Album I can't live without: American Pie
The album I can't live without
American Pie, the song and album, will stand forever as the defining musical soundtrack to the chaos of the last 30 years of the 20th century.
There may be resistance from some that the best comes out of America, and even has America in the title. But everyone who has listened for a while will know that Don Mclean is singing about the day that not just the music, but the whole of American culture, died.
Listening to Don Mclean confirms that everything really has gone to hell, including us. But there is just a little bit of something in the threads of melody to comfort us in our life without hope of future comfort.
No-one really knows what the words mean. Sure, there's bits about the death of Buddy Holly, Richie Vallance and The Big Bopper. There are not-so-coded references to Vietnam, American power and American failure. But despite the many attempts, no-one knows what the words mean. Part of the pull of American Pie is the mystery, verging in to mysticism. You can fall in to it and maybe you'll be happy for a while.
I'm more a words man, but the music is always there, simple but competent, and cheerful even when the world is black, with enough pop, blues and rhythm to carry forward the immortal lyrics. These are sounds you can absorb over and over again, as the blasted lyrics wash in and out of your brain, leaving scraps of enlightenment and waves of uncertainty.
Is it psychedelic? No, not for me. American Pie is confusing, obscure, unknowable, but not because the songwriter was seeing strawberry fields. Maybe Mclean was spaced out? I don't much care. I, a middle-aged square without even the sniff of an illegal substance, can lose myself in the words and music and marvel yet again that it doesn't matter whether the marching band refuses to yield or not, or what happens in the courtroom.
Well that's the song. A song so great must overpower anything else on the album, right? Well no, actually. It's still a great album, and when I've listened to the eight-plus minute title track I generally go on and have the rest as well.
Vincent ("Starry, starry night") is still my second-favourite song on the album - another tragic loss that we all know about but experience more personally as we listen to Mclean.
All the other songs are good to great too. I don't know why Fatima was left off when the album was re-issued in 1980, everything deserved to be there. Everybody Loves Me Baby is just so off-the-wall crazy if you listen to it you might actually learn something about politics, sexual politics and megalomania.
Sure, there are other good albums, and great ones. But only one American Pie.
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