Australian charts: 1972
BONUS CLIP BELOW: American Pie Explained
The repeatedly mentioned phrase “the day the music died” refers to the plane crash in 1959 that killed early rock and roll performers Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. (McLean’s description eventually became the popular name for the plane crash.) The meaning of the other lyrics has long been debated, and for decades, McLean declined to explain the symbolism behind the many characters and events mentioned; he eventually released his songwriting notes in 2015, explaining many of the symbols in the lyrics. The overall theme of the song is the loss of innocence of the early rock and roll generation as symbolized by the plane crash that claimed the lives of three of its heroes and various other events over the course of the 1960s.
The Washington Post:
“Basically in ‘American Pie,’ things are heading in the wrong direction,” he told Christie’s, as the Newcastle Herald reported. “It is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense.”
As ideals of the 1960s turned into the cynicism of the 1970s, this feeling was widespread enough to send the song to No. 1 in 1972.
There’s general agreement that the song is about the cultural and political decline of the US in the 1960s, a farewell to the American dream after the assassination of President Kennedy. “Bye bye Miss American Pie,” he sings. “Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry.” But McLean has always kept stumm about the allusions in his verses.
Every line of American Pie has been stripped bare. There are fan websites dedicated entirely to decoding it. Who was the jester who sang for the king and queen in a coat he borrowed from James Dean? What exactly was revealed the day the music died?
American Pie hit no 1 on the Go-Set National Top 40 in March 1972.
This song is also on our Spotify playlist.
BONUS CLIP – American Pie Explained: Don McLean’s cultural history of rock n’ roll
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