Vincent (Starry Starry Night)

McLean wrote “Vincent,” also known as “Starry, Starry Night,” in the fall of 1970, while he was working for the Berkshire School District. He was living in the Sedgwick House, a beautiful Federal style house in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Sedgwick family included Edie Sedgwick, a colorful figure whom Andy Warhol had filmed in the 1960s. McLean wrote “Vincent” in his apartment full of antiques. The inspiration came to him one morning while he was sitting on the veranda looking at a book about Vincent Van Gogh. As he studied a print of Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night,” he realized that a song could be written about the artist through the painting.

“The more I thought about it, the more interesting and challenging the idea became. I put down the book and picked up my guitar, which was never far away, and started fiddling around, trying to get a handle on this idea, while the print of “Starry Night” stared up at me. Looking at the picture, I realized that the essence of the artist’s life is his art. And so, I let the painting write the song for me. Everyone is familiar with that painting.”
Van Gogh painted “Starry Night” during one of the most difficult periods of his life, while he was locked up in an asylum at Saint Remy. He had to paint the scene from memory, not outdoors as he preferred. Van Gogh mentioned “Starry Night” only twice in his letters to his brother, Theo. It is therefore one of the more mysterious and intriguing Van Gogh compositions.

The tremendous increase in value of Van Gogh’s works during the Seventies and Eighties may not have been caused by McLean’s song, but “Vincent” has become a permanent part of the Van Gogh legend.

Vincent was a bigger international hit than American Pie. In 1972, it reached number 1 in the UK and number 12 in the USA.

In recent years, the song has become even more well known thanks in part to Josh Groban’s successful version and to the song being sung by contestants on high profile shows such as American Idol and as a tribute to football legend George Best (making the UK top 3 in the process).

According to the movie “Tupac, the Resurrection,” Tupac Shakur was influenced by Don McLean, and his favorite song was “Vincent.” “Vincent”, along with “American Pie,” “And I Love You So,” and “Castles in the Air”, has been played over three million times on American radio.

Vincent Lyrics

 Starry starry night, paint your palette blue and grey
Look out on a summer’s day with eyes that know the darkness in my soul
Shadows on the hills, sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills, in colors on the snowy linen land

Now I understand what you tried to say to me
How you suffered for you sanity
How you tried to set them free
They would not listen they did not know how, perhaps they’ll listen now

Starry starry night, flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue
Colors changing hue, morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand

Chorus:
For they could not love you, but still your love was true
And when no hope was left in sight, on that starry starry night
You took your life as lovers often do,
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you

Starry, starry night, portraits hung in empty halls
Frameless heads on nameless walls with eyes that watch the world and can’t forget.
Like the stranger that you’ve met, the ragged man in ragged clothes
The silver thorn of bloody rose, lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me
How you suffered for you sanity How you tried to set them free
They would not listen they’re not listening still
Perhaps they never will.

Vincent Slide Show

Here is the slide show of Van Gogh paintings with a soundtrack of Don McLean singing “Vincent”. Originally posted as a storyline on our forum several years ago by abeille and put to music in our streaming music section, modern technology and youtube allow us to present the high quality ‘video’ version (requires flash).

Listen to the audio of Don sing Vincent (Starry Starry Night) in concert

  • http://www.dbb.se Rune from Norway

    At newyearseve, we invite every skating-enthusiasts,young and old, for 2 hours of joy at the arena back home. We have been doing this the last 7 or 8 years now, and this last evening we where 200 people skating, and even in temperatur 14 Cel below zero… When we put out all electric lights, fires up our hand-tourchs, and play Vincent, everyone gets a tear in their eyes. It’s so nice to see peoples reactions in the situation. Kids, young and old people, comment our choise of music for the event. One of the lads said this year;

    “You made my Happy New Year start”
    “Haven’t heard Vincent since my fathers funeral 2 years ago”
    “It is so beautiful”…..

