Verse 1
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

{Refrain}

So, bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my chevy to the levee
But the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die

Verse 2
Did you write the Book of Love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so
Do you believe in rock n' roll
Can music save your mortal soul
And can you teach me how to dance real slow
Well, I know that you're in love with him
'Cause I saw you dancin' in the gym
You both kicked off your shoes
Man, I dig those rhythm & blues
I was a lonely, teenage broncin' buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died
I started singin'

{Refrain}

Verse 3
Now for ten years we've been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin' stone
But that's not how it used to be
When the Jester sang for the King and Queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
In a voice that came from you and me
Oh, and while the King was looking down
The Jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned
And while Lenin read a book on Marx
The quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died
We were singin'

{Refrain}

Verse 4
Helter Skelter in a summer swelter
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter
Eight miles high and falling fast
It landed foul on the grass
The players tried for a forward pass
With the Jester on the sidelines in a cast
Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While the Sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh but we never got the chance
'Cause the players tried to take the field The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died
We started singing

{Refrain}

Verse 5
Oh, and there we were, all in one place
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again
So come on, Jack, be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
'Cause fire is the devils only friend
Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan's spell
And as flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died
He was singing

{Refrain}

Verse 6
I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn't play
And in the streets the children screamed
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken
And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
And they were singin'

{Refrain}

Bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my chevy to the levy
But the levy was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singing this'll be the day that I die

They were singin'
Bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my chevy to the levy
But the levy was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singing this'll be the day that I die

[Note: I have used the lyrics from Don's own website, though I have never got full confirmation that these are entirely accurate i.e the Lenin / Lennon references etc. Source: missamericanpie.co.uk]
Madonna's version:
A long long time ago I can still remember How that music used to make me smile And i knew that if i had one chance I could make those people dance And maybe they'd be happy for awhile Did you write the book of love And do you have faith in God above If the bible tells you so Now do you believe in rock n roll And can music save your mortal soul And can it teach me how to dance real slow Well i know that your in love with him Cause i saw you dancing in the gym You both kicked off your shoes And i did Gods rhythm and blues I was a lonely teenage brock of luck With a great carnation and a pick up truck But i knew that i was out of luck The day the music died I started singing [Chorus] Bye bye miss. american pie Drove my chevy to the levy But the levy was dry And good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye singing This will be the day that i die This will be the day that i die I met a girl who sang the blues And i asked her for some happy news But she just smiled and turned away Well i went down to the sachet store Where i heard the music years before But the man there said the music wouldn't play Well now in the streets the children screamed The lovers cried and the poets dreamed But not a word was spoken The church bells all broken And the three men i admire the most, The father, son, and the holy ghost They caught the last train for the coast The day the music died I started singing [Chorus](x2) we started singing we started singing we started singing we started singing we started singing we started singing
Madona's version + political comments
"Subreformism tries to solve the symptoms but ignores the cause of the diease."

Introduction and History, copied from http://www.missamericanpie.co.uk/interpret.html

Having reputedly been turned down by thirty four record companies, McLean signed with the record label Media Arts in 1969. Written in 1971 as the finale to his stage performances, American Pie was the culmination of ideas gathered over ten years. "That song didn't just happen," said Don. "It grew out of my experiences. 'American Pie' was part of my process of self-awakening; a mystical trip into my past." Don called the song a complicated parable open to different interpretations. "People ask me if I left the lyrics open to ambiguity. Of course I did. I wanted to make a whole series of complex statements. The lyrics had to do with the state of society at the time." (Ref: internet)

Some see the song as McLean's justification for giving up rock and roll and turning more to folk music. He had been touring for about a year with Pete Seeger on a project called 'The Hudson River Sloop Restoration,' sailing on the Hudson River in an ecology campaign and soon after the song was released.

Strangely when Don performed it to the public for the first time, asking a young girl to hold up the pages of lyrics, he was greeted with an indifferent reaction from the audience. Though, some may say they were just stunned into silence!

Recorded on May 26th 1971 in New York, the song got its first radio play in the U.S at the end of June on WNEW-FM & WPLJ-FM to mark the closing of Fillmore East the famous New York concert hall.

The full version of the song was eight and a half minutes long & in November 1971 it was released on a double sided single. It was too long to fit on one side of a 45 rpm single. This was still the most common format at the time of the songs release. It was not played fully on radios or by DJ's as it would have required turning the record over. It was also during an era when for every song played, an advert was played. To this day, in the age of the CD, night clubs still only play part of the song!

