SONGWRITING: another slice of American Pie

The BBC have been broadcasting great documentaries about classic albums – tonight, for me, it was the turn to watch one on “American Pie” album by Don McLean.  This one album contains the song about Vincent (Starry Starry Night) and the other huge song “American Pie”.

Catch it now at BBC i-player here (if you have a UK TV licence).  If you live outwith the UK, keep an eye out for the series “Classic Albums” coming to your TV.

Writing the songs

A lot of life goes into writing each song – and Don McLean was an introspective, thoughtful boy whose severe asthma kept him out of school, lonely at home and picking up guitar to play.  His asthma also kept him out of Vietnam as he was rejected as medically unfit.  His life had a bit of a jolt when aged 15 his father had a heart attack in front of him.

Interestingly, Don talks about writing various points of the song “American Pie” at very different  times – a phrase would pop into his head and he’d write it down.  Writing a song is often patchwork.Screen shot 2019-02-08 at 00.58.46

Recording the album

Don gets to play back the recording and the tracks, and pick out an instrument or particular sound used in the songmaking.  The record producer also comments – and there are very insightful remarks from music critics.

When life gives you lemons….

The title track, “American Pie” was released as a single.  In those days, songs were barely 3 minutes so the DJ would play them – American Pie was 8 minutes long.  So the record company put it on two sides of a single, 45 inch record.  This meant that a person playing it, would hear one side then have to flip over the single to the other side, reset the record player and come back to the middle of the song, to play to the end.  A disaster.

Except that people then decided to buy the album so they could hear the whole song!  So record sales were excellent.




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