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 at 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 137th Psalm,[12] based on the canon "By the Waters of Babylon" by Philip Hayes.[5]


There is an often repeated claim that the song "Empty Chairs" was the inspiration for the popular song "Killing Me Softly with His Song". Lori Lieberman, who first recorded the song, claims that she wrote a poem after seeing McLean perform "Empty Chairs" in concert and that co-authors Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel re-worked it into the song, which she later recorded on her debut album.[13][14] Fox denies this, saying that the song’s lyrical genesis was found in a notebook of Gimbel’s that contained the phrase “Killing me softly with his blues”, which he had saved as a possible lyrical idea. They updated the phrase and wrote the song which, Fox contends, Lieberman liked and said reminded her of watching McLean perform.[15] A contemporaneous newspaper article,[16] has a third version of the story that sits somewhere between the two. In it, Gimbel asserts that Lieberman came to him and described her strong emotional reaction to hearing McLean sing. He thought this was a good song idea and went back to his notebooks for the phrase he liked, “killing me softly with his blues”. One of them suggested changing the last word to “song” and Fox and Gimbel, using this as inspiration, went on to write the hit.

Another controversy concerns the final chorus of "American Pie", and the "West Forty Fourth Street Rhythm and Noise Choir" who sang multi-tracked overdubs. The producer, Ed Freeman, claims that choir included Pete Seeger, James Taylor, Livingston Taylor and Carly Simon.[1] On his website, Don McLean denies that this is true.[17]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[18]
Robert Christgau C-[19]

The Album reached number 1 within two weeks of release and was certified gold within 6 months, spending almost a year on the Billboard Album Charts.[20] Its appeal cut across genres, in what was becoming a fragmented music scene.[21]


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.[22] Also the first Spanish issue delivered by Hispavox was released without "Sister Fatima".[citation needed]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Don McLean except where noted[23]

No. Title Length
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" (Trad., arr. Hays and McLean) 1:40


  • 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. ^ "The 'Killing Me Softly' Story". Don McLean Online. The Daily News. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  14. ^ MacIntosh, Dan. Songfacts
  15. ^ Fox, Charles. Interview. November 18, 2010
  16. ^ O'Hare Patricia. “A Killer of a Song” NY Daily News, 5 April 1973. Web.
  17. ^ McLean's Website
  18. ^ Allmusic review
  19. ^ Christgau, Robert (December 30, 1971). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved May 16, 2016. 
  20. ^ "Album charts". Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  21. ^ Bangs, Lester. "Don McLean-American Pie". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  22. ^ Puterbaugh, Parke. "Don McLean - American Pie". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  23. ^ Track listing
Preceded by
Music by Carole King
Billboard 200 number-one album
January 22, 1972 – March 10, 1972
Succeeded by
Harvest by Neil Young
Preceded by
Imagine by John Lennon
Australian Kent Music Report number-one album
April 3, 1972 – June 18, 1972
Succeeded by
Harvest by Neil Young