Since sifting through all the research about the song, it's evident that American Pie is about McLean giving up rock & roll since the death of such great stars as Holly, and the emergence of artists who had become money obsessed.

However the song has tones, which come across even more strongly than these points about society as a whole changing. The sadness about the Vietnam war, the threat of nuclear attack from Russia, race riots, and the death of JFK shattering the idealism. This for me is the picture that McLean paints so well in this song. His disillusionment becomes more apparent as the song progresses. As McLean puts it "American Pie speaks to the loss that we feel. That's why that song has found the niche that it has" - Don McLean, VH1 Interview

The song is also about the degeneration of America in terms of religion & McLean's longing for the wholesome days of the 50s when musicians were God fearing & which some believe a metaphor for American Pie. (Ref: M Green)

For McLean 50s Rock represented his innocent years. The song chronicles important events in the 60s as well as McLean's own growth & loss of innocence as well as his attempt to retain it. The song is in fact highly autobiographical, with McLean featured in every verse. (Ref: Mark Jordan)

In the late sixties and early seventies, Don was obsessed with what he called "the death of America" -- the loss of many things he believed in while growing up. "In a sense, 'American Pie' was a very despairing song but it can also be seen as very hopeful. Pete Seeger has said that he saw it as a song in which people were saying something. They'd been fooled, they'd been hurt, and it wasn't going to happen again. (Ref: donmclean.com)

Many people have theorized about what the words "American Pie" actually mean: It's a metaphor for the times (Ref: Marv Bloom). I think Don took different episodes from the American music and political events from the 60's. I think it is an analogy - The pie is the American events of the decade of 60īs, and the slices are every episode he is describing. (Ref: Alex J)

You may disagree, so read this interpretation and then make up your own mind.

Enjoy!
An Original performance (video) - Recorded version with lyrics (video)
A recorded version (mp3 audio)
introduction + history
American Pie by Don McLean Songfacts
According to McLean (as posted on his website), this song was originally inspired by the death of Buddy Holly. "The Day The Music Died" is February 3, 1959, when Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash after a concert. McLean wrote the song from his memories of the event. The Beatles Sgt. Pepper album was a huge influence, and McLean has said in numerous interviews that the song represented the turn from innocence of the '50s to the darker, more volatile times of the '60s - both in music and politics.

McLean was a paperboy when Holly died. He learned about the plane crash when he cut into his stack of papers and saw the lead story.
Talking about how he composed this song when he was a guest on the UK show Songbook, McLean explained: "For some reason I wanted to write a big song about America and about politics, but I wanted to do it in a different way. As I was fiddling around, I started singing this thing about the Buddy Holly crash, the thing that came out (singing), 'Long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.'

