Writer: Don McLean
Producer: Ed Freeman
Recorded: May 26th, 1971, in New York City
Released: October 13th, 1971
|Album:||American Pie (United Artists, 1971)|
Don McLean was born October 2nd, 1945, in New Rochelle, New York. He kicked around as a folk singer for a number of years before writing and recording “American Pie.”
An fan of early rock-and-roll and Buddy Holly, McLean learned about the fatal February 3rd, 1959, crash that killed Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson when he picked up the newspapers to deliver on his route that day — an image he preserved in the opening verse of “American Pie.”
McLean’s first album, Tapestry, stiffed in 1970, and he began writing “American Pie” in preparation for his second album.
While he was recording, however, his label Mediarts looked like it was going to fold. Fortunately, United Artists (UA) bought the company and went ahead with the release of McLean’s American Pie album.
At eight-and-a-half minutes long, “American Pie” was considered too long to be a single. UA released an edited version of the song, which began to generate radio play.
That drew listeners to the American Pie album, and after hearing the full-length version of the song, they began to call radio stations to request it.
That prompted UA to issue a second single, with the song split into two parts, one on each side of the single.
Though the song has long been associated with the Holly crash — it coined the term “the day the music died” — that was only the starting point for a lengthy parable about American society and popular culture that included references to other performers such as Elvis Presley (“the king”), Bob Dylan (“the jester”), and Janis Joplin (“a girl who sang the blues”).
McLean told LAUNCH that he’s at peace with the song’s association with the Holly tragedy: “The fact that Buddy Holly seems to be the primary thing that people talk about when they talk about ‘American Pie’ is kind of sad, but fine with me. But it is about much more than that. Only the beginning’s about Buddy Holly, and the rest of it goes on and talks about America and politics and the country, and trying to catch the special feeling that I had about my country, especially in 1970 and ’71, when it was very turbulent.”
Dylan biographer Anthony Scadutto said Dylan refused to listen to the song and its reference to him at first, but when no one was around, Dylan gave it a spin.
The American Pie album spent seven weeks at Number One on the Billboard 200, earning a gold record in the process.