Don McLean’s American Pie

Initially inspired by his memories of the death of Buddy Holly in 1959, ‘American Pie’ is autobiographical and presents an abstract story of Don McLean’s life from the mid 1950s until when he wrote the song in the late 1960s. It is almost entirely symbolised by the evolution of popular music over these years and represents a change from the lightness of the 1950s to the darkness of the late 1960s. This is also very symbolic of changing America during this era.  In Don’s life the transition from light (the innocence of childhood) to the darker realities of adulthood probably started with the death of Buddy Holly and culminated with the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and the start of a more difficult time for America. In this 4 year period, Don moved from a fairly idyllic childhood existence, through the shock and subsequent harsh realities of his father’s death in 1961, to his decision in 1963 to quit Villanova University to pursue his dream and become a professional singer.

For 30 years the lyrics of American Pie have been subject to intense scrutiny as people search for the song’s real meaning. Analysis continues today on the Internet and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. All interpretations start on the premise that Don McLean never talks about the song and has never provided insight into the meaning of the lyrics. In fact, Don McLean has spent 30 years doing little else but talk about American Pie!

In his 2000 ‘Starry Starry Night’ DVD, Don says: “I’m very proud of the song. It is biographical in nature and I don’t think anyone has ever picked up on that. The song starts off with my memories of the death of Buddy Holly. But it moves on to describe America as I was seeing it and how I was fantasizing it might become, so it’s part reality and part fantasy but I’m always in the song as a witness or as even the subject sometimes in some of the verses.

You know how when you dream something you can see something change into something else and it’s illogical when you examine it in the morning but when you’re dreaming it it seems perfectly logical.

So it’s perfectly okay for me to talk about being in the gym and seeing this girl dancing with someone else and suddenly have this become this other thing that this verse becomes and moving on just like that. That’s why I’ve never analyzed the lyrics to the song. They’re beyond analysis. They’re poetry.”

Don has recently re-enforced this theme: “The song was written as my attempt at an epic song about America, and I used the imagery of music and politics to do that. Also, I was really influenced by the Sgt. Pepper album, and the American Pie album was my attempt to do that, but the song totally overshadowed the album.”Most mainstream analyses of American Pie are at least partly  based on Bob Dearborn’s interpretation of the song that he produced for his radio show in 1971. His theory was broadcast on radio across large parts of the USA and is still available on the Web today at:
Basic errors in American Pie interpretations have been carried forward and sometimes get reported as being fact. One of the most tedious theories of recent times is that the plane that crashed killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper was called ‘American Pie’. This is wholly untrue and Don McLean released a press statement in 1999 to confirm this:

“the growing urban legend that “American Pie” was the name of Buddy Holly’s plane the night it crashed, killing him, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, is untrue. I created the term.” – Don McLean, 1999

Incidentally, Don McLean has also taken time out to rubbish the myth that he had, for a while, refused to perform the song:

“Because of an off-hand funny comment I made backstage at a concert years ago, a story circulated that the song {American Pie} has been a burden and even that I didn’t sing it for a while. That’s completely false. I am very proud of ‘American Pie’ and the many satellites that grow from it and revolve around it. For many years I carried my songs around and now they carry me around. I have always sung ‘American Pie’ for my audience and would never think of disappointing them since it is they who have given me a wonderful life and untold affection for almost 30 years.” – Don McLean, 1999

and in a Music World article from 2000, Don says: “I have never said a bad thing about the song, I was poor when I wrote it, and it made me a millionaire overnight. Believe me, I’m not upset about this song.” – Don McLean, 2000.


  • randy

    im only 15 but this is by far the greatest song i have ever heard is american pie and dan is the greatest singer(by alognshot) i have heard also

  • MIKE S

    I first heard American Pie while in high school and regard it as the greatest rock song I have ever heard. I just read Mr. Dearborn’s analysis, which is the first time I heard of it. However, I distinctly remember hearing an interpretative version of American Pie on the radio in which a line or two would be played followed by a pause in the song with a voice speaking the interpretation: “the players tried to take the field” (Vietnam War protesters), “the marching band refused to yield” (police/National Guard). Does anyone else remember hearing this and/or anything about this version? Please post any information.

  • yodit

    I like Mr. Don Mclean music really really very much . but i canot got his CD even for one music .
    I need your urgent assistant please.

