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Don McLean – American Pie (1971)

August 20, 2012

[Album 83/1001]

Running orders are vital.  So what do you do with a song like American Pie?

I’d probably heed the advice of Gary Cole in Talladega Nights (however out of context): “if you’re not first, you’re last.”  At 8 minutes, 33 seconds, this behemoth of a song simply doesn’t fit as a mid-album track. 

McLean opted to start the show with the title track.  After the first listen, I thought it was misplaced; with the climax happening that early, it’s a 9-song denouement the rest of the way.  As make no mistake, American Pie (the song) is an anomaly: American Pie (the album) is otherwise a folk record.

Though on listen #2, I saw the brilliance of putting it early.  The song of course references February 3, 1959: the date of the plane crash that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and their pilot.  As McLean put it, “the day the music died.”  Seeing as the album’s penultimate track, The Grave, is a Vietnam protest song, any other running order wouldn’t work as well chronologically.

Although the music is always pleasant, the lyrics are sometimes subtly vicious, particularly Everybody Loves Me Baby.  Three decades later, marionettes in the film Team America: World Police would explicitly have the same ‘you’re welcome, world’ attitude.  In a marionette movie, funny.  In real life…

Fortunately, in addition to other strong offerings such as Vincent, this album contained the full version of the title track.  My dad once purchased a Don McLean compilation, primarily but not exclusively for that song.  Although there was no marking to indicate they had done so on the cover, whoever assembled the greatest hits package elected to fade out American Pie around the 4 minute mark, less than half the proper song! 

Best to leave the song editing/lyric mangling to Steve Carell and Rainn Wilson:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xh4-I0ZvMOo

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From → 1970s

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