I’ve always loved listening to music 🎧 and ever since I was a teenager have collected LP’s,Compact Discs and originally cassettes on a whim some I’ve played to death others I’ve only played tracks others I’ve probably never played. American Pie is probably one of those in the latter category. It has therefore been in cold storage (rather apt considering its -5°c outside) until today when I watched Don McCleans American Pie classic album programme on BBC iPlayer this morning.
American Pie is McLean’s second album; his first, Tapestry, having been released to only moderate commercial success and acclaim in 1970. McLean was a protégé of Pete Seeger, having played with him in the 1960s. The album American Pie was intended as a unified work, as McLean has said that he was influenced by the Beatles’Sgt Pepper album and envisioned American Pie to be a similar album. Believing that an artist’s work should stand by itself, McLean generally did not offer explanations for his work’s themes or meaning,though he did describe the title song as involving “a sense of loss”. The album was dedicated to Buddy Holly, a childhood icon of McLean’s, and was released in 1971 on the heels of the ’60s, the defining decade of McLean’s generation. It has a melancholy feel and rather sparse arrangements.
1 American Pie 8:33
2 Till Tomorrow 2:14
3 Vincent 3:59
4 Crossroads 3:38
5 Winterwood 3:10
6 Empty Chairs 3:25
7 Everybody Loves Me, Baby 3:34
8 Sister Fatima 2:33
9 The Grave 3:12
10 Babylon 1:42
The album was recorded in Studio A at The Record Plant on West 44th street in New York City. The producer, Ed Freeman, decided to use accomplished musicians who were not “studio musicians who could act like a metronome” because he wanted to capture the feel of a “band that was really cooking,” so he rented a rehearsal studio and they rehearsed the title song for two weeks before they recorded it. Because McLean rarely phrased his singing the same way twice there were as many as 24 takes for some of the voice parts, but the rhythm tracks are mostly one take.
The title track contains references to the death of Buddy Holly (McLean being a 13-year-old paper-boy at the time).The phrase “The Day the Music Died” was used by McLean on this song, and has now become an unofficial name for the tragedy.It is not a nostalgia song. “American Pie” changes as America, itself, is changing. For McLean, the transition from the light innocence of childhood to the dark realities of adulthood began with the deaths of his father and Buddy Holly and culminated with the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, which was the start of a more difficult time for America.
The original United Artists Records inner sleeve featured a free verse poem written by McLean about William Boyd, also known as Hopalong Cassidy, along with a picture of Boyd in full Hopalong regalia. This sleeve was removed within a year of the album’s release. The words to this poem appear on a plaque at the hospital where Boyd died. The Boyd poem and picture tribute do appear on a special remastered 2003 CD.
The album reached number 1 within two weeks of release and was certified gold within six months, spending almost a year on the Billboard Album Charts. Its appeal cut across genres, in what was becoming a fragmented music scene.
This post is dedicated to EJ