American Pie (song)

"American Pie"
Single by Don McLean
from the album American Pie
B-side "Empty Chairs" (promo)
"American Pie part 2" (first release)
Released November 1971 (original)
November 1991 (re-release)
Format Vinyl record (original)
CD, cassette, vinyl (reissue)
Recorded May 26, 1971
Genre Folk rock
Length 8:33 (LP)
4:11 (Single Part 1)
4:31 (Single Part 2)
Label United Artists
Writer(s) Don McLean
Producer(s) Ed Freeman for The Rainbow Collection, Ltd.
Certification Gold (RIAA)
Don McLean singles chronology
"Castles in the Air"
"American Pie"
Audio sample
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"American Pie" is a song by American folk rock singer and songwriter Don McLean. Recorded and released on the American Pie album in 1971, the single was a number-one US hit for four weeks in 1972. In the UK, the single reached No. 2 on its original 1972 release and a reissue in 1991 reached No. 12.[1] The song was listed as the No. 5 song on the RIAA project Songs of the Century. The song was covered by Madonna in 2000 and reached No. 1 in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.


Don McLean began writing the song in upstate Saratoga Springs at Caffe Lena, according to local lore.[2] He continued to write in Cold Spring, New York[3] and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[4][5] The song made its debut in Philadelphia at Saint Joseph's University[6] when he opened for Laura Nyro on March 14, 1971.[4]


Except to acknowledge that he first learned about Buddy Holly's death on February 3, 1959—McLean was aged 13—when he was folding newspapers for his paper route on the morning of February 4, 1959 (the line "February made me shiver/with every paper I'd deliver"), McLean has generally avoided responding to direct questions about the song lyrics; he has said: "They're beyond analysis. They're poetry."[2][7] He also stated in an editorial published in 2009, on the 50th anniversary of the crash that killed Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, that writing the first verse of the song exorcised his long-running grief over Holly's death and that he considers the song to be "a big song (…) that summed up the world known as America".[8] McLean dedicated the American Pie album to Holly.

It was also speculated that the song contains numerous references to post World War II American events (such as the murders of civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner),[9] and elements of culture, including 1960s culture (e.g. sock hops, cruising, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Charles Manson, and much more).[10][11]

When asked what "American Pie" meant, McLean jokingly replied, "It means I don't ever have to work again if I don't want to."[12] Later, he stated, "You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me ... Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence."[13] He also commented on the popularity of his music, "I didn't write songs that were just catchy, but with a point of view, or songs about the environment."[14]

In February 2015, McLean announced he would reveal the meaning of the lyrics to the song when the original manuscript went for auction in New York City, in April 2015.[15] The lyrics and notes were auctioned on April 7, and sold for $1.2m.[16] In the sale catalogue notes McLean revealed the meaning in the song's lyrics: "Basically in American Pie things are heading in the wrong direction. ... It [life] is becoming less idyllic. I don't know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense."[17] The catalogue did confirm some of the better known references in the song's lyrics, including mentions of Elvis Presley (referred to in the lyrics as "the king") and Bob Dylan ("the jester"), and confirms the song culminates with a near-verbatim description of the death of Meredith Hunter at the Altamont Free Concert, 10 years after the plane crash that killed Holly, Valens, and Richardson.[17]

Mike Mills of R.E.M. reflected: "American Pie just made perfect sense to me as a song and that’s what impressed me the most. I could say to people this is how to write songs. When you’ve written at least three songs that can be considered classic that is a very high batting average and if one of those songs happens to be something that a great many people think is one of the greatest songs ever written you’ve not only hit the top of the mountain but you’ve stayed high on the mountain for a long time.”[18]


Chart (1971) Peak
Australian Kent Music Report 1
Canadian RPM Top Singles 1
Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary Tracks 1
Dutch Singles Chart 10
Irish Singles Chart 7
New Zealand Singles Chart 1
Norway (VG-lista)[19] 9
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[20] 2
US Billboard Hot 100[21] 1
US Billboard Easy Listening 1

Parodies, revisions, and uses

In 1999, "Weird Al" Yankovic wrote and recorded a parody of "American Pie".[22] Titled "The Saga Begins", the song recounts the plot of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace from Obi-Wan Kenobi's point of view. While McLean gave permission for the parody, he did not make a cameo appearance in its video, despite popular rumor. McLean himself praised the parody, even admitting to almost singing Yankovic's lyrics during his own live performances because his children played the song so often.[23][24]