    Happy New Year Everyone….

  • Greg

    Has one artist expressed is love for another more beautifully than Don has in “Vincent”?

  • Daphne S. Mercado

    My favorite song always depends on the kind of mood I am having… however I believe that I am a hopeless romantic person. So each time I hear the song Vincent played on the radio, I can’t help but smile.
    How I love this song, and no matter what kind of mood I’m in, Vincent is undisputedly my all time favorite song.
    Thanks to Don, for giving the world a music such as VINCENT…. MWUAAAH!!!

  • Debasish Chakravorty

    This is one song which has fascinated me thoroughout my life so far , the feelings same as ever when I heard it in my childhood , youth and now this ‘almost middle age’.My reaction to everything has changed over the years , except for this song , so strong and rooted are the feelings. It carries an enternal sense of peace and I can cry without any sense of shame.It is almost spiritual , so personal but distantly impersonal at the same time. It is not a song , it is an idea so beutifully captured in human words.Painting , I suppose , is a very strong and personal expression of pure art and to capture the mental ethos of a painter against a mundanely nonchalent surrounding , and to capture the agony with starngely co-existant irrestible urge to create, in spite of that is not easy. This is a classic creation , a real value addition to my life.

  • http://donmaclean helen

    hi out there . need help in down loading vincent with video for chrildren i work with. my name is Helen and i work with special needs chrildren and we r learning about van Gogh.Having trouble downlowing song plus van gogh pictures. good with chrildren not with computers. would b great to hear from some one who could help me. Helen

  • http://DonMcLean Helen

    hi ton, Helen here from Dublin. I work with children with spacial needs and at the moment we r learning about van gogh.I am having trouble down loading music plus pictures to show on interactive white board. trying to down load it on CD. not having much luck. i know the sheet music is on the van gogh web site. hope u have better luck then me. all the best. Helen

  • Daniel

    To Helen from Dublin: there are several add-ons for Mozilla Firefox Browser that allow you to download flash video files from the internet. One of the best is Video DownloadHelper. You only have to install that in your Firefox Browser and the files from Youtube or other video sites can be downloaded easily. If you don’t know how, ask a friend who can do that. Usually children over 14 who are passioned about internet games know how.

  • http://www.stefanopais.it stefano

    Sorry for my english… But Thank’s for your job and specially: Starry starry night! Now I can dream! S.

  • zhi521151

    Tori Amos?!

  • http://pupista.blogspot.com/ William Miller

    Every single time I see a large area of virgin snow I think of this song.

    Very gripping work.

  • candace

    this song makes me cry everytime i listen to it…I knew and had a copy of the print before I realized there was a song about it. Quite the poet. I also write poetry. I wish I could sing and share it with the world as you have…thank you.

    candace

  • Iain

    A wonderful tribute and a timeless song to touch generations to come. Subtle, and sweet. I am adding nothing new here, but excellently crafted Mr. McLean.

    I keep ‘rediscovering’ this song over and over again. And everytime there is something new for me to appreciate. Thought it might bring a smile to some to share my silly “aha” moment …

    Being born in the 70’s, I was quite familiar with the tune and hummed the melody often, though I did not really listen to the words, or know what it was about. I simply referred to it as “Starry, Starry Night”, and assumed that everyone else did.

    In my teenage years, I even gravitated to the works of the greats and still continue to be moved by van Gogh, Monet, and others. Still … ashamed to say, again I never invested the time to really listen to the words, and did not make the connection to the great artist.

    It was not until driving late one night, listening to the radio, that finally the word “Vincent” stood out to me. Then, it all just “connected” for me and I was stunned and overwhelmed at the true majesty of this work (and the undiscovered depths of my ignorance). Ah … “Starry, starry night” … I get it (duh).

    The truly great thing about this song is that it not only reflects the admiration that Don has for van Gogh in such a beautiful way, but it strikes me as a wonderful expression of gratitude, and honors the spirit of the great artist through another medium.

