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October 2, 1945
Artistfacts for Don McLean
Don McLean was born in New Rochelle, New York. At an early age he developed asthma and was forced to spend the majority of his time at home and indoors. The ailment caused him to miss extended periods of school and he passed the time by listening to music.
By his teen years McLean's love of music inspired him to begin creating it. He bought his first guitar, a Harmony F-hole model and played it constantly. He also took opera lessons that were paid for by his sister. The opera lessons trained his voice to sing but they also strengthened his lungs and increased his breath control which greatly improved his asthmatic symptoms.
His talents as both a song writer and a musician were exceptional even as a teenager. When he was 16 he was invited to join a band called the Rooftop Singers but rejected the offer because he considered himself to be a troubadour. In the early 1960s, folk music became immensely popular with the influences of artists like Bob Dylan. McLean was enamored with the story telling aspect of the genre and began writing songs heavily influenced by folk music.
In 1963 McLean enrolled at Villanova University. He would last only four months at Villanova but before he dropped out he became close friends with fellow classmate, Jim Croce. The two shared a love of folk music and both men later became cornerstones of the singer/songwriter movement of the 1970s.
After leaving Villanova, McLean set out in pursuit of a career in music. He played a seemingly endless number of college shows and toured many of the nation's top live venues. Audiences in attendance of his shows at places like The Gaslight, the Newport Folk Festival, and The Troubadour in Los Angeles became some of McLean's most dedicated fans. His relentless touring then caught the attention of Mediarts and he signed with the label to record his first album Tapestry in 1969. Tapestry garnered positive reviews and minor chart success with the single "I Love You So."
Before he could release his sophomore album, McLean's Mediarts label was purchased by United Artists Records. His second album was released in 1971 by the new label and was titled American Pie
. The title song, "American Pie
," became an international success. It's nearly 9 minute length was uncharacteristic of a chart topping hit but the song reached #1 within 2 months of its release in the United States in 1971. In the UK it remained on the charts for more than a year and reached the top position there in 1972.
Within the lyrics of "American Pie" there are a multitude of cultural and political references. The line "the day the music died" is widely regarded to be a reference to the airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) and Richie Valens in February of 1959.
McLean's has refused to confirm or deny any of the perceived, hidden meanings that have been found within the song. His unwavering silence on the subject effectively preserves the mystery that surrounds it. It also leaves "American Pie" open to new interpretations and evolving insights by each additional generation of fans that become captivated by the timeless song.
" was the second single released from the American Pie
album and reached #12 on the US Billboard charts in March of 1972. Vincent, with its "starry, starry night" beginning, is a lamentation on the tragic life of painter Vincent Van Gogh. It is a beautifully written and after its release it cemented McLean's reputation as a brilliant songwriter.
In 1997 McLean appeared on stage with Garth Brooks for a live performance of "American Pie." HBO broadcast the landmark concert and Brooks later released a recording of the Central Park version on his 2006 box set The Entertainer.
In March of 2000 Madonna released a new, more subdued, cover of McLean's "American Pie." It was a massive success around the world but was met with negative reviews in the US. McLean praised the cover, saying it was "a gift from a goddess," and that her version was "mystical and sensual."
Don McLean was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 2004. He continued to tour, playing favorites taken from the extensive catalog of music he has accumulated over a 50 year career.