I thought, Whoa, what's that? And then the day the music died, it just came out. And I said, Oh, that is such a great idea. And so that's all I had. And then I thought, I can't have another slow song on this record. I've got to speed this up. I came up with this chorus, crazy chorus. And then one time about a month later I just woke up and wrote the other five verses. Because I realized what it was, I knew what I had. And basically, all I had to do was speed up the slow verse with the chorus and then slow down the last verse so it was like the first verse, and then tell the story, which was a dream. It is from all these fantasies, all these memories that I made personal. Buddy Holly's death to me was a personal tragedy. As a child, a 15-year-old, I had no idea that nobody else felt that way much. I mean, I went to school and mentioned it and they said, 'So what?' So I carried this yearning and longing, if you will, this weird sadness that would overtake me when I would look at this album, The Buddy Holly Story, because that was my last Buddy record before he passed away."
This song made McLean very famous very quickly, which was very difficult for the songwriter. McLean was prone to depression, losing his father at age 15 and dealing with a bad marriage when recording the album. So when the song hit, it thrust him into the spotlight and took the focus away from the body of his work. In a 1973 interview with NME, he explained: "I was headed on a certain course, and the success I got with 'American Pie' really threw me off. It just shattered my lifestyle and made me quite neurotic and extremely petulant. I was really prickly for a long time. If the things you're doing aren't increasing your energy and awareness and clarity and enjoyment, then you feel as though you're moving blindly. That's what happened to me. I seemed to be in a place where nothing felt like anything, and nothing meant anything. Literally nothing mattered. It was very hard for me to wake up in the morning and decide why it was I wanted to get up."
Contrary to rumors, the plane that crashed was not named the "American Pie" - Dwyer's Flying Service did not name their planes. McLean made up the name.
McLean admits that this song is about Buddy Holly, but has never said what the lyrics are about, preferring to let listeners interpret them on their own. In these next few Songfacts, we'll take a look at some logical interpretations: "The Jester" is probably Bob Dylan. It refers to him wearing "A coat he borrowed from James Dean," and being "On the sidelines in a cast." Dylan wore a red jacket similar to James Dean's on the cover of The Freewheeling Bob Dylan, and got in a motorcycle accident in 1966 which put him out of service for most of that year. Dylan also made frequent use of jokers, jesters or clowns in his lyrics. The line, "And a voice that came from you and me" could refer to the Folk style he sings, and the line, "And while the king was looking down the jester stole his thorny crown" could be about how Dylan took Elvis Presley's place as the number one performer.
The line "Eight miles high and falling fast" is likely a reference to The Byrds' hit "Eight Miles High."
The section with the line "The flames climbed high into the night" is probably about the Altamont Speedway concert in 1969. While the Rolling Stones were playing, a fan was stabbed to death by a member of The Hell's Angels who was hired for security.
The line "Sergeants played a marching tune" is likely a reference to The Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The line "I met a girl who sang the blues and I asked her for some happy news, but she just smiled and turned away" is probably about Janis Joplin. She died of a drug overdose in 1970.
The lyric "And while Lenin/Lennon read a book on Marx" has been interpreted different ways. Some view it as a reference to Vladimir Lenin, the communist dictator who led the Russian Revolution in 1917 and who built the USSR, which was later ruled by Josef Stalin. The "Marx" referred to here would be the socialist philosopher Karl Marx. Others believe it is about John Lennon, whose songs often reflected a very communistic theology (particularly "Imagine"). Some have even suggested that in the latter case, "Marx" is actually Groucho Marx, another cynical entertainer who was suspected of being a socialist, and whose wordplay was often similar to Lennon's lyrics.
"Did you write the book of love" is probably a reference to the 1958 hit "Book of Love" by the Monotones. The chorus for that song is "Who wrote the book of love? Tell me, tell me... I wonder, wonder who" etc. One of the lines asks, "Was it someone from above?" Don McLean was a practicing Catholic, and believed in the depravity of '60s music, hence the closing lyric: "The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, they caught the last train for the coast, the day the music died." Some, have postulated that in this line, the Trinity represents Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. (thanks, Brett - Edmonton, Canada, for above 2)
Some more interpretations:
"And moss grows fat on our rolling stone" - Mick Jagger's appearance at a concert in skin-tight outfits, displaying a roll of fat, unusual for the skinny Stones frontman.

"The quartet practiced in the park" - The Beatles singing at Shea Stadium.

"And we sang dirges in the dark, the day the music died" - The 60's peace marches.

"Helter Skelter in a summer swelter" - The Manson Family's attack on Sharon Tate and others in California.

"We all got up to dance, Oh, but we never got the chance, 'cause the players tried to take the field, the marching band refused to yield" - The huge numbers of young people who went to Chicago for the 1968 Democratic Party National Convention, and who thought they would be part of the process ("the players tried to take the field"), only to receive a violently rude awakening by the Chicago Police Department nightsticks (the commissions who studied the violence after-the-fact would later term the Chicago PD as "conducting a full-scale police riot") or as McLean calls the police "the marching band."
Madonna covered this in 2000 for the movie The Next Best Thing. Her version topped the UK charts and peaked at #29 in the US. It was her friend, the English actor Rupert Everett, who suggested Madonna record a cover of this song and sang backup on her version.

On January 29, 2007 Madonna's recording was voted the worst ever cover version in a poll by BBC 6 Music. Despite the critical derision, McLean had good things to say about Madonna's cover, and he released this statement: "Madonna is a colossus in the music industry and she is going to be considered an important historical figure as well. She is a fine singer, a fine songwriter and record producer, and she has the power to guarantee success with any song she chooses to record. It is a gift for her to have recorded 'American Pie.' I have heard her version and I think it is sensual and mystical. I also feel that she's chosen autobiographical verses that reflect her career and personal history. I hope it will cause people to ask what's happening to music in America. I have received many gifts from God but this is the first time I have ever received a gift from a goddess."