    Yodit Tesfay
    24 years old

  • herbie

    I am in my early 60’s. I recently was hospitalized. Tonight I went out for dinner for the first time in a long time. As I ate, the song American Pie came on the radio. I felt revitalized and lost all thoughts of pain and sorrow for my illness. Thanks Don!

  • Tommy

    I always thought “the three men I admired most, the father, son and the holy ghost” was John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King

  • Caloy T. Hernandez

    Back then in the early 70’s, or more than thirty years ago, i cannot forget but remembered the good old days when after coming home from a rural grade school, after walking about 2 to 3 miles in the dirt road in the town of Baliuag, province of Bulacan in Central Luzon, Philippines, i was surprised when my elder brother came home with a portable Sanyo LP with stereo sound. Listening to the music (in LP) of Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, Trini Lopez, Everly brothers, the :Lettermen was a great opportunity, listening to them over and over again. But it was one summer day in 1973 that I heard, for the first time, American Pie was played in local station along with such great hits of bee gees, beetles, james taylor, etc. From then on it became my favorite song and was able to memorized the words and music of it. Onwards, I have been listening to his music. For me, American Pie is the only song that tells us a great story of a time in American history where anyone can sing along with. Don M. is a legend. His music is timeless. His music will not die. I just hope that in the near future he will come to Manila to perform his greatest hits. I know there are millions of fans waiting for him in this part of asia pacific.

  • james

    i am only twelve but this is my favorite song of all time i own the 1972 record i love that song i memorized it i have probably heard a million times.

  • R.L. Philippi

    I have rewritten the lyrics to reflect the present economic times. I hope nobody is offended by this rework, but the age we are and our love of the automobile it seemed in order. Will always be singing Americam till I die.



  • Alaura

    I think from this song is about what was happening in the 1950s and 60s. Don McLean tells about what that time was like from his point of view.
    One particular point in the song Don McLean talks about the Beatles, Elvis, Karl Marx and the times.
    The song goes: “Oh, and while the king was looking down, the jester stole his thorny crown. The courtroom was adjourned; no verdict was returned.” Elvis Presley was named the king of rock and role by fans. Unfortunately Elvis went through a difficult time and The Beatles, something new and young, stole his popularity and stardom.
    The Next line goes “The courtroom was adjourned; no verdict was returned.” I believe this means that the title of the best was never decided and the position is still open and always will be.
    The next and last part of the verse is: “And while Lennon read a book of Marx, the quartet practiced in the park, and we sang dirges in the dark, the day the music died.”
    John Lennon and Karl Marx had the same values and Lennon read about Marx, since he was the big establisher of communism. The quartet McLean refers to are the Beatles. Last of all, America was going downhill with the of the people’s beloved president John F. Kennedy and Buddy Holly people lost their hope and happiness. “The Music Died.”
    (Woo Hoo Lee!)

  • Donnie

    In the song Mclean clearly says No angel born in {HEAVEN not HELL} could break that satan spell. All lyrics I have ever read say hell. Maybe someone else has noticed this I have not read all comments.

  • Douglas J. Bender

    My all-time favorite rock/folk song. I remember first hearing it when I was 9. I and my family had just moved to a new part of town, and I had started my first year (3rd grade) at the new school, and had found a new and best friend. We both loved American Pie, and that song will for me always bring to mind those days of innocent newness and friendship. Thanks for the memories. (I STILL love the song, by the way.)

  • Slash N Rose

    this song is a beautiful compilation a metaphors
    i belive its the greatest song written in USA’s entire history


    The first real Rock & Roll song I remember hearing as a child was “AMERICAN PIE” I was 5yrs old at the time and up until then I had been listening to Disney Albums and other kids records. But that all changed the night I went exploring in the attic of the old farm house my parents had just bought.
    While exploring in the attic, lookig trough the stuff left behind by the former occupants I came across an old 1950’s style radio, so I dragged it out and plugged it in.
    Now while scanning the dial which was mostly static I came upon a clear station playing a song that held me spellbound with its mysterios bwords. It was American Pie.
    From then on I’ve became a huge fan of rock music and putting away childish things. Even then at the age of five bI knew there was something prophetic about those wortds. I have since heard every explanation for what American Pie is about. Amd on face value bI except those explanations. However, In my heart of hearts based on my first hearing though the speakers of that old radio that the lyrics are code in metaphor for a end of Time that is totally unscipted and known only to a select few hat still beleve that music can change the world.

