Empty Chairs

Album: American Pie (1971)
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  • Don McLean went through some rough times, which are reflected on his American Pie album. His father died when he was just 15, and his marriage was on the rocks when he recorded the album. Faced with a bout of depression, he sympathized with Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch painter who went insane and cut off his ear. Speaking with the UK newspaper The Telegraph, he revealed that in this song about a man who loses a love, the empty chairs are Van Gogh's paintings of a chair.
  • Lori Lieberman, who sang the original version of the hit "Killing Me Softly With His Song," claims that "Empty Chairs" inspired that song. A press release tells the story: Don played a show at LA's Troubadour Club. Singing Empty Chairs inspired Lori Lieberman to write the song Killing Me Softly on a napkin. "I was actually blasé about going," says Lieberman. "I didn't know who he was, but from the moment he walked on stage, I was spellbound. I felt as if he knew me and his songs were about my life. I felt like he sang into my soul." Originally called killing me softly with his blues, Lori's poem inspired songwriters Norman Gimbel & Charles Fox to write the song for her. It was released on her debut album in 1971.

    There is another side of this story, which Charles Fox told us: "It really didn't happen that way. Norman Gimbel and I wrote that song for a young artist whose name was Lori Lieberman. Norman had a book that he would put titles of songs, song ideas and lyrics or something that struck him at different times. And he pulled out the book and he was looking through it, and he says, 'Hey, what about a song title, 'Killing Me Softly With His Blues'?' Well, the 'killing me softly' part sounded very interesting, 'with his blues' sounded old fashioned in 1972 when we wrote it. So he thought for a while and he said, 'What about 'killing me softly with his song'? That has a unique twist to it.' So we discussed what it could be, and obviously it's about a song - listening to the song and being moved by the words. It's like the words are speaking to what that person's life is. Anyway, Norman went home and wrote an extraordinary lyric and called me later in the afternoon. I jotted it down over the phone. I sat down and the music just flowed right along with the words. And we got together the next morning and made a couple of adjustments with it and we played it for Lori, and she loved it, she said it reminds her of being at a Don McLean concert. So in her act, when she would appear, she would say that. And somehow the words got changed around so that we wrote it based on Don McLean, and even Don McLean I think has it on his Web site. But he doesn't know. You know, he only knows what the legend is."
  • The title appears only once in the song, showing up in the last verse in the line "And empty clothes that drape and fall on empty chairs."

    According to McLean, his record company wanted him to change the title to "I Never Thought You Would," since that's a prominent line in the chorus. McLean refused. "To me that wasn't what the song was about," he said.
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Comments: 2

  • Jerri from Walnut Creek, CaHi I heard this song covered by a woman in 1988. WHO WAS IT?
  • Bob from Burbank, CaThis song is about Don's ex-wife who used to leave her clothes draped across chairs, hence when she left he always saw "empty chairs"
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