The City of Grand Rapids, Michigan created a lip dub video to "American Pie" in response to a Newsweek article that stated the city was "dying".[25] The video was hailed by many as a fantastic performance including Roger Ebert, who said it was "the greatest music video ever made."[26]

On March 21, 2013, Harmonix announced that "American Pie" would be the final downloadable track made available for the Rock Band series of music video games.[27]

On March 14, 2015, the National Museum of Mathematics announced that one of two winners of its songwriting contest was "American Pi" by mathematics education professor Dr. Lawrence M. Lesser.[28] The contest was in honor of "Pi Day of the Century" because "3/14/15" would be the only day in the 21st-century showing the first five digits of π (pi).

Madonna version

"American Pie"
Single by Madonna
from the album The Next Best Thing
Released March 3, 2000
Format CD single
Recorded September 1999
(New York City, New York)[29]
Genre Dance-pop
Length 4:33
Writer(s) Don McLean
Madonna singles chronology
"Beautiful Stranger"
"American Pie"


American pop singer Madonna released a cover version of the song in March 2000 to promote the soundtrack to her film The Next Best Thing (2000), with the song being serviced to radio on February 2.[30] Her cover is much shorter than the original (it contains only the beginning of the first verse and all of the second and sixth verses) and was recorded as a dance-pop song. It was co-produced by Madonna and William Orbit and released on the singer's Maverick label, after Rupert Everett (Madonna's co-star in The Next Best Thing) had convinced her to cover the song for the film's soundtrack.[31][32]


Released in March 2000, the song was a worldwide hit, reaching No. 1 in many countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany (her first since "La Isla Bonita", in 1987), Switzerland, Austria, and Finland. The song was the 19th best selling of 2000 in the UK and the 9th best selling of 2000 in Italy. The single was not released commercially in the United States, but it reached No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 due to strong radio airplay.

NME gave it a negative review, saying that it was "sub-karaoke fluff" and that "it's a blessing she didn't bother recording the whole thing."[33] Chuck Taylor from Billboard, on the other hand, was impressed by the recording and commented, "Applause to Madonna for not pandering to today's temporary trends and for challenging programmers to broaden their playlists. [...] In all, a fine preview of the forthcoming soundtrack to The Next Best Thing."[34] Don McLean himself praised the cover, saying it was "a gift from a goddess", and that her version is "mystical and sensual."[35] He also jokingly said, "It means that if I don't want to, I don't have to work again."[36] According to The Official Charts Company, the song has sold 385,000 copies in the United Kingdom and is her 16th best selling single to date in the UK.[37]

Music video

Madonna in the "American Pie" music video. In the scene Madonna, who is wearing a tiara, is standing while an American flag can be seen behind her.

The music video, filmed in the Southern USA and in London[38] and directed by Philipp Stölzl, depicts a diverse array of ordinary Americans, including scenes showing same-sex couples kissing. Throughout the music video Madonna, who is wearing a tiara on her head, dances and sings in front of a large American flag.

Two official versions of the video were produced, the first of which now appears on Madonna's greatest-hits DVD compilation, Celebration, and was released as the official video worldwide. The second version was issued along with the "Humpty Remix", a more upbeat and dance-friendly version of the song. This video was aired on MTV's dance channel in the United States to promote the film The Next Best Thing, starring Madonna and Rupert Everett; it contains totally different footage and new outtakes of the original and omits the lesbian kiss. Everett, who provides backing vocals in the song, is also featured in the video.

Charts and certifications


Chart (2000) Peak
Australian ARIA Singles Chart[39] 1
Austrian Singles Chart[39] 3
Belgian Singles Charts[39] 6
Canadian Singles Chart[40] 1
Dutch Top 40[41] 4
European Hot 100 Singles[42] 1
Finnish Singles Charts[39] 1
French Singles Chart[39] 8
German Singles Chart[39] 1
Italian Singles Chart[39] 1
New Zealand Singles Chart[39] 4
Norwegian Singles Chart[39] 1
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[43] 1
Spanish Singles Chart[44] 1
Swedish Singles Chart[39] 1
Swiss Singles Chart[39] 1
UK Singles Chart[45] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[46] 29
US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play[46] 1
US Billboard Pop Songs[46] 16
US Billboard Adult Pop Songs[47] 20
US Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks[46] 21

