American Pie by Don McLean

What is American Pie by Don McLean?

American Pie Song MeaningIn 1971 the musical world was introduced to the American Pie written and performed by Don McLean. American Pie, to many, is seen as a rambling ride through the mind of McLean but in reality it is about death. Not just death of a musician but death of a whole genre of song. While Rock ‘n Roll hasn’t died the type of Rock ‘n Roll he’s talking about really did.

The introduction to the song (by many considered to be the first verse) we get a glimpse of what McLean means. “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.”

On February 3, 1959, over a decade before American Pie was released, The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, and Richie Valens were killed in a plane crash. Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper were some of the biggest names in Rock in the 50’s. Holly’s wife was pregnant at the time of his death and she ended up miscarrying. That date, February 3, 1959, has often been referred to as the day the music died. With the ushering in of the 60’s Rock ‘n Roll the style and meaning behind music was changed forever. McLean idolized these mean and wanted to be just like them, a musician that made people happy.

The song then goes on to referencing how music was during the time of the 50’s. Sock hops and dancing were considered serious things. You didn’t just dance with anyone like today, if you were dancing with someone that actually meant something. This can be found in the next verse “Now I know you’re in love with him,’ cause I saw you dancing in the gym, you both kicked off your shoes.” The phrase “kick off your shoes” was a direct reference to the sock hop of the 50’s. After which he tells the listener how depressed he is and he knows that the music of that era is gone because once those men died there was a whole new revolution in 60’s music.

He goes on to show how the music scene has changed since his hero’s passed. He likely started writing the song in the late 60’s which is referenced with the line “Now for ten years we’ve been on our own.” He then references how some of the musicians changed during the 60’s. Bob Dylan wrote “like a Rolling Stone” which was his first departure from the folk style music which obviously McLean didn’t really care for.

American Pie shows how the music that McLean knew and loved died. The 60’s were a time of turmoil and revolution for not just the country but the music industry as well. With many of the key players in original Rock ‘n Roll gone that era of music died when their plane crashed.