Thought of the Day 10.2.12 Don McLean

American Pie (album)

Donald McLean was born on this day in New Rochelle, NY in 1945. He is 67 years old.

McLean had severe asthma as a child and missed a lot of school. He loved to sit and listen to his father’s large record collection while at home. Consequently his studies didn’t progress very quickly, but his love of music grew. As a teen he bought a guitar and took opera lessons. He worked on his breathing and got a handle on his asthma.

McLean with his parents. (Image courtesy: Don McLean Online]

When McLean was 15 he lost his father. It was his father’s death along with President Kennedy’s assassination and death of Buddy Holly that formed the catalyst for his most famous  song, American Pie.

As a teen he began to work his way up through the music industry. McLean thought of himself as an American folk Troubadour, and he resisted efforts to be molded into other musical styles. He briefly attended Villanova University in 1963, where he met fellow songwriter Jim Croce, before dropping out to pursue music full-time. He worked the club, cafe, and college circuit appearing along with folk headliners like Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Janis Ian. McLean continued his education at night at Iona College.

McLean was offered a scholarship to attend Columbia for grad school, but he opted for a resident gig at Caffe Lena in NYC. Photo by Joseph Deuel. [Image courtesy: Don McLean Online.]

He worked with Pete Seeger in the group Sloop Clearwater, then put out his first solo album Tapestry. (1969). The album did well, but didn’t sky-rocket him to success. Singles include Castles in the Air and And I Love You So.

[Image courtesy:]

Here’s Castles in the Air [Besides Don’s smooth voice and great guitar playing, just listen and look as that bass player walks the bass line up and down the fret board,  I’m impressed.]

His second album, American Pie, was recorded in May of 1972.  The title song became a folk/rock anthem (and was voted the #5 Song of the Century by Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.) McLean was really a paper boy when he found out about the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, so the song

:.. is partly biographical and partly the story of America during the idealized 1950s and the bleaker 1960s… “American Pie” presents an abstract story of McLean’s life from the mid-1950s until the end of the 1960s, and at the same time it represents the evolution of popular music and politics over these years… metaphorically the song continues to evolve to the present time…” [Don McLean Online]

[For all the lyrics scroll down to the bottom of this post.]

For Vincent, the second single on American Pie, McLean was inspired by  a book he was reading about Vincent Van Gough.

Other McLean hits include:

  •  Crying, his cover the Roy Orbison song.
  • Wonderful Baby which was not only influenced by Fred Astaire, but was also recorded by Astaire.
  • Till Tomorrow 
  • Babylon
  • He’s Got You, a cover the Patsy Cline standard

McLean has 24 albums to his credit and he continues to tour internationally (and have a great time on stage.) He’s in the UK this month.

Don McLean at Town Hall, NYC

Don McLean at Town Hall, NYC (Photo credit: ShellyS)

American Pie

Verse 1
A long long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died


So, bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my chevy to the levee
But the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

Verse 2
Did you write the Book of Love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so
Do you believe in rock n’ roll
Can music save your mortal soul
And can you teach me how to dance real slow
Well, I know that you’re in love with him
‘Cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym
You both kicked off your shoes
Man, I dig those rhythm & blues
I was a lonely, teenage broncin’ buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died
I started singin’


Verse 3 
Now for ten years we’ve been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone
But that’s not how it used to be
When the Jester sang for the King and Queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
In a voice that came from you and me
Oh, and while the King was looking down
The Jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned
And while Lenin read a book on Marx
The quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died
We were singin’


Verse 4 

Helter Skelter in a summer swelter
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter
Eight miles high and falling fast
It landed foul on the grass
The players tried for a forward pass
With the Jester on the sidelines in a cast
Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While the Sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh but we never got the chance
‘Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died
We started singing


Verse 5 
Oh, and there we were, all in one place
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again
So come on, Jack, be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
‘Cause fire is the devils only friend
Oh, 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
And as flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died
He was singing


Verse 6
I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

And in the streets the children screamed
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken
And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
And they were singin’


Bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my chevy to the levy
But the levy was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singing this’ll be the day that I die

They were singin’
Bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my chevy to the levy
But the levy was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singing this’ll be the day that I die


About ritalovestowrite

Freelance writer, graphic designer, musician, foodie and Jane Austen enthusiast in Northern Baltimore County, Maryland. As a writer I enjoy both fiction and non fiction (food, travel and local interest stories.) As an advocate for the ARTS, one of my biggest passions is helping young people find a voice in all the performing arts. To that end it has been my honor to give one-on-one lessons to elementary, middle and high school students in graphic design and music. And as JANE-O I currently serve as the regional coordinator for JASNA Maryland and am working on a Regency/Federal cooking project. View all posts by ritalovestowrite

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