The True Story Behind “American Pie” Lyrics
February 3, 2019 marks the 60th Anniversary of the day we lost Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper and the pilot of the small plane that crashed in an Iowa corn field near Clear Lake.
The tragedy was immortalized in the song "American Pie" by Don McLean and was referred to as the "Day the Music Died". The author sings of delivering the morning papers "bad news" on the doorstep" and reading of Buddy's "widowed bride"
It can still bring a tear to my eyes and leave a lump in my throat whenever I hear that song.
But that lyric was only one of many rock references in the song. Here are nine more classic rock references that helped "American Pie" achieve iconic status in the history of rock n roll.
The "Book of Love" was a top 5 hit song by the doo-wop group the Monotones released in February 1958. This song represents the birth of rock n roll era, that Buddy Holly was also part of.
The lyric "pink carnation and the pickup truck" was a reference with a twist to the Marty Robbins song "A White Sport Coat" (and a Pink Carnation) - it was a country and western hit song from 1957.
These two references are early 'clues' that brilliantly meld into the songwriter's story of a teenager coming of age in the era of rock n roll (which evolved from the blending of country/western and rhythm & blues)
Elvis Presley is rightfully referenced as the "King" who was caught "looking down" as a Jester stole "his crown".
Bob Dylan is the "Jester" who's coat was "borrowed from James Dean" - his singing voice being nothing special so it "came from you and me".
The "quartet (that) practiced in the park" is the first reference to the Beatles in American Pie - they formed in the late 50's in Liverpool and would change rock n roll history in the early 60's. More on them later.
Next, the "Byrds... "Eight Miles High" - this is a 'summer of love' reference that weaves in a new period in rock n roll history.
The "players that tried for a forward pass" refers to all the rock n roll artists that could never quite top the Beatles, the fab four were always the top trend setters of the day.
Bob Dylan's motorcycle accident was the reason the Jester was "on the sideline in a cast"
The Marching Band that "refused to yield" represents the Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's" success. It was their biggest album to date in the summer of love 1967.
"Jack Flash" was a reference to the 1968 Rolling Stones comeback hit Jumpin' Jack Flash. The line "fire is the Devils only friend" refers to the Stone's track "Sympathy for the Devil" So why was "Satan laughing with delight"? It's a reference to the Stone's Altamont concert that turned deadly violent.
The American Pie songwriter met "a girl who sang the blues" who "just smiled and turned away" when she was asked for some "happy news" That was Janis Joplin, the troubled soul who reportedly suffered from depression, and who died at age 27 from a heroin overdose.
But who were the 'three men most admired' who "caught the last train for the coast"?
Some speculate "the Father" was Berry Gordy Jr. owner of Motown Records (he moved the label's operation from Detroit to L.A. after the successful and tumultuous 60's)
Some think "the son" might have been Dick Clark who started his "Bandstand" TV show in Philly and later became one of rock music's biggest moguls.
As for the Holy Ghost?
Well, that's a mystery for YOU to solve...