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American Pie Lyrics

Updated on May 24, 2010

Depending on what search terms are used for a journey on the World Wide Web, or which books and documents are requested at the local library, the number of articles, commentaries and interpretations of “American Pie” ranges from about 200,000 to more than 2 million. To say this is a much-analyzed song would be an understatement.

Don McLean's American Pie

The McLean Version of events

It may be best to go straight to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, to find out more about this classic folk-rock song. McLean’s own Web site states that the song is definitely biographical, perhaps more than many realize. It’s widely accepted that the tune begins with references to the tragic passing of rock great Buddy Holly. McLean confirms that. The singer/songwriter made a valiant effort to produce an “epic song,” as he put it. But he didn’t use the name of the plane that crashed, killing Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, Jiles Perry Richardson. That plane was not named “American Pie.”

The song covers a period of years, generally from about 1959 to 1970. For many who lived and loved the 1960s, the song is an anthem and a tribute to a decade that was a bridge from the more-innocent 1950s to the difficult and often dangerous times a decade later. Most students of “American Pie” accept that the “jester” is Bob Dylan and that there are several references to The Rolling Stones, Altamont etc. There are a few opinions on just what “helter, skelter” refers to, but most commentators chime in with solutions like “The Beatles,” or “Charlie Mansion.” Of course, just about everyone agrees that “eight miles high and fallin’ fast,” is a reference to the song by The Byrds.

As for the success of this much-debated tune, McLean states, without hesitation, that the song took him from poor singer/songwriter to millionaire in a short period of time. The song was first heard by the public in 1971, and over the course of a few months three million copies were sold. McLean’s album appeared on the United Artists Records label, after that huge company took over Mediarts.

The line-by-line analysis can and does go on (and on and on). There are Web sites specifically devoted to annotated copies of the song. In these works of art, the writers dissect “American Pie” slowly and carefully. To give meaning to this one folk-rock ballad is a life’s work for a handful of dedicated souls.

Madonna at her Blond Ambition Tour

Other Versions

As with most popular songs, other singers have tried their hand at “American Pie.” In fact, Madonna recorded her own version of the tune in 2000 on Music (Warner Bros. label). The album went platinum, selling thousands upon thousands of copies. The collection was in the top 200 for 55 weeks. It’s hard to find evidence that Madonna’s version of “American Pie” was the reason, however. It was part of the soundtrack for the movie The Next Big Thing. Listeners have also had the opportunity to vote for their favorite version on McLean’s original defeated Madonna’s version in a landslide. But McLean said Madonna’s song was not a cover. He emphasized that she had just tried her hand at an old song and made an old songwriter very happy.

Some music histories state that The Brady Bunch, of all people, did a cover version of the tune shortly after it hit the peak in 1972. Credit is given to excellent performers such as Tori Amos and Garth Brooks for including their own version of the tune in concerts. The Web site includes a blog that praises the ska/punk band Catch 22 for covering this classic. Numerous Spanish-language Web sites and music news reports refer to a popular 1984 version of “American Pie” by Hernaldo Zuniga (Nicaragua). There is a long list of cover versions and attempts to recreate the feel of the classic original. Artists and bands from every spot on the musical spectrum have made the attempt, from Weird Al Yankovic to alternative rock group Killdozer. This last group put their unusual version on For Ladies Only (1990 Touch & Go), a cover album that also includes rock classics such as “Funk #49,” “Hush” and “Take the Money and Run,” among others.

For those who want to keep “American Pie” and its meaning alive with more than elusive memories, a collectible plaque showing cover artwork from the album and a gold-plated 45 RPM is available for about $300. With the purchase, the buyer even gets a copy of the hand-written lyrics of the song.

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    • Moshe55 profile image

      Moshe55 6 years ago from London

      Interesting article. I have written my own hub on this song, but only just came across yours

      With reference to Madonna's version of the song- she cut out a couple of verses so her version does not make sense.

    • Don Simkovich profile image

      Don Simkovich 7 years ago from Pasadena, CA

      Glad I read this Hub. I'm going to link to it from my Hub on Journey's song "Don't Stop Believin'" . . . I still remember listening to American Pie as a wee-lad . . . being at a friend's house and laughing about a picture in Mad magazine at the same time!

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 9 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      Great hub and a great song. I also like his song Vincent.

    • Julie-Ann Amos profile image

      Julie-Ann Amos 9 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

      Thanks guys. It's a real bit of childhood for those of us of a certain age...

    • Dottie1 profile image

      Dottie1 9 years ago from MA, USA

      American Pie seemed to always be on the radio when I was growing up and I loved it.  When my son and daughter became teens I started hearing this song again around my home quite a bit.  My kids thought they had a cool mom because I knew the words to their music and I thought my kids were cool because they were listening to my music.  I'm listening to it right now on youtube and love it just as much as I did growing up.  Thank you for this piece of American Pie. :)

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 9 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      I was a little girl when that song became popular and I never knew what the lyrics meant until now. I believe the best version is still the original as my mother and my little sisters and I used to sing the words in unison when it came on the am radio station, thanks for bringing back some childhood memories. :)

    • Julie-Ann Amos profile image

      Julie-Ann Amos 9 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

      Nor me, but nothing beats the original version up loud on a long drive!

    • brad4l profile image

      brad4l 9 years ago from USA

      American Pie has always been one of my favorite songs, so it was interesting to learn some of the background about it. Personally, I never really found Madonna’s version all that appealing.