no time left to start again. </li></ul><ul><li>So, come on, Jack, be nimble, Jack, be quick </li></ul><ul><li>Jack Flash sat on a candlestick </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Cause fire is the devil’s only friend. </li></ul><ul><li>And as I watched him on the stage, my hands were clenched in fists of rage - no angel born in Hell could break that Satan’s spell. </li></ul><ul><li>And as the flames climbed high into the night to light the sacrificial rite, I saw Satan laughing with delight, </li></ul><ul><li>The Day the Music Died. (refrain) </li></ul><ul><li>The “one place” is the 1969 Woodstock music festival, where large numbers of “hippies” gathered for three days of concerts. </li></ul><ul><li>The literal reference is to the lunar landing, which happened in 1969, but the term “lost in space” was also slang for someone on drugs. </li></ul><ul><li>This line is rather vague, but may be a slightly sarcastic nod to how much time this generation spent under the influence of drugs. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Jack” is a reference to the Rolling Stones song “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and Mick Jagger, as confirmed by the following line. </li></ul><ul><li>Continued from the previous reference of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” but could also be a nod to heroin use - “Jack Flash” was slang for heroin. </li></ul><ul><li>This line could either continue the previous Rolling Stones theme, referring to the song “Sympathy for the Devil,” or could be referring to the Grateful Dead’s song “Fried of the Devil.” </li></ul><ul><li>The “Angels born in Hell” refer to the Hell’s Angels, whom the Rolling Stones hired for security at their concert at the Altamont Speedway. During this show, an audience member was beaten to death by the Angels, an incident that many connected with the song “Sympathy for the Devil.” </li></ul><ul><li>This, again, could be a continuation of the reference to Meredith Hunter, the audience member, as a “sacrifice” of the Altamont Speedway concert and Mick Jagger, “Satan,” or could refer to the Monterey Pop Festival in which Jimi Hendrix lit his Stratocaster guitar on fire during his performance, and beckoned the flames upward. </li></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>I met a girl who sang the blues, </li></ul><ul><li>And I asked her for some happy news, but she just smiled and turned away. </li></ul><ul><li>I went down to the sacred store, where I’d heard the music years before, </li></ul><ul><li>But the man there said the music wouldn’t play. </li></ul><ul><li>And in the streets, the children screamed, the lovers cried and the poets dreamed. </li></ul><ul><li>But not a word was spoken - the church bells all were broken. </li></ul><ul><li>And the three men I admire most - the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost - </li></ul><ul><li>They caught the last train for the coast, </li></ul><ul><li>The Day the Music Died. (final refrain) </li></ul><ul><li>The girl is Janis Joplin. </li></ul><ul><li>The reason Joplin can give no happy news is because of her death due to a heroin overdose. </li></ul><ul><li>The “sacred store” could be either one of the most famous rock and roll venues, Bill Graham’s Fillmore West, or could refer to any record store, if McLean’s view of music is religious, which would refer back to the line “Can music save your mortal soul?” </li></ul><ul><li>The music not playing is either McLean commenting on the popularity decline of classic rock and roll, like Buddy Holly’s, or on the removal of listening booths from record stores, in which customers could preview records before buying them. </li></ul><ul><li>The “children” could either be the “flower children” beaten by police in the Berkley People’s Park riots, or the children of the photos of the Vietnam War, as published by Life Magazine. The “dreaming poet” could be John Lennon, whose song “Imagine” was released just before American Pie. </li></ul><ul><li>This could be a continuation of the religious metaphor for music, or again refer to Buddy Holly’s death - he, like a broken church bell, can no longer play. </li></ul><ul><li>These could again be the three dead on February 3, another extension of the religious metaphor, or refer to MLK, JFK and Bobby Kennedy. </li></ul><ul><li>This metaphor could just be a metaphor continued from above, or could refer to the headline that ran in the New York Times - “God is Dead” - which provides basis for a death metaphor. </li></ul>
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