Don McLean and Friends in Concert: Don McLean, the songwriting genius behind American Pie and Vincent, performs in his first UK television special, supported by The Jordanaires and special guest Elkie Brooks. American Pie and Vincent made Don McLean universally known as a songwriter. In this, his first television special, he displays his talents as a performer. Supporting McLean are The Jordanaires, the first time Elvis Presley’s original backing group appeared outside the USA, and Britain’s first lady of jazz/rock, Elkie Brooks.
McLean’s magnum opus “American Pie” is a sprawling, impressionistic song inspired partly by the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) in a plane crash in 1959, and developments in American youth culture in the subsequent decade. The song popularized the expression “The Day the Music Died” in reference to the crash.
The song was recorded on May 26, 1971, and a month later received its first radio airplay on New York’s WNEW-FM and WPLJ-FM to mark the closing of Fillmore East, the famous New York concert hall. “American Pie” reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 from January 15 to February 5, 1972, and remains McLean’s most successful single release. The single also topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart. With a total running time of 8:36 encompassing both sides of the single, it was also the longest song to reach number one until Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)” broke the record in 2021. Some stations played only part one of the original split-sided single release.
WCFL DJ Bob Dearborn unraveled the lyrics and first published his interpretation on January 7, 1972, four days after the song reached number 1 on rival station WLS, six days before it reached number 1 on WCFL, and eight days before it reached number 1 nationally (see “Further reading” under “American Pie”). Numerous other interpretations, which together largely converged on Dearborn’s interpretation, quickly followed. McLean declined to say anything definitive about the lyrics until 1978. Since then McLean has stated that the lyrics are also somewhat autobiographical and present an abstract story of his life from the mid-1950s until the time he wrote the song in the late 1960s.
Don McLean and Friends in Concert
Donald McLean is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. He is best known for his 1971 hit song “American Pie”, an eight-and-a-half-minute folk rock “cultural touchstone” about the loss of innocence of the early rock and roll generation. His other hit singles include “Vincent” (about Vincent van Gogh), “Dreidel”, and “Wonderful Baby”; as well as his renditions of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and the Skyliners’ “Since I Don’t Have You”.
McLean’s composition “And I Love You So” has been recorded by Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Helen Reddy, Glen Campbell, and others. In 2000, Madonna had a hit with a rendition of “American Pie”. In 2004, McLean was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In January 2018, BMI certified that “American Pie” and “Vincent” had reached five million and three million airplays respectively. On Nov 22nd 2022 in Nashville, TN McLean was inducted into Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. McLean’s grandfather and father, both also named Donald McLean, were of Scottish origin. McLean’s mother, Elizabeth Bucci, was Italian, originated from Abruzzo in central Italy. He has other extended family in Los Angeles and Boston.
Though some of his early musical influences included Frank Sinatra and Buddy Holly, as a teenager, McLean became interested in folk music, particularly the Weavers’ 1955 recording At Carnegie Hall. He often missed long periods of school because of childhood asthma, particularly music lessons, and although McLean slipped back in his studies, his love of music was allowed to flourish. By age 16, he had bought his first guitar and began making contacts in the music business, becoming friends with the folk singers Erik Darling and Fred Hellerman of the Weavers. Hellerman said, “He called me one day and said, ‘I’d like to come and visit you’, and that’s what he did! We became good friends — he has the most remarkable music memory of anyone I’ve ever known.”
When McLean was 15, his father died. Fulfilling his father’s request, McLean graduated from Iona Preparatory School in 1963, and briefly attended Villanova University, dropping out after four months. After leaving Villanova, McLean became associated with the famed folk music agent Harold Leventhal for several months before teaming up with his personal manager, Herb Gart, for 18 years. For the next six years, he performed at venues and events including The Bitter End and the Gaslight Cafe in New York, the Newport Folk Festival, the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C., and the Troubadour in Los Angeles.