    For me, there are visible undercurrents of depth and complexity in the artist, song, and composer. So this pattern of ‘rediscovery’ through this song has created for me a new path of discovery in Vincent the man, his life, and his work.

    I was not listening, but I am listening now. And I am sure that others will.

    Thank-you Don (and Vincent)

    • Janete Antonia Pellisson

      Dear Don,
      “Starry, Starry Night” is a masterpiece about someone that, in my opinion, is the best painter ever. Vincent put his soul in every piece of art he did. And you could translate this into your song. The only thing I can do is to congratulate you and thank you for this present. May God be with you. Janete Antonia Pellisson – Americana – SP – Brazil

  • Wei Xin

    The melody struck me when i was a child. It was etched in my mind until now. I heard it again recently, and this time, i was fixated by the lyrics. There are so poignant and vivid. Just like how van Gogh would have painted it as a work of art, Mr McLean painted a vivid picture in my heart. It’s rare to find a song that would give you different feelings every time you listen to it. This is one of those songs. A true gem. Thank you Mr McLean.

  • kerryn

    I find that the show is very interesting because it teach me to do more interesting art pieces and teach me to mix colors.

  • http://www.byguitar.com/bbs beecee

    welcome to China,and make a concert!
    A friend from beijing!

  • http://Beckhofffacebook Rich Beckhoff

    SoComme On.Sent a very interesting done portrait of story starry night made with bacon. I being such a Don McLean fan and loving the song, came up with new words for the first verse that is Fun And Repectful. I think Don would get a chuckle from it check the post on my facebook for the portrait and the words thank you Rich RIch Bechoff RBEckhoff89@Gmail.com

  • http://www.criticandokardec.com.br/criticizingskepticism.htm Julio Siqueira

    Does anyone know where “The silver thorn of bloody rose” came from in Vincent’s lyrics?

    Thanks,
    Julio Siqueira
    juliocbsiqueira2012@gmail.com

    • bini

      Silver thorn = knife
      Bloody Rose = ear

  • Alex M Blair

    On 6/17. more than 2 month ago, I ordered 2 copies of Vincent (Starry Night). I have yet to receive them. They were paid to you by PayPal #0018153016564.
    My receipt number for this payment is 1621-7100-8246-8357.
    The charges have been paid by me on a credit card through Pay Pal to DON MCLEAN.
    Pleased advise when I can expect receipt of tese2 discs.
    Thank You
    Alex M Blair

  • http://www.wellatlast.com Steven Rochlitz

    Hi Don:
    I love your song, Vincent
    Do you know that It has been discovered what van Gogh really suffered from–porphyria.
    http://wellatlast.com/whatsnew.html
    http://wellatlast.com/testimonials.html
    Steven Rochlitz

    • http://www.criticandokardec.com.br/criticizingskepticism.htm Julio Siqueira

      “van Gogh really suffered from–porphyria”

      Could this be the most mysterious “silver thorn of bloody rose” that McLean included in his lyrics? (maybe even unconsciously)…

  • Abdullah G

    Hi Don – I recently discovered your song Starry starry night while attending a funeral service and was fascinated with what the song meant not to mention the beautiful words. I have since discovered the song is about Vincent Van Gough. I am a Muslim and would have loved if someone could put the same feeling, effort and voice into a song about the life of the prophet Muhammed. May you stay healthy enough until you’re last breath to bring so many people the joy of listening to your music. RESPECT