Madonna was supposed to perform her version at the Super Bowl in 2001, but backed out, claiming she did not have enough time to prepare. No one was too upset. (thanks, Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England and Bertrand - Paris, France)
At 8 minutes 33 seconds, this is the longest song in length to hit #1 on the Hot 100. The single was split in two parts because the 45 did not have enough room for the whole song on one side. The A-side ran 4:11 and the B-side was 4:31 - you had to flip the record in the middle to hear all of it. Disc jockeys usually played the album version at full length, which was to their benefit because it gave them time for a snack, a cigarette or a bathroom break.
In 1971, a singer named Lori Lieberman saw McLean perform this at the Troubadour theater in Los Angeles. She claimed that she was so moved by the concert that her experience became the basis for her song "Killing Me Softly With His Song," which was a huge hit for Roberta Flack in 1973. When we spoke with Charles Fox, who wrote "Killing Me Softly" with Norman Gimbel, he explained that when Lieberman heard their song, it reminded her of the show, and she had nothing to do with writing the song.
McLean (from his website): "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 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." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
In 2002, this was featured in a Chevrolet ad. It showed a guy in his Chevy singing along to the end of this song. At the end, he gets out and it is clear that he was not going to leave the car until the song was over. The ad played up the heritage of Chevrolet, which has a history of being mentioned in famous songs (the line in this one is "Drove my Chevy to the levee"). Chevy used the same idea a year earlier when it ran billboards of a red Corvette that said, "They don't write songs about Volvos."
Weird Al Yankovic did a parody of this song for his 1999 album Running With Scissors. It was called "The Saga Begins" and was about Star Wars: The Phantom Menace written from the point of view of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sample lyric: "Bye, bye this here Anakin guy, maybe Vader someday later but now just a small fry."

It was the second Star Wars themed parody for Weird Al - his first being "Yoda," which is a takeoff on "Lola" by The Kinks. Al admitted that he wrote "The Saga Begins" before the movie came out, entirely based on Internet rumors.
While being interviewed in the 1980s, McLean was asked for probably the 1000th time "What does the song American Pie mean to you?," to which he answered, "It means never having to work again for the rest of my life." (thanks, Dan - Auckland, New Zealand)
Regarding the line, "The birds (Byrds) flew off from a fallout shelter," a fallout shelter is a '60s term for a drug rehabilitation facility, which one of the band members of The Byrds checked into after being caught with drugs. (thanks, john - washington, DC)
The line "Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack Flash sat on a candle stick" is taken from a nursery rhyme that goes "Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick." Jumping over the candlestick comes from a game where people would jump over fires. "Jumpin' Jack Flash" is a Rolling Stones song. Another possible reference to The Stones can be found in the line, "Fire is the devils only friend," which could be The Rolling Stones "Sympathy For The Devil," which is on the same Rolling Stones album. (thanks, Ben - Schelle, Belgium)
When the original was written at a whopping 8 minutes 38 seconds it was banned from many radio stations in the US due to a policy limiting airplay to 3:30. Some interpret the song as a protest against this policy. When Madonna covered the song many years later she cut huge swathes of the song, ironically to make it more radio friendly, to 4:34 on the album and under 4 minutes for the radio edit. (thanks, Anton - Cambridge, England)
The words, "You know a rolling stone don't gather no moss" appear in the Buddy Holly song "Early in the Morning," which is about his ex missing him early in the morning when he's gone. (thanks, Cait - Athens, OH)
Regarding the lyrics, "Jack Flash sat on a candlestick, 'cause fire is the devil's only friend," this is a reference to the space program, and to the role it played in the Cold War between America and Russia throughout the '60s. It is central to McLean's theme of the blending of the political turmoil and musical protest as they intertwined through our lives during this remarkable point in history. Thus, the reference incorporates Jack Flash (the Rolling Stones), with our first astronaut to orbit the earth, John (common nickname for John is Jack) Glenn, paired with "Flash" an allusion to fire, with another image for a rocket launch, "candlestick," then pulls the whole theme together with "'cause fire is the Devil's (Russia's) only friend" (as Russia had beaten us to manned orbital flight. (thanks, Lynn - Denver, CO)
Fans still make the occasional pilgrimage to the spot of the plane crash that inspired this song. See the memorial at the site in Song Images.
Source: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1193 - 3 August 2011
music - ecoglobe realism
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