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Don McLean wrote his classic 1971 song “American Pie” when he was just 24 – and half a century later he’s still serving it scorching on stage.
“It’s a fertile tree,” the singer-songwriter told Fox News Digital of the track’s enduring success. “I mean, it gives and it’s been 50 years. I just say that like I didn’t write it. But if I were to look at it, I’d say it’s a monument of sorts.”
The 76-year-old shared that he originally wanted to write a song about America. However, rather than being a love letter to our country, it became more of a farewell to the American dream, a loss of innocence in our nation. It refers to the “day the music died” or the 1959 plane crash that killed Ritchie Valens, JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Buddy Holly, McLean’s childhood idol.
For decades, the song was heavily interpreted by fans and music critics. Many have insisted that the song explores the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Manson family murders, the sudden death of James Dean, the decline of Elvis Presley, and even the Vietnam War – to name a few.
Some wondered if he was also referring to Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, the Beatles or even hallucinogenic drugs. Someone, everyone has their own unique take.
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The man behind the lyrics continued to remain coy about the meaning of the track, insisting that he is open to interpretation. However, his initial inspiration is clear.
“What songs were about America at the time? ‘This Land is Your Land’, ‘America the Beautiful’, ‘Power and the Glory’, ‘This Is My Country’ – I didn’t want any of that,” McLean explained. “I didn’t want a simplistic Valentine in the country. I wanted to take a strange trip, an American trip, which would be music and political opinions together, in the future, [that] somehow insinuate America’s madness and America’s danger and America’s opportunity – all of it. [It’s] a great thing to do.”
“…When you have something like that, and you are who I am, you carry a complex idea around you,” he shared. “You think, ‘Where is the vehicle that I can use to do this?’ And the idea of Buddy Holly’s plane crash came to me all of a sudden. The whole first part of the song, the slow part of the song, came to me all of a sudden. And a time it came to me, I said, “I think I have a way to do it. And that’s how it happened.”
The iconic anthem was named one of the five best songs of the century by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America. The original recording has been selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant”. The song is also the subject of an upcoming documentary.
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Most recently, the song inspired a children’s book released on June 7 called “Don McLean’s American Pie: A Fable.” It tells the story of a newspaper boy in the late 1950s who discovers the joys of music.
“It’s my hope that… [it] will be a book they will really enjoy reading,” McLean said. “That it will be a book that will help them realize their own ideas about what they might want to do with their own lives. Maybe…their moms will buy the ‘American Pie’ album, and they can hear the song on the record, and then the song will go with the book.”
McLean said there was already another book in the works that would be inspired by another of his tracks, “Vincent,” the 1971 tribute to Vincent van Gogh. The book is due out sometime next year.
“It’s going to be about a little boy who’s an artist,” McLean said. “And we’re going to discuss some aspects of mental health in this book. There could be up to three more after this. There will be a series of these books, but the character, little Donny, will be in a certain number of them as he grows.”
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However, it is “American Pie” that continues to be revered by artists of various genres. The nearly nine-minute song has been covered by several performers, including Madonna. The singer’s version was released in 2000 to promote the soundtrack to her romantic comedy, “The Next Best Thing.” It was reported that BBC Radio 6 voted Material Girl’s take as the worst cover version of a song.
McLean poked fun at the critics and said he was “thrilled” when the 63-year-old recorded “American Pie.”
“She gave herself a whole new audience and a whole new life, really,” McLean explained. “And the video that she did, I think it’s probably one of the most famous that she’s ever done. And fame is her middle name. But it’s the real thing. She She’s not famous for being famous She’s really famous for a lot of really good And she gets a lot of abuse from the press Yet she doesn’t care She just keeps going from strength to strength the other.
It was reported that the initial impact of “American Pie” was so overwhelming that at one point McLean refused to perform the song live. But these days, he sings a completely different tune and is proud of his heritage.
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“I only write about things I’m going through or feeling,” he said. “And what keeps me going as a performer is singing – singing, performing and performing the song at a level that I’m passionate about…I’m not interested in doing it for the money. I just want to do it very well. And that’s one of the things that keeps me going. I love my guitars. I love playing them and I love working with them. And I love my band.”
As McLean reflects on his career, a completely different song comes to mind – 1970s ‘And I Love You So’. Elvis Presley recorded the track in 1975 for his ‘Today’ album. The singer made the song a part of his live gigs until his death in 1977 at age 42.
Presley is currently the subject of a biopic directed by Baz Lurhmann called “Elvis”, which stars Austin Butler as “the king of rock ‘n’ roll”. The film premieres on Friday.
“There’s a story about how Elvis wanted to do ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Dolly Parton, but his manager wanted half the publishing rights,” McLean explained. “Dolly, being the smart businesswoman that she is, said no. She didn’t regret it, but she was just sad that Elvis never did. Well, the same thing to me. has arrived…i [also] said, ‘No, thank you.’ But the difference is that Elvis went ahead and recorded the song anyway. That’s how much he loved that song.”
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“He sang that song every night from then on for every show he had,” McLean explained. “He sang it at his last gigs… So Dolly didn’t record his song and I did. There was a difference.”