The Don McLean Story

The Don McLean Story
The Don McLean Story: Killing Us Softly with His Songs by Alan Howard

For the first time Don McLean shared his life story in this 420-page biography available from Amazon (print and Kindle) and other top bookstores. This site provides information about the book and regular additions of free sample content from book chapters. The site also contains full details about all albums released by Don McLean.

Contents…

Chapter 1: Everyone’s Caught on a Carousel Pony…Growing Up in New Rochelle
Chapter 2: Castles in the Air…Musical Apprenticeship, 1960s
Chapter 3: Tapestry…The Hudson River Troubadour
Chapter 4: Magdalene Lane…First Record Deal
Chapter 5: American Pie…Something touched me deep inside…
Chapter 6: Starry, Starry Night…Vincent and the Grammys
Chapter 7: Dreidel…My world is a constant confusion…
Chapter 8: Homeless Brother…There’s Freedom When You’re Walking…
Chapter 9: Prime Time…Nashville and Jerusalem
Don McLean on Song Making and Recording
Chapter 10: “Crying”…The Comeback
Chapter 11: Crossroads…1980s, Litigation
Chapter 12: And I Love You So…1990s, Family, and the Surf Ballroom
Chapter 13: Garth Brooks and Madonna…Another Planet
Chapter 14: A Long, Long Time Ago…Don McLean on American Pie

Don McLean is one of America’s most enduring singer-songwriters and is forever associated with his classic hits ‘American Pie’ and ‘Vincent (Starry Starry Night)’. Since first hitting the charts in 1971, Don has amassed over 40 gold and platinum records world-wide and, in 2004, was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. His songs have been recorded by artists from every musical genre, most notably Madonna’s No. 1 recording of ‘American Pie’ in 2000 and George Michael’s version of ‘The Grave’ in 2003, sung in protest at the Iraq War. Don McLean is immortalized as the subject of the Roberta Flack/The Fugees No. 1 hit, ‘ Killing Me Softly With His Song’. The author interviewed McLean at length about his childhood, the making of “American Pie” and his career as a singer, songwriter and performer. Says Jim Monaghan of WHDA radio, NJ: “…Alan Howard did a terrific job in not just sharing Don’s story, but revealing a personal side of Don rarely seen by the public.”


Thanks to Don McLean for putting the post-war, twentieth century experience to words and music and singing it all with a voice that transports us to a better place. I want to thank him for sharing his story.

Thanks to Fred Hellerman, Erik Darling, Pete Murphy, Pete Childs, Rob Stoner, Ed Freeman, Jerry Corbitt, Ed Begley Jr., Bob Dearborn, Joel Dorn, John Peters, Larry Butler, Gordon Stoker, Fred Snel, Chris Horsnell, John Platania, Tony Migliore, Ralph Childs, Jerry Kroon, Patrisha McLean, Dick Boak, Pat Severs, Garth Brooks, Ron Buck, Bob Gregg, Alan Young, and Bill Nisbet for allowing me to include their thoughts on Don McLean and his music.

Alan Howard

Reading, UK

American Pie

  1. American Pie
  2. Till Tomorrow
  3. Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)
  4. Crossroads
  5. Winterwood
  6. Empty Chairs
  7. Everybody Loves Me, Baby
  8. Sister Fatima
  9. The Grave
  10. Babylon (Adapt. from Psalm 137)

Released by United Artists in 1971.

americanpie

UNITED ARTISTS UAS-5535, Released October 1971 [LP]
UNITED ARTISTS U-8299, Released October 1971 [8T]
LIBERTY LN-10037, Reissued October 1980 [LP]
EMI MANHATTAN CDP 7 46555 2, Reissued 1987 [CD]
ULTRADISC MFSL UDCD 728, Reissued July 1998 [CD]

 Commentary on “American Pie” from The Don McLean Story

“American Pie” is partly biographical and partly the story of America during the idealized 1950s and the bleaker 1960s. It was initially inspired by Don’s memories of being a paperboy in 1959 and learning of the death of Buddy Holly. “American Pie” presents an abstract story of McLean’s life from the mid-1950s until the end of the 1960s, and at the same time it represents the evolution of popular music and politics over these years, from the lightness of the 1950s to the darkness of the late 1960s, but metaphorically the song continues to evolve to the present time. It is not a nostalgia song. “American Pie” changes as America, itself, is changing.

For McLean, the transition from the light innocence of childhood to the dark realities of adulthood began with the deaths of his father and Buddy Holly and culminated with the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, which was the start of a more difficult time for America. During this four year period, Don moved from an idyllic childhood, through the shock and harsh realities of his father’s death in 1961, to his decision, in 1964, to leave Villanova University to pursue his dream of becoming a professional singer.

The 1950s were an era of happiness and affluence for the burgeoning American middle class. Americans had a feeling of optimism about their prospects for the future, and pride in their nation which had emerged victorious from World War II, setting the world free from the tyranny of Nazi Germany. Popular music mirrored society. Performers such as Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, and Bill Haley and the Comets churned out feel-good records that matched the mood of the nation. Sinister forces such as communism were banished, and serious folk groups like the Weavers were being replaced by the beat poets who, as members of the intelligentsia, were excused their lack of optimism.

The 1960s was the antithesis of the previous decade. The exuberant simplicity of the 1950s was displaced by a much more volatile and politically charged atmosphere. People were asking questions. The cozy world of white middle class America was disturbed, as civil rights campaigners marched on Washington, D.C., and Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The following year saw the 1964 Civil Rights Act become law. On the world stage, America’s leading super-power status was being challenged by the Soviet Union, and its military might was being tested by the Vietnamese. Even in music, America soon found itself overrun by a British invasion. The 1960s was a turbulent time for McLean’s generation.

By 1971, America was still deeply troubled. The Vietnam War was out of control. The anti-war movement was gathering momentum and being listened to. On April 22, 1971, former naval officer, John Kerry, stated to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

 “…In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart…”

Other events of the time, such as the successful launch of Apollo 14, did little to restore national pride. “American Pie,” in the opinion of the song’s producer, Ed Freeman, was the funeral oration for an era: “Without it, many of us would have been unable to grieve, achieve closure, and move on. Don saw that, and wrote the song that set us free. We should all be eternally grateful to him for that.”

 Extract from The Don McLean Story: Killing Us Softly With His Songs by Alan Howard Copyright 2007 Starry Night Music, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction or translation of any part of this work without the permission of the copyright owner is unlawful. Used by permission.

Don McLean Sings American Pie on Top of the Pops (October 31, 1991):