American Pie turns 40. The other one.


I still have my original sheet music!

I’m not talking about the raunchy teen movie. No this American Pie, the REAL American Pie, is the song Don McClean penned that hit the charts  40 years ago.

This was song like no other: eight and half minutes long, catchy tune, cryptic lyrics. I can’t say I ever completely understood the song at the time. “The day the music died”  was presumed to be February 3, 1959 when the plane carrying some of rock music’s greatest –  Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, crashed. This tragedy occurred before many of us were born, or at least before we were old enough to remember it.

But it didn’t just tell the story of the plane crash that occurred that day. Mixed in was symbolism and metaphor which I didn’t then, and still don’t completely understand. Guess I was not geeky enough to sit down with the lyrics and work it out.

Back then, it was hard to even get the lyrics of a song. There was no internet, no Wikipedia, no lyrics.com. When a new song came out, we were introduced to it by hearing it played on the popular radio stations. If the DJ’s liked it, or if fans requested it, it was played a lot. Then, if you were fortunate enough to own a record player or tape player, after hearing a song you liked on the radio, you could go buy the recording of it. When American Pie came out, I was a college freshman. I didn’t own a record or tape player, and neither did my roommates. We barely had any free time between class, clinic and studying: everyone took college pretty seriously back then, unlike the resort-party attitude that many students take today.  But we’d come home after class or clinic, and in the little time we had before dinner we’d listen to the top 40 on my transistor radio, IF we could get the station to come in clearly in our basement dorm room. I think aluminum foil was involved, as was touching the antenna to the radiator. If American Pie came on, we’d listen, sing along to the parts we knew, and try to write down the lyrics for the parts we didn’t. After some frustration,  I broke down and brought the sheet music, and my roommate and I struggled between the two of us, to play it on piano and guitar, so we could finally sing through the whole song.

American Pie came out during a time of much strife. The Viet Nam War was still raging. Those who did not want to serve in that conflict were fleeing to Canada. The country was still reeling from the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Racial segregation was an issue in many places. But for eight and a half minutes, we could set all that aside and listen to the pure magic of Don McClean.

© Huffygirl 2011

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