  • Wesley Mead

    Donnie, he is saying “hell”. You might hear it more clearly if you turn the bass on your speakers down. Besides, “heaven” wouldn’t rhyme with “spell”.

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  • Sheila

    I found out a few months ago that a friend of mine who is turning 60 this year did not like American Pie, in fact hated it???? It had come on the radio once when I was with her and she made some strange comment about hating it. When I asked her why, cuz it is about suicide. ??????? The line – this’ll be the day that I die” . . . . Misconceptions are amazing!! I sent her straight I was born in 1959 so this tragedy and I will both be 50 years old (1/2 a century) this year.

  • Keisha Orr

    this song is about america losing its hope and faith…

  • Rigo

    I was wondering if anyone could give me information concerning a 12 inch release of American Pie with And I Love You So on the B side.

    It was released as part of The Rainbow Collection by United Artists with the cataloig number being SP-165-1 & SP-165-2

    When searching the net and entering the catalog number all that comes up is a Gene Farrow song,also released in 1977.

    Please forward any information on this.

    Thank you!

    Thank you!

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  • Angela

    I heard this song 1st as a young girl and even then, was deeply touched by the timeless stories being told. 30 years later, I still close my eyes at parts and dream. This song, in my opinion, is a work of art. It’s universal in it’s many interpretations. And too, just like finest piece of Artwork, it leaves you breathless.

    I happened to be at the Inauguration when Garth Brooks sang this song. The crowd went wild.

    200 years from now, young people will hear this song for the 1st time and feel the many different feelings I felt the 1st time I heard American Pie. Thet will feel nothing short of complete and utter awe. Just as Picasso, Don McClean will live on for generations to come..

  • Angela

    I heard this song 1st as a young girl and even then, was deeply touched by the timeless stories being told. 30 years later, I still close my eyes at parts and dream. This song, in my opinion, is a work of art. It’s universal in it’s many interpretations. And too, just like the finest piece of Artwork, it leaves you breathless.

    I happened to be at the Inauguration when Garth Brooks sang this song. The crowd went wild.

    200 years from now, young people will hear this song for the 1st time and feel the many different feelings I felt the 1st time I heard American Pie. They will feel nothing short of complete and utter awe. Just as Picasso, Don McClean will live on for generations to come..

  • Mike W.

    “A long, long time ago…”

    Fifty years ago today.

    Thank you, Don, for one of the great American songs.

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  • Karen Day

    I have always loved American Pie. I was thrilled to see Don McLean in concert, Jan. 24, 2009. He put on a great show and I learned he is much more talented than I ever imagined.

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  • F. John Ratay

    Since I first heard American Pie when I was 9 years old, It was a hit with me! I was too young to understand everything behind the song…but i liked it. When I was 17 and had my own money to spend, I picked up an LP of American Pie and got to enjoy the rest of the album. Vincent is also an incredible song! Don Mclean is truly an artist! My only regret about American Pie is that the song is so long that it takes both sides of a 45 record and can’t be enjoyed to its fullest on my jukebox.But I still have my Lp and player 🙂

  • Susan

    I’m citing Don McLean’s American Pie in a paper I’m writing, but I don’t have the album. What recording studio published it? Also, what was the date? I know it was 1971, but I need to know when the song was copyrighted so I can cite it accurately. Thanks!

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  • Brenda

    Check Don’s Bio, It will tell you everything you need to know. I am giving a speech on his lyrics and the meaning. I hope I do the song justice in my speech.

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  • John S

    I first saw Don McLean opening for Blood, Sweat and Tears at the Utica Aud. When he played the as yet unknown “American Pie” the place went crazy. I went back to the radio station I worked at and dug out a copy of his LP. I recorded the song onto a cart but my program director would only let us play half of it on the air due to its length. Talk about “lyricus interruptus”! It made no sense but at least it got played and withing a couple of weeks we were allowed to play it in its entirety. And the rest, as they say, was history…

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  • Ricky Leiderman

    So many people try to give this song a biblical twist. Don thankfully sets it straight but the thumpers still will not listen.

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