49 Years ago, Don McLean recorded his epic rock song American Pie. The album version was 8 minutes and 38 seconds long, but cut down significantly for the 45 version. It stayed at number one on the US charts for 4 weeks in 1972.
Packed with a long list of rock and roll references, the song has long been considered McClean's history of rock and roll from it's early days to the time the song was recorded. In past interviews, McClean has defined the song's meaning as what he felt was the dissolution of the "American Dream". What follows is some personal thoughts and referenced insight into the lyrics of American Pie, mostly from the website, http://www.missamericanpie.co.uk/pie.pdf, and Don McClean himself.
The song opens with the McClea recalling the joy his favorite music used to bring him, but launches quickly into dark territory referencing the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, in February 1959. Holly, Valens and the Bopper are also believed by many to be referenced in the closing segment of the song, "... 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." Other online sources indicate that John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy could also represent the three men admired most, as their deaths signaled the end of what many believed to be the start of a more hopeful future for the United States.
Numerous rock icons seemed to be referenced as well, including Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley, in the lyrics "... Oh, and while the king was looking down, the jester stole his thorny crown", to the Byrds, "... The birds flew off with a fallout shelter, Eight miles high and falling fast ", the Beatles, "While the Sergeants played a marching tune.." and Janis Joplin " I met a girl who sang the blues, And I asked her for some happy news, but she just smiled and turned away."
Unfortunately, Don McClean has never specifically revealed what he was trying to reference in the song's lyrics. When asked in an interview what American Pie meant, McClean sarcastically replied that it meant he would never have to work again.
As with any creative work, whether it's song lyrics, novels, or visual works, the person consuming it is going to come to their own conclusions regarding meanings, hidden or actual. But I have vivid memories from my college days, having the song broken down for me by a good friend. Many of his explanations fall in line with the research I did for this blog.
What is your favorite lyric from American Pie, and what or who do you feel it is referencing ? Let me know... it's always fun to see what other people have heard when it comes to subjects like this.