"A long, lengthy time ago," Don McLean started writing a rock epic through those words. 

It"s currently been 50 years because "American Pie" — every eight and also a fifty percent cryptic minutes of it— took hold of the airwaves in 1971, and also it"s safe to say there"s never ever been another song choose it.

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In honor of the song"s 50th anniversary, McLean talked around its secret inspiration and legacy v Bart Herbison the Nashville Songwriters combination International.

Bart Herbison: "American Pie." I could argue the it’s the best song ever written, and I would certainly love to have actually that argument. The is certainly in an upstream handful. I will tell friend this. Everyone says, “What’s that about?” I understand what it’s about — absolutely, definitively know what that about

Don McLean: that’s good. You deserve to tell me.

BH: I will certainly tell you. It’s about our generation. It’s about the times. It’s around the culture, how necessary music was, socio-historically to our culture and girlfriend weave the brilliantly.


Everyone desires to know about "The Joker" or "Jack Flash" but I think we can all recognize who they are and also who we desire them to be. However Don, you put these moments in the song that was standing alone, yet in aggregate, they repaint a photo of those times and I nothing think any kind of song has ever done it much more brilliantly 보다 that one. So that’s what it’s about to me.


DM: First that all, America to be much an ext volatile than it is in ~ the moment. We didn’t have a pandemic, but cities were burning. Civilization in the street. We’d had sufficient of LBJ and Nixon. This to be the type of volatile civilization we to be in then. The Vietnam battle was breathing under everybody’s back.

BH: It was the an initial time we were seeing human body bags on the evening news!


DM: We have to see lock again, due to the fact that maybe us wouldn’t have actually these wars that space invisible, due to the fact that this is no good. That’s another story. Ns still preserve that also though my national politics have readjusted a lot since 1970, ns still versus all this, something spiritually negative for the nation. Component of what "American Pie" is, is a spirituality song, about the heart of the country and what to be happening to it. And the music to represent that. And this was the concept of "American Pie." And it was just one of mine ideas. 

I had actually no idea it would take root and I’d have to talk about it all these years. But ns am happy come talk about it, because it leader me into a discussion of the country which i am an extremely interested in and also love.

I was in my small room whereby I provided to compose songs. What I perform is I put a tape recorder on. I even did the on my critical album, "Botanical Gardens." I’ll start to sing right into the recorder. I don’t compose the lyrics down. I don’t write the melody down. I can’t read music. However I’ll simply start to sing a song, an idea. I had the tape recorder on and also I just sang, "A long, lengthy time ago, I can still remember how the music made me smile. And ns knew if I had actually my chance, I could make those human being dance. Maybe they’d be happy for a while.” 

BH: You sang it favor that?

DM: Oh yeah! "...but something touched me deep inside, the work the music died." i said, “What the hell was that?” and also I had actually it ~ above the machine.

BH: i am stunned in this moment. Wow! It to be flowing.

DM: Writing song is a lonely thing. It’s where you gain into yourself, and I had actually that (song) in mine mind because that a couple of months. I had actually the 2nd album going and didn’t have actually a surname for it. It to be the one that would follow "Tapestry." It remained in flux...It was (then going to be) a ballad record and I didn’t desire that. I needed to come up through a chorus the was crazy and also rip it, quite than lay there v it. This is just how the type of the song established itself. I maintained the very first verse slow. Later on on, three months later, I composed five more verses of the exact same length, adhering to forward with this idea, nearly in a absent dream type of idea. Then i slowed under the fifth verse so the starts slow, rocks in the middle and slows in ~ the end. The type of this tune is various from nearly any tune you would hear. Ns love that. I thought it was great. I love the title, "American Pie."

BH: Where’d that come from? 

DM: I nothing know.

BH: Because that couldn’t have actually been anything else, really. 

DM: yes sir a lot of little things in there. There’s the ‘Jack be nimble, Jack be quick’. This children’s nursery rhymes are woven into the song. My ignorance is up like I simply pulled it out of the pie. I had so many creative people about me, like the male that did the cover, George Whiteman. That heard the song and also I saw his studio and he told me he was going to paint my thumb. I said, "OK." He painted my thumb. Ns looking under the guitar.


"Like having two access time at once"

BH: By the way, one of the greatest album covers ever! ns knew around you a little bit. Ns was a DJ at the time, but if I’m telling you the truth, ns bought the album due to the fact that of the cover and I gained to find what remained in it. I more than likely bought five copies of the vinyl since I wore it out. 

DM: Everybody picked up on this. The producer taken what ns was doing. The guy that walk the cover taken what i was doing. Ns didn’t, but they did. For this reason off we went. We placed this together. The cover was tremendous. I loved it. It was so basic and tho looks great. 

BH: allow me ask a pair specific questions about the song. Ns was a 16-year-old DJ in a rural town once that tune came out. Ns went and bought the album in ~ the document store because of her thumb and also put it on. Quite soon, we gained a delivery of one edited version that was a small over 4 minutes long. Exactly how did the make friend feel?

DM: ns didn’t feel anything at the point. I was grappling with every little thing that to be going on, and I didn’t manage the document company.

BH: i didn’t play the edited version. I constantly played the lengthy version.

DM: there must have actually been a lot of that due to the fact that people began to listen the long version and clammer for it. So they had actually to walk out and buy the album so it wasn’t also bad. It just kept going. As soon as it gained played, girlfriend got twin from BMI.


BH: To define that, (when a tune is) end a particular length the time, the songwriter gets twice the rate.

DM: therefore it’s like having two hits at once. If you put it in the jukebox, it had actually two sides so that was two hits there.

BH: and also two hits because you didn’t have a co-writer. You wrote it.

DM: i didn’t have actually a co-writer. I’ve never had actually a co-writer. They put that point out and it starts appropriate in with, ‘Bye Bye Miss American Pie’ and also two or three songs and the chorus 20 time at the end, going come the hook. It visited No. 1.

"It didn’t seem favor I to be on some golden pathway to stardom"

BH: You stated this earlier but there is a lesson for today’s generation of songwriters, i beg your pardon is arrangement, tempo and also modulation. You let that tune tell you just how to song it. A tune is claimed to make united state feel something, and also you change your tempo and you adjust your emotional shipment three or four times whereby you should in the song. It is just a knife twister in the most terrific way... Did any type of of the personalities that room supposedly in the song, Dylan, i get it McGuinn, Jagger, did they ever before ask you about it personally?” 

DM: Dylan’s boy asked me about it once. Ns said, “Yeah, I never talk about the lyrics, but your father would certainly make a an excellent jester though!”


BH:  ...I went ago and listened come it a couple times this week, learning we would do this interview. What that did to me every those years ago, the still does, It provides me think. I look at (the lyrics). Ns listen. I evaluate it on so numerous levels. I may cry a little bit right here — i’m serious because it’s this moving. Let me tell girlfriend what that did to me last night. That said, “Bart, gain off your (rear-end). You"ve still acquired things to carry out socially to do this human being a far better place." it is what this song did to me critical night. Thank you Don McLean for "American Pie."

DM: Thank you because that saying that. Ns happy i did this with my life. You don’t know exactly how this has actually picked me up. The points that civilization say to me and also the stories, and I recognize all kinds of performers hear this stories-it’s not distinctive to me. I’m just happy that ns didn’t go into business and also wear a suit, what my father wanted me come do.

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About the series

In partnership with Nashville Songwriters combination International, the "Story Behind the Song" video interview series features Nashville-connected songwriters mentioning one of your compositions. For full video interviews with all of our subjects, visit www.gendergeek.org/music.