Vincent (song)

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Don McLean - Vincent Single Cover.jpg
Single by Don McLean
from the album American Pie
B-side "Castles In The Air"
Released June 17, 1971
Recorded May 1971
Length 3:55
Label United Artists Records, BGO Records
Writer(s) Don McLean
Producer(s) Ed Freeman
Don McLean singles chronology
"American Pie"
"Dreidel" (1973)

"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. It was created on the 100th anniversary of the midpoint of Van Gogh's life.

McLean wrote the lyrics in 1971 after reading a book about the life of the artist.[1] The following year, the song became the number one hit in the UK Singles Chart[2] and No. 12 in the US.[3] Coincidentally, it spent 12 weeks on the HOT 100. In the US, "Vincent" also peaked at number two on the Easy Listening chart.[4] Billboard ranked it as the No. 94 song for 1972.

The song makes use of the accordion, vibraphone, strings, and guitar.

In 2000, PBS aired Don McLean: Starry, Starry Night, a concert special that was filmed in Austin, Texas.


McLean said the following about the genesis of the song:

“In the autumn of 1970 I had a job singing in the school system, playing my guitar in classrooms. I was sitting on the veranda one morning, reading a biography of Van Gogh, and suddenly I knew I had to write a song arguing that he wasn’t crazy. He had an illness and so did his brother Theo. This makes it different, in my mind, to the garden variety of 'crazy’ – because he was rejected by a woman [as was commonly thought]. So I sat down with a print of Starry Night and wrote the lyrics out on a paper bag.”[5]

Song interpretation[edit]

Van Gogh's painting Starry Night

The song 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.[citation needed] There is also a single line describing Van Gogh's most famous set of works, Sunflowers: "flaming flowers that brightly blaze" draws on the luminous orange and yellow colours of the painting and creates powerful images of the sun, flaming and blazing, being contained within the flowers and the painting.[citation needed]

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."[citation needed] In the final chorus, McLean says "They would not listen / they're not listening still / perhaps they never will." This alludes to Van Gogh not being recognised as an artist until after his death.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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."

Van Gogh was a hypergraph and the lyrics "Now I understand, What you tried to say to me, and how you suffered for your sanity, and how you tried to set them free, they would not listen, they did not know how, perhaps they'll listen now" and "They would not listen, they're not listening still, perhaps they never will" may be an acknowledgement of Van Gogh's writing.[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

The Telegraph wrote "With its bittersweet palette of major and minor chords, Vincent’s soothing melody is one of high emotion recollected in tranquillity".[5] Allmusic retrospectively described the song as " McLean's paean to Van Gogh... sympathiz[ing] with Van Gogh's suicide as a sane comment on an insane world. "[6] The site also said McLean performs "a particularly poignant rendition of "Vincent" " on the live album Starry, Starry Night.[7]


Suede frontman Brett Anderson named "Vincent" as the song he wished he had written, describing its lyrics as "perfect" and saying that the track "manages to find that bittersweet holy grail the songwriter is always looking for".[8]

Chart performance[edit]


In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Brown, Helen (24 Feb 2010). "Don McLean interview: why I had to write 'Vincent'". The UK Telegraph. Retrieved 3 August 2011. 
  2. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 274. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  3. ^ Jason Ankeny (1945-10-02). "Don McLean | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  4. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 166. 
  5. ^ a b "Don McLean interview: Why I had to write 'Vincent' - Telegraph". 24 February 2010. 
  6. ^ William Ruhlmann. "American Pie". AllMusic. 
  7. ^ Bruce Eder. "Starry Starry Night". AllMusic. 
  8. ^ Anderson, Brett (25 January 2014). "Soundtrack of My Life". NME: 19. 
  9. ^ "flavour of new zealand - search listener". Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-09-16. Retrieved 2015-01-03. 
  11. ^ "Top 100 1972 - UK Music Charts". Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  12. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1972/Top 100 Songs of 1972". Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-10-22. Retrieved 2015-01-03. 
  14. ^ Booklet from Ramalama Music Spain CD RO 53802 "Karina Vol. 3 Sus cuatro primeros albumes en Hispavox (1970-1974)" 2007
  15. ^ "In a Heartbeat overview". Allmusic. 
  16. ^ "Magic Fingers overview". Allmusic. 
  17. ^ "Contempo July 2001". Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  18. ^ "Chet Atkins & Don McLean - Vincent". Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  19. ^ David Van Vuuren (2011-12-01). "Free The Animals, CDs, Musica A World awaits". Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  20. ^ 我是歌手官方频道 I AM A SINGER (2017-02-04), THE SINGER2017 Ep.3 Single 20170204【Hunan TV Official 1080P】, retrieved 2017-02-08 
  21. ^ della Cava, Marco (10 September 2013). "On the Verge: Jake Bugg is straight outta Nottingham". USA Today. Retrieved 4 December 2013. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Metal Guru" by T Rex
UK Singles Chart number one single
June 17, 1972 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Take Me Bak 'Ome" by Slade