Year-end charts

Chart (2000) Position
Australia ARIA Singles Chart[48] 66
Austrian Singles Chart[49] 32
Belgian Singles Chart (Flanders)[50] 46
Belgian Singles Chart (Wallonia)[51] 44
French SNEP Singles Chart[52] 44
Germany (Official German Charts)[53] 16
Italian Singles Chart[54] 9
Netherlands (Mega Single Top 100)[55] 46
Swedish Singles Chart[56] 9
Swiss Singles Chart[57] 11
UK Singles Chart 19


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[58] Gold 35,000^
Austria (IFPI Austria)[59] Gold 25,000*
France (SNEP)[60] Silver 125,000*
Sweden (GLF)[61] Platinum 30,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[62] Platinum 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[63] Gold 400,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. 1 2 Don McLean's 'American Pie' fetches $1.2M Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass) 08 Apr 2015: A.2.
  2. "Release: Don Mclean's Original Manuscript For "American Pie" To Be Sold At Christie's New York, 7 April 2015". Christie' February 13, 2015. Retrieved February 14, 2015.
  3. 1 2 "Memory Bank's a Little Off, But Sentiment Still Holds". Retrieved August 14, 2012.
  4. Tin & Lint, a bar on Caroline Street in Saratoga Springs, New York claims the song was written there, and a plaque marks the table.
  5. McDonald, Shannon (November 28, 2011). "Don McLean: 'American Pie' was written in Philly and first performed at Saint Joseph's University". Retrieved December 19, 2015.
  6. "American Pie". Don p. 68.
  7. McLean, Don (February 1, 2009). "Commentary: Buddy Holly, rock music genius". CNN. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  8. O'Brien, P. (March 3, 1999). "Understanding the lyrics of American Pie: The analysis and interpretation of Don McLean's song lyrics". The Octopus's Garden. Archived from the original on April 7, 2013. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
  9. McLean, Don (January 2005). Recording Notes: Classic Tracks: Don McLean's 'American Pie'. Jackson, Blair, Mix29.1. pp. 126, 128, 130.
  10. Howard, Dr. Alan. "The Don McLean Story: 1970–1976". Archived from the original on July 11, 2007. Retrieved June 3, 2007.
  11. "What is Don McLean's song "American Pie" all about?". The Straight Dope. May 14, 1993. Archived from the original on May 28, 2007. Retrieved June 3, 2007.
  12. Howell, Dave (Special to The Morning Call -- Freelance) (24 May 2001). "SINGER DON MCLEAN'S AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE ** MAYFAIR 2001 ** POPULAR". Morning Call (FIRST ed.). Allentown, Pa.
  13. "Don McLean to reveal meaning of American Pie lyrics". BBC News. February 13, 2015. Retrieved February 13, 2015.
  14. "American Pie lyrics sell for $1.2m". BBC News. April 7, 2015.
  15. 1 2 Hawksley, Rupert (April 7, 2015). "American Pie: 6 crazy conspiracy theories". The Daily Telegraph.
  16. Don McLean: An American Troubadour (Television production). UK: Sky Arts 1. 2013.
  17. " – Don McLean – American Pie". VG-lista. Retrieved December 19, 2015.
  18. "Don McLean: Artist Chart History" Official Charts Company. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  19. "Don McLean – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for Don McLean. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  20. ""Ask Al" Q&As for September, 1999". Archived from the original on September 2, 2006. Retrieved October 29, 2006.
  21. "Jedi Council – Interviews Weird Al Yankovic". TheForce.Net. September 14, 1980. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  22. "The Grand Rapids Lip Dub". NPR. Retrieved October 29, 2012.
  23. Ebert, Roger. "The greatest music video ever made". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on September 2, 2011.
  24. "Rock Band's final song will be Don McLean's 'American Pie'". Polygon. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  25. "2015 Pi Day Contest Winners". National Museum of Mathematics. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  26. Kaufman, Gil (September 24, 1999). "Madonna and William Orbit take another spin in studio". MTV. Retrieved December 31, 2015.
  27. "American Pie Hits Radio". Retrieved December 19, 2015.
  28. "Madonna's piece of American Pie". BBC News. 3 February 2000. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  29. "NME Track Reviews - American Pie". NME. February 26, 2000. Retrieved October 29, 2012.
  30. Taylor, Chuck (February 12, 2000). "Spotlight: Madonna "American Pie"". Billboard. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  31. "Don McLean Praises Madonna's 'American Pie'". MTV. February 2, 2000. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
  32. What do you think of Madonna's version of your song American Pie? I willnever have to work again - Don McLean: (Final 1 Edition) Spanton, Tim. The Sun (London (UK)) 27 Dec 2000: 8.
  33. "Madonna: The Official Top 40". MTV. MTV Networks. Retrieved December 20, 2010.
  34. Ciccone, Christopher (2008) Life with my Sister Madonna, Simon & Schuster: New York, p.278.
  35. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Hung, Steffen. "ARIA Charts". Archived from the original on February 1, 2010. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  36. "Allmusic". AllMusic. August 16, 1958. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  37. "". Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  38. "Craig David Storms U.K. Singles Chart". Billboard. Archived from the original on October 10, 2012.
  39. "Archive Chart: March 5, 2000". Scottish Singles Top 40. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  40. Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 978-84-8048-639-2.
  41. "Madonna - American Pie". June 24, 2000. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  42. 1 2 3 4 Billboard chart peaks Retrieved June 22, 2009.
  43. "Madonna Chart History: Adult Pop Songs". Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  44. "ARIA Charts – End Of Year Charts – Top 100 Singles 2000". Archived from the original on July 27, 2010. Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  45. Hung, Steffen. "Austria Top 40 - Hitparade Österreich". Archived from the original on December 18, 2012. Retrieved October 29, 2012.
  46. "JAAROVERZICHTEN 2000" (in Dutch). Archived from the original on September 14, 2010. Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  47. "RAPPORTS ANNUELS 2000" (in French). Archived from the original on April 17, 2008. Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  48. "Classement Singles – année 2000" (in French). Disque en France. Archived from the original on March 8, 2012.
  49. "Top 100 Single-Jahrescharts". GfK Entertainment (in German). Retrieved December 5, 2015.
  50. "I singoli più venduti del 2000" (in Italian). Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  51. "JAAROVERZICHTEN – SINGLE 2000" (in Dutch). Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  52. "Årslista Singlar – År 2000" (in Swedish). Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  53. "SWISS YEAR-END CHARTS 2000" (in German). Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  54. "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 2000 Singles". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved 2016-07-12.
  55. "Austrian single certifications – Madonna – American Pie" (in German). IFPI Austria. Retrieved 2016-07-12. Enter Madonna in the field Interpret. Enter American Pie in the field Titel. Select single in the field Format. Click Suchen
  56. "French single certifications – Madonna – American Pie" (in French). InfoDisc. Retrieved 2016-07-12. Select MADONNA and click OK
  57. "Guld- och Platinacertifikat − År 2000" (PDF) (in Swedish). IFPI Sweden. Retrieved 2016-07-12.
  58. "The Official Swiss Charts and Music Community: Awards (Madonna; 'American Pie')". IFPI Switzerland. Hung Medien. Retrieved 2016-07-12.
  59. "British single certifications – Madonna – American Pie". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 2016-07-12. Enter American Pie in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Select Gold in the field By Award. Click Search

