When Don McLean’s “American Pie” came out, its success was instant.
“It was almost like the minute someone heard the song, they wanted to buy it, or they wanted to hear it again. And that’s a hit,” McLean has said.
At over eight minutes long, “American Pie” was an upbeat sad song. A unique classic that remains so more than 40 years after it was written. As McLean said, “(That song’s success) was a powerful, altering, life-changing experience which continued on for years.”
McLean will be at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, with hits like “American Pie,” “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night),” “Castles in the Air,” and many more.
But his major break came with “American Pie,” a sprawling, epic ballad that revolves around the deaths of musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper in a plane crash in 1959. McLean has also said it’s a somewhat autobiographical account of his life at the time. But the song that tied together elements of tragedy and fun almost became something very different to the one we know and love.
“(After I had written it), it took a couple months to really get the players I had in the studio to play the song like I wanted it,” McLean said. “I couldn’t get the producer that I had to rock ’n’ roll. He kept thinking I was a folksinger, and he wanted us to make a folk album. So it was really quite a fight to get this song to rock.”
But “American Pie” paved the way for his later albums, which were less known, but the “popularity (of ‘American Pie’) has given me the opportunity to (showcase) my other songs,” McLean said. “So people got to know songs like ‘Crossroads,’ ‘Winterwood’ and ‘Castles in the Air.’” For fans interested, McLean recommends the albums “Headroom,” “Prime Time,” “Believers” and the live album, “Solo.”
“That’s for people who like me when I played banjo and guitar and I played solo around the world,” he said. “Which I did for a good 15 or 20 years. I like to tell people that write about my songwriting, that basically I’m a fusion artist. I fuse old-fashioned, popular music with early rock ’n’ roll, like Elvis Presley and Danny and The Juniors. Things that were easy to play, and fun.”
As for the life span of “American Pie,” the original manuscript for which sold at a Christie’s auction for over $1 million a few years ago, the day the music died inspired a song that keeps it alive.