|Single by Don McLean|
|from the album American Pie|
|B-side||"Castles In The Air"|
|Released||June 17, 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. 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. The following year, the song became the number one hit in the UK Singles Chart and No. 12 in the US. Coincidentally, it spent 12 weeks on the HOT 100. In the US, "Vincent" also peaked at number two on the Easy Listening chart. Billboard ranked it as the No. 94 song for 1972.
The song makes use of the accordion, vibraphone, strings, and guitar.
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.”
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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."
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" are very likely an acknowledgement of Van Gogh's writing.
The Telegraph wrote "With its bittersweet palette of major and minor chords, Vincent’s soothing melody is one of high emotion recollected in tranquillity". 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. " The site also said McLean performs "a particularly poignant rendition of "Vincent" " on the live album Starry Starry Night.
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".
Weekly singles charts
- 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.
- 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. His version has a rock edge to it, while the lyrics, completely different from De Gregori's previous adaption, are written as a letter to Van Gogh from his friend and contemporary Paul Gauguin and include many of the themes in McLean's original lyrics.
- Guitarist Chuck Loeb on his 2001 album In A Heartbeat featuring his wife Carmen Cuesta-Loeb.
- 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.
- Declan Galbraith in his 2006 album Thank You.
- Ruthie Henshall recorded the song for her 2013 covers album I've Loved These Days.
- Jane Olivor covered the song on her 1977 album First Night.
- The band Spot 1019 released an homage to this song on their 2002 album 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 and it was later included on the compilation album My Life: The Greatest Hits (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.
- Idols South Africa winner Dave van Vuuren recorded the song on his 2011 album Free the Animals.
- 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 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.
- Chinese singer Li Wenqi and Ikram covered this song in episode 9 of The Voice of China (season 3).
- The song was performed at football superstar George Best's funeral in 2005 Replacing the word Vincent with Georgie, Brian Kennedy had a top 10 hit with music from the funeral (Bring him home, you raise me up & vincent) in the UK along with Peter Corry.
- Marina Prior recorded the song for her 2012 album Both Sides Now
- Teresa Carpio recorded the song for during her 2003 concerts with the Hong Kong Philharmonic DIVA: Teresa Carpio and the HKPO
In popular culture
- The song was used during the meteor shower on the "'Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky" episode of The Simpsons. English musician Jake Bugg credits this use of the song as his formative musical experience.
- Brown, Helen (24 Feb 2010). "Don McLean interview: why I had to write 'Vincent'". The UK Telegraph. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 274. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- Jason Ankeny (1945-10-02). "Don McLean | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
- Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 166.
- "Don McLean interview: Why I had to write 'Vincent' - Telegraph". Telegraph.co.uk. 24 February 2010.
- William Ruhlmann. "American Pie". AllMusic.
- Bruce Eder. "Starry Starry Night". AllMusic.
- Anderson, Brett (25 January 2014). "Soundtrack of My Life". NME: 19.
- "flavour of new zealand - search listener". Flavourofnz.co.nz. Retrieved 2016-10-07.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-09-16. Retrieved 2015-01-03.
- "Top 100 1972 - UK Music Charts". Uk-charts.top-source.info. Retrieved 2016-10-07.
- "Top 100 Hits of 1972/Top 100 Songs of 1972". Musicoutfitters.com. Retrieved 2016-10-07.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-10-22. Retrieved 2015-01-03.
- 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. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
- "Chet Atkins & Don McLean - Vincent". YouTube.com. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
- David Van Vuuren (2011-12-01). "Free The Animals, CDs, Musica A World awaits". Musica.co.za. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
- della Cava, Marco (10 September 2013). "On the Verge: Jake Bugg is straight outta Nottingham". USA Today. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
"Metal Guru" by T Rex
|UK Singles Chart number one single
June 17, 1972 (2 weeks)
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