  • Trishia

    Dear Mr. Maclean,
    I was born in 1961. When your American Pie album was released, my mother purchased it and played it every day for a year or more. She absolutely adored you and your music. Your wonderous voice and your beautiful music are a part of my childhood and provide me with insight into my mothers heart. Vincent was her favourite song.
    My mother passed away 2 years ago, and I still have her original vynil American Pie album.
    Though I purchased it on CD years ago, I love to play that vynil. Every crackle and pop has added a patina to your music and your music has become a time machine for me.
    God bless you for all the joy, and tears of joy that your music and your incredible talent has given, and continues to give to the world.
    I am so very happy that beautiful souls such as yourself are in this world and bring beauty to it.
    How I wonder what the music would sound like, were you to capture in music, the decades that have followed American Pie. 4 decades have passed since the original. Could there be a continuation?
    What ever you compose will be further magic to my ears.
    Thank you so much for providing us with this way of reaching you,
    and please know this…..we are listening, still. ❤

  • J. David Tholl

    Thank you, Mr. McLean. I’ve loved your work for years; it has always spoken to me. “Vincent”, in particular.

  • daniel jackson

    i just want to thank Don for writing this song. My friend Dylan committed suicide 5 years ago today after a long struggle with mental illness. We played Vincent at his funeral as it was particularly apt. now when ever i think of Dylan i want to listen to this song. Much love. Its beautiful.

  • Ursula Ludwig,Germany

    Hello – I just want to say THANK YOU for this wonderful song!!!!! I love it sooooo much since a lot of years.

  • Elizabeth

    First heard this song in 1972 on the radio in my room at the nurse’s flat, Majella Ziekenhuis, Bussum Holland I was only 23 yrs old. Then it was # 1 in the billboard of UK charts. Migrated to US in 1973. This song is one of my favorites.

  • http://www.TheFidmusic.com Lee Jones

    When I was in school in the 60s an 70s, we all came across a painting called “Bloody Rose”. We all understood it to have been painted by Vincent van Gogh. It was in our textbooks. I find it very strange that today there is not a trace of this painting – by van Gogh or anyone else.

  • Bonnie ports

    I saw Don McLean hundreds of yrs ago in Maryland Loved him then love him still.be still my heart for Vincent and Don Mclean

  • http://goo.gl/ugJyz3 Jim Macdonald

    This song works like auditory aerobics for the soul. Thank you for the instructive listening exercise, blessed teacher.

    http://goo.gl/ugJyz3

  • Jessica McGuiness

    A very incredible song! It’s so perfect, I can listen to it all day. I’m 15 but I prefer listening to you Mr.Donald.

    The lyrics are amazing. “Vincent” — this song is purely timeless.

  • Paul

    Hi!
    Starry Night, the best ever ballad song.
    No ballad has ever put that much of intimacy so strongly, so firmly into the hearts of listeners with just its first lines and it goes on doin’ the same up to the very last Word, and I’d say, even minutes after the song is over.

  • Mary Miller

    Dearest Don, I first fell in love with “Vincent” at the tender age of 10. I took the extra time to learn how to play it on the guitar, even with cerebral palsy, because the song ‘spoke’ to me, both about being artistic as well as being an ‘outsider’, that even a 10 year old could understand, not being fully embraced as a disabled child, back before the days of mainstreaming.

    I was wondering, (and if anyone could help me with this), I remember back in 1989-1991, a version of “Vincent” that was done for PBS through I believe, KQED (I was living in the bay area at the time), with photos of Van Gogh’s work, that was stunning. It was just You, Don on the guitar, with an alternative picking method I have not heard before. It’s not the alternative live version that I’ve heard from the “live album”, but something very unique. I didn’t know if it was done at the studios of KQED, or if it was for a fundraising campaign for the station. If anyone could help me track it, i would greatly appreciate it. Thank you so much, it would mean the world to me. I’ve been trying to track it down ever since. With much, much love, Mary.

  • http://www.davids.com/ dhlawrencexvii

    Twice here in the lyrics, a line is printed as:

    “How you suffered for YOU sanity…”

    Is that correct? Is it not:

    “How you suffered for YOUR sanity…”?

  • morris

    I love this song so much, it spoke to me being that I was in High School when it came out and it was also my high school graduating class them song. Thanks for this wonderful and heart felt song