Rock Flashback: Don McLean Beyond “American Pie”
“American Pie” will be mentioned in the first line of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Don McLean[/lastfm]’s obituary, but there was more to his career than a single iconic song. Find out about the rest of Don McLean.
McLean played with [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Pete Seeger[/lastfm] during the ’60s, when Seeger was promoting environmental causes. McLean’s pet musical project during this period was a tribute to painter Vincent Van Gogh. No record label was interested in it, but he did get the chance to make an album called Tapestry in 1970. One of his songs, “And I Love You So,” became a big hit for crooner [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Perry Como[/lastfm] later that year.
The album American Pie came out of nowhere in 1971, reaching #1. The album also contained the gorgeous “Vincent,” left over from the Van Gogh project, which followed “American Pie” up the charts. The flipside of the “Vincent” single, “Castles in the Air,” a song from Tapestry, also got airplay in the wake of “American Pie.”
Unlike some artists who are content to milk a formula for all the dollars it can generate, McLean was unwilling to do “American Pie” over and over. His next four albums of acoustic pop got little attention. In 1980, however, he returned to prominence briefly with Chain Lightning, an album on which he’s backed by a cast of Nashville players and covers several familiar songs including [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Roy Orbison[/lastfm]’s “Crying,” which became his biggest hit since “American Pie.”
McLean has continued to perform and record steadily since 1980, last releasing an album of original songs in 2009. For a long while, he didn’t perform “American Pie,” and he’s still not fond of talking about it.
In 2012, however, he will embark on a 40th anniversary tour celebrating the song and the album. European dates have been announced; stateside dates are likely to follow.
Here’s “Vincent,” set to a montage of Van Gogh’s paintings. If he’d never recorded “American Pie,” he’d still be remembered for this.