223. Don Mclean - American Pie (1971)
1. American Pie
2. Till Tomorrow
3. Vincent (Starry Starry Night)
6. Empty Chairs
7. Everybody Loves Me Baby
8. Sister Fatima
If there is an overriding feeling in early 70's music coming out of the US, it is one of disappointment and lack of belief in the future. The 60's have failed, they were a great but failed experiment. The world hasn't changed, the hippies got suits and war raged on. Don Mclean is very much transmitting that here, and many of the albums reviewed here recently have done the same to some extent.
The title track of this album is one of the most famous pieces in music history, not just because it is a great song, that it is, but because it's a song about music with its obscure references to the Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Stones, The Byrds etc... It is a great track because it manages to be an enigma which is fun to crack, and to be a supremely catchy and sing-alongy tune.
The rest of the album stands firmly in the US folksy tradition, making it sound a bit derivative sometimes, Vincent is a bit whiny and depressive as well as slightly pretentious. There are other gems here though, Crossroads, Grave and particularly Babylon are amazing tracks. So do get it from Amazon UK or US.
1. American Pie
8/10 (just on the outside of 9)
The epic length and deeply personal nature of the song has made it largely resistant to cover versions; a few attempts have been made, however, first and most bizarrely by The Brady Bunch in 1972. Ska punk band Catch 22 made a reggae version of the song a staple of their live show and released several recordings of it; alternative rock band Killdozer recorded a thrashing, ironic version of the song in 1989. Additionally, several disco versions have appeared over the years.
Country singer Garth Brooks would also sing this song during concerts in the early to mid-1990s and, during Brooks "Live in Central Park" concert, he performed this song as a duet with McLean himself at the end of the concert. The audience of over 100,000 people were also invited to sing the chorus lines near the end of the song.
In 1999, parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic did a Star Wars-inspired lyrical adaptation of "American Pie" entitled "The Saga Begins" in which the lyrics recount the whole plot of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace through the eyes of Obi-Wan Kenobi. While McLean gave permission for the parody, he did not make a cameo appearance in its video, despite popular rumour. However, he has stated that at live shows he almost starts singing Yankovic's lyrics, due to his children playing the song so often.
A parody band known as ApologetiX wrote Parable Guy, a parody based on the parables of Jesus.
Recently, the Harry Potter website Mugglenet featured a parody of American Pie in their editorial "The U-Bend". Half-Blood Pie is a summary of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and can be heard here.
Singer Lori Lieberman attended a McLean concert; in describing the experience to songwriters Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, she said he'd "killed her softly." Gimbel and Fox wrote Killing Me Softly about Lieberman's experience, and the song became a huge hit for Roberta Flack, and many years later for the Fugees. This created a unique Grammy situation: in 1973, Flack won Record of the Year, beating out American Pie, a song by McLean; in 1974, she won the same award for a song about McLean. Flack and McLean have performed Killing Me Softly together in concert at least once.
Almost any song parody site is rife with Pie-rodies; it's often the most parodied song on the site. A particularly clever one claims that the song is actually about Bill Gates, supposedly a Harvard classmate of McLean's. This is fiction, although a little-known fact is that while McLean was a freshman at Villanova University, a senior befriended him and urged him to pursue his musical dreams. The senior's name was Jim Croce.
On the Web parody site, Am I Right, the American Pie is considered as one of the most difficult songs to parodize, and successfully spoofing the song is a hallmark of a skilled parodist.