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"
- Harry Callahan, Dirty Harry (1971), which like American Pie also debuted in 1971 but hit emotional and societal resonance in 1972. ↩
- “McLean received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on August 16, 2021″, per Wikipedia. ↩
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