American Pie (album)

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American Pie
Don McLean - American Pie (album) Coverart.png
Studio album by Don McLean
Released October 24, 1971
Recorded May 1971 – June 1971
Studio Record Plant Studios, New York City
Genre Folk, folk rock
Length 36:24
Label United Artists Records UAS-5535 (original)
Liberty Records (1980 reissue)
Capitol Records (2003 reissue)
Producer Ed Freeman
Don McLean chronology
American Pie
Don McLean
Singles from American Pie
  1. "American Pie"
    Released: January 15, 1972
  2. "Vincent"
    Released: June 17, 1972

American Pie is the second studio album by the American singer-songwriter Don McLean, released by United Artists Records on 24 October 1971. The folk/rock album reached number one on the Billboard 200, containing the chart-topping singles "American Pie" and "Vincent." Recorded in May and June 1971 at The Record Plant in New York City,[1] the original 1971 LP is dedicated to Buddy Holly,[2] and was reissued in 1980 minus the track "Sister Fatima".[3] The album was released to much acclaim, later being included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[4]


American Pie is McLean’s second album; his first, Tapestry, having been released to only moderate commercial success and acclaim in 1970. McLean was a protégé of Pete Seeger, having played with him in the 1960s. The album American Pie was intended as a unified work, as McLean has said that he was influenced by the Beatles' Sgt Pepper album and envisioned American Pie to be a similar album.[5] Believing that an artist's work should stand by itself, McLean generally did not offer explanations for his work's themes or meaning,[6] though he did describe the title song as involving "a sense of loss".[5] The album was dedicated to Buddy Holly, a childhood icon of McLean's, and was released in 1971 on the heels of the '60s, the defining decade of McLean’s generation. It has a melancholy feel and rather sparse arrangements.[7] At the time of the writing McLean’s first marriage was failing[8] and the optimism and hopefulness of the 1960s was giving way to the nihilism and hedonism of the 1970s.[9]


The album was recorded in Studio A at The Record Plant on West 44th street in New York City.[1] The producer, Ed Freeman, decided to use accomplished musicians who were not "studio musicians who could act like a metronome" because he wanted to capture the feel of a "band that was really cooking," so he rented a rehearsal studio and they rehearsed the title song for two weeks before they recorded it.[1] Because McLean rarely phrased his singing the same way twice there were as many as 24 takes for some of the voice parts, but the rhythm tracks are mostly one take.[1]

The title track contains references to the death of Buddy Holly (McLean being a 13-year-old paper-boy at the time[4]). The phrase "The Day the Music Died" was used by McLean on this song, and has now become an unofficial name for the tragedy.

The original United Artists Records inner sleeve featured a free verse poem[10] written by McLean about William Boyd, also known as Hopalong Cassidy, along with a picture of Boyd in full Hopalong regalia. This sleeve was removed within a year of the album's release. The words to this poem appear on a plaque at the hospital where Boyd died. The Boyd poem and picture tribute do appear on a special remastered 2003 CD.[11]

On the original release, the title of the song "Sister Fatima" is misspelled "Sister Faima" [2]

"Babylon" is a close paraphrase of the 1st Verse of the 137th Psalm,[12] based on the canon "By the Waters of Babylon" by Philip Hayes.[5]

Back-up singers[edit]

The final chorus of "American Pie" features multi-tracked overdubs, credited in the sleeve notes to the "West Forty Fourth Street Rhythm and Noise Choir". Although the individual choristers have never been publicly named, the album's producer, Ed Freeman, has claimed that the choir included Pete Seeger, James Taylor, Livingston Taylor and Carly Simon.[1]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Allmusic4/5 stars[13]
Robert ChristgauC-[14]

The album reached number 1 within two weeks of release and was certified gold within six months, spending almost a year on the Billboard Album Charts.[15] Its appeal cut across genres, in what was becoming a fragmented music scene.[16]


The album was reissued in 1980 without the song "Sister Fatima", and again on June 27, 2003 with the track restored, along with the addition of two bonus tracks.[17] Also the first Spanish issue delivered by Hispavox was released without "Sister Fatima".[citation needed]


In February 2003 George Michael recorded a cover of "The Grave" as a protest against the imminent Iraq War.[18]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Don McLean except where noted.[19]

1."American Pie" 8:33
2."Till Tomorrow" 2:11
3."Vincent" 3:55
4."Crossroads" 3:34
5."Winterwood" 3:09
6."Empty Chairs" 3:24
7."Everybody Loves Me, Baby" 3:37
8."Sister Fatima" 2:31
9."The Grave" 3:08
10."Babylon"Traditional; arranged by Lee Hays and McLean1:40


  • Don McLean – vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo
  • Warren Bernhardt – piano ("Crossroads")
  • Ray Colcord – electric piano
  • Tom Flye – drums ("The Grave"), engineering
  • Ed Freeman – string arrangements
  • Paul Griffin – piano ("American Pie")
  • Lee Hays – arranger
  • Mike Mainieri – marimba, vibraphone
  • Roy Markowitz – drums, percussion
  • Gene Orloff – concertmaster
  • Bob Rothstein – bass, vocals
  • David Spinozza – electric guitar ("American Pie")
  • West Forty Fourth Street Rhythm and Noise Choir – chorus

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1972) Peak
Billboard 200 1
Australian Kent Music Report Albums Chart 1


  1. ^ a b c d e Buskin, Richard. "Don McLean "American Pie"". Sound on Sound. SOS Publications Group. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Back cover of the 1971 United Artists LP (UAS-5535)
  3. ^ Back cover of the 1980, Liberty Records re-issue (LN-10037).
  4. ^ a b Dimery, Robert (2009). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Octopus Publishing Group, London. p. 239. ISBN 9781844036240. Retrieved 2012-09-23. 
  5. ^ a b c Robert Fontenot. "What has Don McLean himself had to say about the song?". Oldies Music: American Pie and Don McLean FAQ. Retrieved April 4, 2013. 
  6. ^ McLean, quoted by Cecil Adams The Straight Dope
  7. ^ William Ruhlmann. "American Pie". AllMusic. 
  8. ^ "Don McLean Biography". 
  9. ^ McParland, Robert (26 Sep 2012). Shuck, Ray, ed. "A Generation Lost in Space". Do You Believe in Rock and Roll?. McFarland: 150–155. 
  10. ^ Fann, James M. (December 10, 2006). "Understanding AMERICAN PIE". Retrieved April 3, 2013. 
  11. ^ inner sleeve, 2003 Capitol Records CD remaster (72435-84729-2-9)
  12. ^ King James Version Bible, Psalm 137, 1:1
  13. ^ Allmusic review
  14. ^ Christgau, Robert (December 30, 1971). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved May 16, 2016. 
  15. ^ "Album charts". Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  16. ^ Bangs, Lester. "Don McLean-American Pie". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  17. ^ Puterbaugh, Parke. "Don McLean - American Pie". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  18. ^ "Michael praised for protest cover". BBC News. 2003-03-01. Retrieved 2017-10-26. 
  19. ^ Track listing