It was 41 years ago today (January 15th, 1972) that Don McLean's "American Pie" topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the first week of it's four week run. The song is the origin of the term "the day the music died," about the February 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, but that's only a small part of what it's about.
McLean was a huge Holly fan growing up, and he was deeply moved by Holly's death, but says that it's merely the starting off point of what "American Pie" is about: "The fact that Buddy Holly seems to be the primary thing that people talk about when they talk about 'American Pie' is, is kind of sad. It's only the beginning is about Buddy Holly, and the rest of it goes on and talks about America and politics and the country, and trying to catch some kind of a special feeling that I had about my country, especially in 1970 and '71, when it was very turbulent."
Although Buddy Holly only plays a small role in the song's story, McLean is still proud that "American Pie" had a lot to do with the latter-day interest in Holly and his music: "The event became an enormous thing, if I may say so, with all due respect to myself, because of the song 'American Pie.' If you talk to (author) John Goldrosen, who wrote the book about Buddy Holly, nobody was interested in him -- no one wanted the book that he wrote, which ended up being able to be published because of my song. If you talk to (Holly's wife) Maria Elena, they will tell you that Buddy got more publicity after I wrote my song than he'd ever gotten in his life. So, that's just the way it was. I know it sounds self-serving, but if you check it out, you will find that out, and that started the whole thing going."
McLean's followup single "Vincent" was a tribute to another of his favorite artists, painter Vincent Van Gogh. "Vincent" and its B-side "Castles In The Air" peaked at Number 12 in 1972.
In March, a career-spanning documentary on McClean, called American Troubadour, will premiere on PBS.
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