Behind the Music: ‘American Pie’ by Don McLean

2018-06-10T11:02:51+00:00 History, Music|

Chances are, you know most of the lyrics to American Pie by Don McLean; but do you know what the song is about?

American Pie by Don McLean is an iconic song that is sung at karaoke bars around the world. It’s a song that became popular when our parents or grandparents were kids but like many, good, classic tunes, it’s still well known today. The minute you hear the opening words, “a long, long time ago…”, you’re hooked in and the lyrics all come rushing back.

Typically, the question isn’t “do you know all the lyrics?”; the question is, “do you know what the lyrics represent?” The entire song is filled with references to the history of rock and roll. The song also references other notable, historical moments that shaped the United States as a country. But when you break it all down, the lyrics are telling the story of the baby boomer generation.

The beginning of the song references the great plane crash that killed some of rock’s early icons: Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Richie Valens. This was later coined as ‘the day the music died’, which was the phrase McLean would immortalize in his song. This is possibly the only concrete reference we know of, partly because McLean often refused to discuss the meaning behind his lyrics.

The song continues on to possibly reference Bob Dylan’s rise and how music evolved beyond legends like Elvis Preseley, the supposed innocence of the 1950s, the climb of rock and roll, The Beatles, The Vietnam War, Altamont, Janis Joplin, and more.

Dig deeper into the lyrics of American Pie by watching Polyphonic’s video below: