Much to McLean’s surprise, representatives of
EMI in Holland called in April, 1980, to say
that the song “Crying” had spontaneously picked
up continuous airplay on Dutch radio stations.
He was urged to fly to Holland immediately and
appear on several important musical variety
shows to plug the song. To coincide with his
visit, EMI released “Crying” as a single, and it
shot to No.1 after these appearances. It was
unexpected, but welcome, news. EMI executives
from Holland flew to England and persuaded their
British counterparts to repeat the promotion in
England. The song quickly became a hit there
too, reaching No.1 on the singles chart on June
21st, 1980. The same thing happened in
McLean did not follow his success in the UK with a concert tour right away, except for one appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival in August. He fulfilled his obligatory appearance on Top of the Pops with a promotional video (one of the first.)
Following his No.1 single, EMI was keen to promote McLean’s music and released a 15-track compilation called the Very Best of Don McLean. It reached No.3 on the UK chart and became a worldwide hit. The record was not released in North America. In the UK interest in Don McLean was so high that the Chain Lightning album, released nearly two years earlier, entered the charts and made the Top 20.
Then in September he returned and completed a full tour of the UK, traveling in two buses around the English and Scottish countryside. It was a significant tour. Every show sold out. This time he was not appearing solo. He was accompanied by a rock ‘n’ roll orchestra especially created for the concert series. Bob Henrit (who later played for the Kinks) played drums, Bob Metzger electric guitar, Jimmie Horowitz piano, David Wintour bass guitar, and Fred Snel double bass. Don thought that Bob Henrit was one of the best drummers he had ever heard and on a personal level thought Henrit was open to every kind of music and a hell of a lot of fun to be with. Robin Williams conducted the string section and played violin. The full orchestra sound allowed McLean to sing songs like “Crying” and “Vincent” as they had been recorded, with strings — live. With rock ‘n’ roll sidemen he could rock on songs like “Left for Dead,” “Prime Time,” and “American Pie.”
Bob Henrit, Bob Metzger and Don at the bar, Sahara Tahoe Casino, 1981
The tour concluded on October 1st at the Royal Festival Hall in London. The demand for tickets was so great that an extra show was organized with only three days notice and took place at the Dominion Theatre in London, on Saturday, October 4th. This last, sell-out show was recorded, live, for the 1983 album called Dominion. This album was later issued in the US as Don McLean’s Greatest Hits Live. Before the Dominion show, Paul Gambaccini, a well known disc jockey on British radio and a successful music journalist, interviewed McLean in his dressing room. That interview and the concert performance became the video release entitled The Music of Don McLean.
Don McLean had survived the roughest two or three years of his career. He had re-established himself in almost every major record-buying market in the world. His second career comeback had begun. All he needed to do now was re-conquer his home country.
After two years living abroad, news of Don’s No.1 successes in Europe and Australia reached home, and US record companies began to take notice. McLean signed a deal with Millennium Records in December, 1980, and they released “Crying” that month. In January, 1981, Millennium Records issued Chain Lightning, two and a half years after it had been recorded in Nashville, and two years after its release in Europe. It charted on February 14th, 1981, and reached No.28.
Don's band members, 1982