Don McLean Speaks on the Staying Power of ‘American Pie’

by Megan Molseed

It is a song that has moved us for generations. Sure, there are certainly some people who may not immediately know who Don McLean is, but almost anyone can sing one of his most famous tunes, American Pie.

The wildly popular hit was released in January 1972. Since then, millions of music fans have memorized each verse of the eight-minute-long tune. The song’s creator, and original singer Don McLean, believes the universal love American Pie has received over the last fifty years has turned the tune into a sort of folk song.

“It’s kind of a folk song now,” Don McLean tells Fox News of his iconic song. And, the singer notes, the success of the song also falls on the time in which it was released. Written in one of recent history’s most tumultuous times, McClean says the song reflects many of the feelings of the era.

“It was specific, really, to the very tumultuous times that were going on in the United States,” the singer says of the 1972 hit. “In the early ’70s — in 1970, 1971 — it was actually the worst and most violent time.”

The Iconic Tune Finds The Right Audience At the Right Time

McClean adds that he believes the country was “yearning for something American,” at these times. And, he says, American Pie certainly “fit the bill.”

“Cities were on fire and the Vietnam War was finally ending, and titanic struggles had forced them [the government] to stop doing this [after] it had been going on for 15 years or more,” McLean tells Fox News.

According to McLean, one of the things that made American Pie resonate with listeners so well at the time of its release comes down to something simple, being “the right guy at the right time.”

“The audience was receptive,” McLean explains. “I knew my audience, and I knew what they wanted.”

‘American Pie’ Makes History

American Pie found its way to the top of the billboard charts almost immediately after its January 15 1972 release. And, now…even fifty years later… the popular tune charms fans as one of the most iconic folk songs to hit the airwaves.

Over the last fifty years, American Pie has been featured in many films and television shows. It has also brought Don McLean honors such as becoming a Grammy Award honoree; a Songwriter Hall of Fame member, as well as a recipient of the BBC Lifetime Achievement Award. 

“In the world of music back a hundred years ago or so — even hundreds of years ago in rural areas — there were no tape recorders or TV or radio, or even people who were literate enough to write things down,” Don McLean explains of the folk-song genre.

“So someone would learn from their mother and grandmother,” the singer adds.

“They would learn and memorize it, and then sing it somewhere,” McLean explains.

“And somebody else would then do the same, and maybe sing it a little differently. And so on and so on, in the oral tradition,” the American Pie singer continues. “I think that ‘American Pie’ has gone into that particular realm.”