Don McLean Remaking ‘American Pie’ to Celebrate Hit Song’s 50th Anniversary

by Suzanne Halliburton

Don McLean and his song “American Pie” are timeless treasures.

But to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the release of the song, McLean allowed a tweak to “American Pie.” He’s featured in the new release from Home Free, the a cappella country group.

McLean told CMT: “I have only collaborated with Garth Brooks on a live recording of ’American Pie’ in the past, and it was released on one of his ‘live’ albums. With the song celebrating 50 years, my manager asked me about recording the song with Home Free. Any great song with a melody lends itself to a great a cappella rendition, and I truly believe this recording is proof of that. Home Free reminds me so much of The Jordanaires, whom I worked with years ago.”

Take a listen to the new version and catch us on the other side. We’ll tell you more details, including what this song really is about.

Don McLean First Performed “American Pie” in March 1971

Don McLean is 75. And he’ll forever be known for “American Pie.” He released the song in late 1971 and it spent a month atop the charts. It’s eight glorious minutes of musical storytelling. Three years ago, BMI certified that the song had been played on the air more than five million times. McLean also wrote and released “Vincent,” a song about artist Vincent Van Gogh. That song was certified with three million plays.

So what’s the song about? What was Don McLean referring to when he sang about “the day the music died?” The song was written in reaction to a plane crash that happened on Feb. 3, 1959. Some of rock music’s biggest names were killed — Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson.

They were traveling as part of Buddy Holly’s “Winter Dance Party” tour. Their plane crashed in Iowa. Country superstar Waylon Jennings, who then was an up-and-comer in Holly’s band, gave up his seat to Richardson and rode one of the buses.

Don McLean sang the song for the first time March 14, 1971 in Philadelphia, while he was performing at Temple University. The song was about McLean’s reaction to the crash. He was 13 when it happened. And he had a part-time job delivering newspapers. So that explains the lyric: “February made me shiver/with every paper I’d deliver.”

McLean Likes To Play Coy About Everything in Song

Don McLean usually has been coy about the rest of the lyrics. There’s been so much speculation. Casey Kasem, the radio icon who brought us his top 40 every week, said in January 1972 when he was introducing the song:

“A few days ago we phoned Don McLean for a little help in interpreting his great hit ‘American Pie.’ He was pretty reluctant to give us a straight interpretation of his work. He’d rather let it speak for itself. But he explained some of the specific references that he makes. The most important one is the death of rockabilly singer Buddy Holly in 1959. For McLean, that’s when the music died. The court jester he refers to is Bob Dylan. The Stones and the flames in the sky refer to the concert at Altamont, California. And McLean goes on, painting his picture.”

Four years ago, the Library of Congress added the original “American Pie” version from Don McLean to its National Recording Registry. The song was deemed “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”

But let’s get back to the present day and Don McLean and Home Free. Rob Lundquist, the tenor in Home Free, raved about the honor of recording “American Pie.”

He told CMT: “I grew up listening to ‘American Pie. I can remember family road trips, singing it with my dad at the top of our lungs. So, when I heard that we had the possibility of collaborating with Don McLean, I was on board immediately.”

“Overall, it’s another surreal collaboration for us and one more career highlight that I will never forget.”