Saturday, December 31, 2011

American Pie by Don McLean - The Perfect Seque into 2012

As the 2011 year winds down the song American Pie gets a lot of airplay between Christmas and the New Year. I guess a lot of DJs feel that the reflective nature of this song is most appropriate to play at the end of the year. I would have to agree with them. American Pie is Don McLean's Magnum Opus of a song which skyrocketed when it was first released way back in 1971. It is a song that resonates in everyone and carries so many personal meanings and interpretations and like carbon dating, links all of us to prior experiences when we all grew up in the seventies and eighties. The lyrics were amazingly simple, direct and heartfelt, and wove a story that even to this day sounds fresh and interesting as it did in the seventies. I remember saving my allowance and newspaper route money and buying the American Pie album from EJ Korvettes in Nanuet, New York. I played it so many times and now as I am much older, I have even more respect for Don as he was able to incorporate so many themes and touch on so many topics that related to the time when I was growing up during my adolescent years in a suburb of New York City..

The song was an instant classic even though it ran way longer time-wise than most other charting hit songs played on the radio. The recording was very clean and the choice of backing studio musicians made a big difference in the overall production quality of the song. Warren Bernhardt played the piano on American Pie and his contributions elevated the performance and made lasting impressions with each listener. Warren is a very famous and talented Jazz pianist whose mentor was Bill Evans. He also played on Paul SImon albums and was the musical director and piano player for the 1993-94 Steely Dan concert Tour. There were few popular top forty hits that showcased the piano front and center except for Billy Joel, Elton John and Paul Simon. It really raised the bar for songwriters to come up with songs that really delivered on both harmony and lyrical content.

Don really came into his own as a popular singer songwriter in the seventies and really carved his own musical career path and led a very independent life as he eschewed commercialism, performed at a lot of Hudson River benefit concerts, and aligned his music and philanthropic work with Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. Moreover, Don was a local musician, born in New Rochelle, NY.

A few years ago, when I was selling for Voyage-Air guitars, I had met with Stan Jay, the iconic owner of the famed Mandolin Brothers vintage guitar shop in Staten Island. He counts amongst his clients, Bruce Springsteen, Don McLean, Conan O'Brien, George Benson, and most every famous rock and jazz guitarist in the NY metro area. He said that Don lives in Vermont with his family and visits his guitar shop about once a year and picks out some nice Martin Acoustic Guitars for his sons to buy. He told Jay that the royalty checks from American Pie allows him to do this and for that he is very grateful.

I don't think there is anyone, child, baby boomer or in between who does not know all of the lyrics of American Pie. Most people will also sing along when American Pie is played on the radio. Don wrote a song that is permanently embedded in the psyche of our country and I for one am very grateful for American Pie. It's been a helluva year. Any music that makes it a little easier for me to reflect and to count my blessings is a welcome gift so to Don McLean a big thank you is in order.

"So bye bye Miss American Pie drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye singin' this'll be the day that I die
this'll be the day that I die, they were singin' bye bye Miss American Pie drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee but the levee was dry, them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye singin' this'll be the day that I die."

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