“American Pie” is a song by American singer and songwriter Don McLean. Recorded and released in 1971 on the album of the same name, the single was the number-one US hit for four weeks in 1972 starting January 15 after just eight weeks on the US Billboard charts (where it entered at number 69). The song also topped the charts in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. In the UK, the single reached number 2, where it stayed for three weeks on its original 1971 release, and a reissue in 1991 reached No. 12.
The song was listed as the No. 5 song on the RIAA project Songs of the Century. A truncated version of the song was covered by Madonna in 2000 and reached No. 1 in at least 15 countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. At 8 minutes and 42 seconds, McLean’s combined version is the sixth longest song to enter the Billboard Hot 100 (at the time of release it was the longest). The song also held the record for almost 50 years for being the longest song to reach number one before Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” broke the record in 2021. Due to its exceptional length, it was initially released as a two-sided 7-inch single. “American Pie” has been described as “one of the most successful and debated songs of the 20th century”.
The repeated phrase “the day the music died” refers to a plane crash in 1959 that killed early rock and roll stars Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, ending the era of early rock and roll; this became the popular nickname for that crash. The theme of the song goes beyond mourning McLean’s childhood music heroes, reflecting the deep cultural changes and profound disillusion and loss of innocence of his generation – the early rock and roll generation – that took place between the 1959 plane crash and either late 1969 or late 1970. The meaning of the other lyrics, which cryptically allude to many of the jarring events and social changes experienced during that period, have been debated for decades. McLean repeatedly declined to explain the symbolism behind the many characters and events mentioned; he eventually released his songwriting notes to accompany the original manuscript when it was sold in 2015, explaining many of these, and further elaborated on the lyrical meaning in a 2022 interview/documentary celebrating the song’s 50th anniversary, in which he stated the song was driven by impressionism and debunked some of the more widely speculated symbols.
The Jordanaires were an American vocal quartet that formed as a gospel group in 1948. Over the years, they recorded both sacred and secular music for recording companies such as Capitol Records, RCA Victor, Columbia Records, Decca Records, Vocalion Records, Stop Records, and many other smaller independent labels.
In the mid-1950s, they also began lending their vocal talents to other artists as background singers in recording sessions. They are widely known for having provided background vocals for Elvis Presley, in live appearances, recordings, and feature films from 1956 to 1972. The group worked in the recording studio, on stage, and on television with many country, gospel, and rock and roll artists.
Elkie Brooks (born Elaine Bookbinder; 25 February 1946) is an English rock, blues and jazz singer. She was a vocalist with the bands Dada and Vinegar Joe, and later became a solo artist. She gained her biggest success in the late 1970s and 1980s, releasing 13 UK Top 75 singles, and reached the top ten with “Pearl’s a Singer”, “Sunshine After the Rain” and the title track of the album No More the Fool (1986). She has been nominated twice for the Brit Awards. Brooks is a Gold Badge Award of Merit winner from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) (now The Ivors Academy) and is generally referred to as the “British Queen of Blues”.
Brooks first solo album, released on A & M Records, was Rich Man’s Woman (1975). It was released to critical acclaim, but Brooks was criticised because of the album’s cover shot of a naked Brooks with a feather boa, which was considered outrageous for the time.
This came before a run of 16 albums in 20 years, starting with Two Days Away (1977), produced by the songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who had previously worked with Elvis Presley; Brooks also wrote tracks with Leiber and Stoller. The hits “Pearl’s a Singer” (reaching No. 8 in the UK Singles Chart) and “Sunshine After the Rain” (which reached No. 10) came from this album. 1977 also saw Brooks duet with Cat Stevens on the song “Remember the Days of the Old Schoolyard” which reached No.33 on the Billboard charts and No.44 in UK. The albums Shooting Star (1978) and Live and Learn (1979) also saw success, along with the singles “Lilac Wine” and “Don’t Cry Out Loud”. Her polished, powerful cover of Gallagher and Lyle’s “The Runaway” saw the Scottish singer-songwriters appear with Brooks on Top of the Pops to provide backing vocals.