|Single by Don McLean|
|from the album American Pie|
|B-side||Castles In The Air|
|Released||October 24, 1971|
|Recorded||May 14, 1971–June 25, 1971|
|Label||United Artists Records, BGO Records|
|Don McLean singles chronology|
"Vincent" is a song by Don McLean written as a tribute to Vincent van Gogh. It is also known by its opening line, "Starry Starry Night", a reference to Van Gogh's painting The Starry Night. The song also describes different paintings done by the artist.
McLean wrote the lyrics in 1971 after reading a book about the life of the artist. The following year, the song became the number one hit in the U.K. and No. 12 in the U.S. In the US, "Vincent" also peaked at number two on the Easy Listening chart.
The song makes use of the accordion, vibraphone, strings, and guitar.
The song clearly demonstrates a deep-seated admiration for not only the work of Van Gogh, but also for the man himself. The song includes references to his landscape works, in lines such as "sketch the trees and the daffodils" and "morning fields of amber grain" which describe the amber wheat that features in several paintings. There are also several lines that may allude to Van Gogh's self-portraits: perhaps in "weathered faces lined in pain / are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand", McLean is suggesting that Van Gogh may have found some sort of consolation in creating portraits of himself. However, this line may also refer to Van Gogh's painting "The Potato Eaters", which depicts a hard-working Dutch farming family sitting in semi-darkness and eating their meager meal. There is, too, a single line describing Van Gogh's most famous set of works, Sunflowers. "flaming flowers that brightly blaze" not only draws on the luminous orange and yellow colours of the painting, but also creates powerful images of the sun itself, flaming and blazing, being contained within the flowers and the painting.
In the first two choruses, McLean pays tribute to Van Gogh by reflecting on his lack of recognition: "They would not listen / they did not know how / perhaps they'll listen now." In the final chorus, McLean says "They would not listen / they're not listening still / perhaps they never will." This is the story of Van Gogh: unrecognised as an artist until after his death. The lyrics suggest that Van Gogh was trying to "set [people] free" with the message in his work. McLean feels that this message was made clear to him: "And now I understand what you tried to say to me," he sings. Perhaps it is this eventual understanding that inspired McLean to write the song.
There are also references to Van Gogh's sanity and his suicide. Throughout his life, Van Gogh was plagued with mental disorders, particularly depression. He "suffered for [his] sanity" and eventually "took [his] life as lovers often do."
- Spanish singer Karina (Maribel Llaudes) covered this song in English. It is included in her album "Tiempo Al Tiempo" (Time Needs Time) released in 1972. Hispavox HH 11-232
- Little Tony released in 1973 "Come un anno fa", an adaptation in Italian by singer-songwriter Francesco De Gregori.
- Dutch singer Martine Bijl released the single "Vincent" in 1980, from her self-titled 1980 album "Martine", with Dutch lyrics.
- Italian singer-songwriter Roberto Vecchioni included a cover of Vincent in Italian in his album Canzoni e Cicogne, a live collection released in 2000; the song was also included in the live album Il Contastorie released in 2005.
- Guitarist Chuck Loeb on his 2001 album "In A Heartbeat" featuring his wife Carmen Cuesta-Loeb (vocals).
- Josh Groban on his debut album, Josh Groban.
- Chloë Agnew, the youngest member of the Celtic Woman musical group, released a version of this song on her CD Walking In The Air.
- Justin Hayward in his solo album Classic Blue with Mike Batt.
- This song is covered by Declan Galbraith in his 2006 album Thank You.
- Jane Olivor covered the song on her 1977 album First Night.
- The band Spot 1019 released an homage to this song on their 2002 CD In Her Satanic Majesty's Secret Service Entrance.
- Chet Atkins covered this song in a fingerstyle guitar arrangement. McLean and Atkins performed the song once together.
- Julio Iglesias covered this song on his album Starry Night (1990) and it was later included on the compilation album My Life: The Greatest Hits (disc 1) (1998).
- Vonda Shepard for the TV show Ally McBeal and its companion album, Heart and Soul.
- Damien Leith performed a cover of this song on his 2008 album Catch the Wind: Songs of a Generation
- Nana Mouskouri covered this song on her 2005 album I'll Remember You.
- Ronan Keating performed a cover of this song on his 2009 album Songs For My Mother
- Rick Astley covered this song on his 2005 album Portrait.
- Jackie Evancho covered the song on her debut album Prelude to a Dream in 2009.
- Lena Park covered the song on her remake album Cover Me Vol. 1 in 2010.
- Patti Austin covered this song on her 2011 album Sound Advice.
- NOFX covered this song on the 1996 compilation album Survival of the Fattest
- Former ELO bassist Kelly Groucutt covered the song on many occasions as he toured about the UK
- Joanna Wang covered the song on her second album Joanna & 王若琳 in 2009.
- Fightstar covered the song for their live DVD Be Human in 2010. A studio version was also recorded for the digital bundle of their single A City On Fire.
- Original and former Celtic Woman member Méav Ní Mhaolchatha covered this song for the Divinas concert.
Use in popular culture
- The song was used during the meteor shower on the "'Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky" episode of The Simpsons.
- The line "This world was never meant for someone as beautiful as you" was said by Grandpa in the "So It's Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show" of The Simpsons.
- The song appeared in "Survival of the Fittest (Supernatural)" episode of Supernatural
- "Vincent" is featured on The Runaways.
- Brown, Helen (24 Feb 2010). "Don McLean interview: why I had to write 'Vincent’". The UK Telegraph. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
- Don McLean | AllMusic
- Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 166.
- Booklet from Ramalama Music Spain CD RO 53802 "Karina Vol. 3 Sus cuatro primeros albumes en Hispavox (1970-1974)" 2007
- "In a Heartbeat overview". Allmusic.
- "Magic Fingers overview". Allmusic.
- "Contempo July 2001". SmoothVibes.com.
- "Chet Atkins & Don McLean - Vincent". YouTube.com.
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