Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

A Song For This Day (and year): American Pie

Another year over and upon us, and like I’ve done before (alright, it’s a habit), highlighting a song that just felt right at this point in time. Let’s be honest, the year that just finished was one a number of us expected to be much less turbulent than the previous, but given our political climate, was only a tad less so. Thus, went back fifty years to another tempestuous decade to select a tune to christen 2022 with. American Pie, the first hit by the American singer-songwriter, Don McLean.

“Uh uh. I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?”” 1 . Well, given the period this tune sprang from, shouldn’t be a surprise time couldn’t hold it in place. Besides, it was one of the most popular songs that year. As Allmusic writer Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted a short while ago…

Don McLean released his debut album, Tapestry, at the dawn of the 1970s when the hangover haze of the 1960s still lingered strongly in the air. McLean specialized in that netherworld between ’60s coffeehouse folk and ’70s introspection, navigating the distance between confessional singer/songwriter and MOR pop. He’d never abandon this aesthetic, crafting a handsome, modest body of work over the course of nearly five decades, but he’d always be known for “American Pie,” his fluke 1971 chart-topper. A long, winding elegy for rock & roll, “American Pie” spent four weeks on the Billboard charts but that smash success was eclipsed by its enduring afterlife in the culture, where it served as the fodder for nostalgia and parodies for decades, eventually earning entry into the National Recording Registry in 2017″

Needless to say, I’ve highlighted another of his works on ‘ye olde blog before, but this Don McLean2 tune in particular has reverberated since its debut. Released a month into my senior year of the cauldron known as high school3, it would top the charts late in ’71 and hold on to that perch into the cold January of 1972 as it chronicled, “The day the music died”. For the elders that knew better, and the youth unaware of those the artist sung about.

It’s held a place in my music library in various forms through the decades from that time forward. Vinyl 45 and LP, then replaced by its CD equivalent in the ’80s4, with an eventual rip to digital file. Followed by a later download when a certain hard drive of mine failed. Only to be recaptured yet again when that lost LP was reclaimed from a record store. Subsequent to the later return of a turntable into my life many miles down the road, of course. Who knew.

No wonder my beautiful bride of more than thirty years says I have the nostalgia gene among my chromosomes (and have passed that along to our daughter, to her everlasting chagrin).

Still, as Alan Chrisman noted on his site back in 2015:

“This day has been dubbed “the day the music died” because on this day, three top 50’s rock ‘n’ roll acts, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” died in a plane crash  after a show near Clear Lake, Iowa.”

The subject has been set down and written about in numerous articles, broadcasts, and held up to various anniversaries across digital and analog platforms from 1959 to today. Yet, the song’s impact has yet to be surpassed, as it musically relates the artist’s shock to his 13-year-old self when he learned of it. And thankfully, later put to lyrics. Continuously relived for some of us, then and now, as we all tick off the old with the new on life’s odometer.

And as always, and hopefully I say, Happy New Year.

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while

But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

So bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
Singin' "This'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die"

Did you write the book of love, and do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?
Now do you believe in rock and roll, can music save your mortal soul
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

Well, I know that you're in love with him
'Cause I saw you dancin' in the gym
You both kicked off your shoes
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues

I was a lonely teenage broncin' buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died

I started singin' bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
And singin' "This'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die"

Now for ten years we've been on our own, and moss grows fat on a rollin' stone
But that's not how it used to be
When the jester sang for the king and queen in a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me

Oh, and while the king was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned

And while Lenin read a book on Marx
A quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died

We were singin' bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
Singin' "This'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die"

Helter skelter in a summer swelter, the birds flew off with a fallout shelter
Eight miles high and falling fast
It landed foul on the grass, the players tried for a forward pass
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast

Now the halftime air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance

'Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?

We started singin' bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
And singin' "This'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die"

Oh, and there we were all in one place, a generation lost in space
With no time left to start again
So come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
'Cause fire is the devil's only friend

Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan's spell

And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died

I started singin' it
Singin' bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
And singin' "This'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die"

I met a girl who sang the blues, and I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store where I'd heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn't play

And in the streets, the children screamed
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken

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

And they were singin' bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
Singin' "This'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die"

They were singin' bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
And singin' This'll be the day that I die"

  1. Harry Callahan, Dirty Harry (1971), which like American Pie also debuted in 1971 but hit emotional and societal resonance in 1972. 
  2. “McLean received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on August 16, 2021″, per Wikipedia. 
  3. The same year I broke my jaw in a car accident to finish my junior term at this educational institution; never had been so happy to finish a year in that brief point in my life. 
  4. When I’d stupidly disposed of my vinyl for the promise of digital perfection. Live and learn, as I had to later reconstitute it all. 

5 Responses to “A Song For This Day (and year): American Pie”

  1. Arlee Bird

    Despite some of the flack it now gets in some quarters, I still think this is a pretty great song. Definitely a classic.

    Have a great 2022 if the forces beyond our control allow us to.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. johnrieber

    This is a terrific post! What an iconic song – an d I loved that Roberta Hathaway wrote “Killing Me Softly With His Song” after she saw McLean perform his hit “Vincent”!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Arlee Bird Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: