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"American Pie" by Don McLean


I"m not sure how I did it twice, but above is one of the many videos/interpretations of "American Pie" you can find on YouTube. The song was released six years before my birth, but I've been fascinated with it since I "discovered" it in high school. I did a bit of research this week, and I must admit that I am still not one hundred percent sure I "know" what the song means! Whatever you believe about "American Pie," you have to admit it's a great tune! Disclaimer: it's about 8 minutes long.

The song “American Pie� by Don McLean is historically significant because it marks popular music’s transition from the light and cheery music of the 50’s and 60’s to the more serious and thoughtful music of the 70’s. It is also an important song because it speaks about the social changes occurring throughout the United States during the decade previous to its release in 1971. The song is now thirty-seven years old and people are still trying to interpret its lyrics. Any song that remains the subject of such intense analysis approaching four decades must be a modern masterpiece.
Don McLean was a teenager in 1959, when Buddy Holly’s plane crashed; it affected him deeply. He saw it as the day the music – the original, fun, rock and roll of the 50’s – died. According to his “official� website, www.don-mclean.com, McLean is cited as saying that the song is autobiographical in nature. At times, he says, he is a character in the song and at times he is an observer. He writes of historical events from his point of view, such as the time “he read about his widowed bride,� referring to John F. Kennedy’s assassination. While McLean may have written a song about a young man’s perspective on the social changes taking place in the 60’s, many people have attempted to uncover a deeper meaning behind the lyrics. In just a few minutes of research, I found a complicated analysis of the song by Bob Dearborn, who interpreted the lyrics on his radio show in 1971, as well as other interpretations posted on individuals’ personal websites, such as www.rareexception.com and www.faqs.org/faqs/music/american-pie.
“American Pie� is a significant song for students to learn about today because it can be used across the curriculum. Obviously, history teachers can use it to enhance a lesson about America in the 60’s – students can identify events and interpret the social commentary in the musician’s lyrics. Music teachers can use it to teach folk music – it illustrates the difference between rock and roll love songs and folk music with a social message. English teachers can use it to help set the scene for novels or readings set in the 60’s or 70’s. It’s a great song to use when studying current events – students can use it as a guide to help them find music that make social commentary on today’s news events.
When I consider what “American Pie� might have meant to Americans two hundred years ago, I think of what was happening in the United States in 1908. Immigrants were flooding across the boarders to create a “melting pot,� so they might have understood the symbolism of a pie. As guitars have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, I believe they would have appreciated the acoustic nature of the music. However, it would have been incomprehensible for them to imagine a song played on the airwaves with offensive lyrics like, “for no angel born in hell/ could break that Satan’s spell.� Had Americans at the turn of the century understood McLean’s reference to the Vietnam War, “bad news on the doorstep/I couldn’t take one more step,� they might have been discouraged to learn that the country was headed into a series of wars fought across the world.
However one interprets McLean’s “American Pie;� as a simple song of a boy’s point of view or a social commentary on America, there is no doubt that it is a song that will withstand the test of time, and should, therefore, be included in the education of our students.