On our recent trip to Connecticut, we listened to Don McLean's classic album American Pie, which first appeared in 1971 and quickly topped the American pop charts. The title song of the same name is the longest popular song ever to reach number 1 at 8 minutes and 33 seconds, too long for a single 45 and forcing the listener to flip the disc. You remember 45's, right? Must have been a whole lotta flipping back in '71. The lyrics have been rehashed, interpreted, and driven into the ground since the song came out. Even Madonna recently sang it, not doing it any good at all. "American Pie" remains one of the most unique songs in popular music history, and that includes songs by Gershwin, Porter, and Sondheim. It evokes the glory and sadness of an era saddened by "the day the music died."
Although "American Pie" is one of the seminal and most important songs in pop history, the album itself is also worthy of great praise. Its second brilliant song, also a hit, is "Vincent" or "Starry, Starry Night," an intelligent and heartfelt tribute to Van Gogh. McLean describes the artist's dilemma of creativity and continued lack of success. With vivid images that evoke several of Van Gogh's famous canvasses, he subtly compares his own striving for creativity and success. McLean's gently soothing guitar provides a loving background for his highly original lyrics. He...."suffered for his sanity,...and took his life as lovers often do."
The album also features other wonderful originals by McLean including a hilarious rock parody about rock idol fame called "Everybody Loves Me, Baby." All of the songs are McLean originals except the closing the traditional and haunting "By the Waters of Babylon." All in all, McLean's greatest achievements are his probing intelligence, his poetic expertise, and his beautiful melodic expression. Just listen.