Further reading

External links

Preceded by
"Brand New Key" by Melanie
US Billboard Hot 100 number-one single (Don McLean version)
January 15, 1972 (four weeks)
Succeeded by
"Let's Stay Together" by Al Green
Preceded by
"Cherish" by David Cassidy
Billboard Easy Listening Singles number-one single (Don McLean version)
January 15, 1972 (three weeks)
Succeeded by
"Hurting Each Other" by The Carpenters
Preceded by
"Brand New Key" by Melanie
Australian Kent Music Report number-one single (Don McLean version)
March 6, 1972 (five weeks)
Succeeded by
"Without You" by Nilsson
Preceded by
"Pure Shores" by All Saints
UK Singles Chart number-one single (Madonna version)
March 5, 2000 – March 11, 2000 (one week)
Succeeded by
"Don't Give Up" by Chicane featuring Bryan Adams
Preceded by
"My Heart Goes Boom (La Di Da Da)" by French Affair
German Singles Chart number-one single (Madonna version)
March 10, 2000 (one week)
Succeeded by
"Maria Maria" by Santana featuring The Product G&B
Preceded by
"Freestyler" by Bomfunk MC's
Swedish Singles Chart number-one single (Madonna version)
March 23, 2000 (one week)
Succeeded by
"Never Be the Same Again" by Melanie C featuring Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes
Preceded by
"Chase" by Giorgio Moroder vs. Jam & Spoon
Billboard Hot Dance Club Play number-one single (Madonna version)
April 1, 2000 (one week)
Succeeded by
"Think It Over" by Jennifer Holliday
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