♫ American Pie ♫

I haven’t posted music posts much of late … actually only one or two in the last 4-5 months, I think … but today, February 3rd, cried out for me to post one.  Why, you ask?  Because it was 63 years ago today that a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa took the lives of 22-year-old Buddy Holly, 17-year-old Ritchie Valens, and 28-year-old J. P. Richardson, aka: “The Big Bopper” as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson.

Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper (left to right)

Buddy Holly’s band was on tour and had played at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.  They were headed to their next destination in Moorhead, Minnesota.  For this leg of their journey, they decided to take a charter plane rather than go with their tour bus. Richardson “The Big Bopper”,  had swapped places with Waylon Jennings, taking the latter’s place on the plane and Tommy Allsup had lost his place to Ritchie Valens in a coin toss.

Not long after takeoff, they were no longer able to be reached by radio, and they did not reach their destination. The aircraft was reported missing. The next day, the wreckage was found less than 6 miles northwest of the airport in a cornfield.  Poor weather conditions and pilot error were determined, during the investigation, to have been the cause of the pilot losing control of the plane.

“The day the music died” is a line in the 1972 Don McLean hit American Pie. McLean’s song, which he wrote in the late 1960s and released in 1971, was in part inspired by the tragic event which took the lives of three great musicians and their pilot.

Don McLean was a 13-year-old paperboy in New Rochelle, New York on that fateful day. He learned about the plane crash when he cut into his stack of papers and saw the lead story.

According to McLean …

“For some reason I wanted to write a big song about America and about politics, but I wanted to do it in a different way. As I was fiddling around, I started singing this thing about the Buddy Holly crash, the thing that came out (singing), ‘Long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.’

I thought, Whoa, what’s that? And then the day the music died, it just came out. And I said, Oh, that is such a great idea. And so that’s all I had. And then I thought, I can’t have another slow song on this record. I’ve got to speed this up. I came up with this chorus, crazy chorus. And then one time about a month later I just woke up and wrote the other five verses. Because I realized what it was, I knew what I had. And basically, all I had to do was speed up the slow verse with the chorus and then slow down the last verse so it was like the first verse, and then tell the story, which was a dream. It is from all these fantasies, all these memories that I made personal. Buddy Holly’s death to me was a personal tragedy. As a child, a 15-year-old, I had no idea that nobody else felt that way much. I mean, I went to school and mentioned it and they said, ‘So what?’ So I carried this yearning and longing, if you will, this weird sadness that would overtake me when I would look at this album, The Buddy Holly Story, because that was my last Buddy record before he passed away.”

And so, today I present for your listening pleasure and remembrance …

American Pie
Don McLean

A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while

But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
So

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

Did you write the book of love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?
Do you believe in rock and roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

Well, I know that you’re in love with him
‘Cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym
You both kicked off your shoes
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues

I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died
I started singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

Now, for ten years we’ve been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rolling stone
But, that’s not how it used to be

When the jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me

Oh and while the king was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned

And while Lennon read a book on Marx
The quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died
We were singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
And singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

Helter skelter in a summer swelter
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter
Eight miles high and falling fast

It landed foul on the grass
The players tried for a forward pass
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance

‘Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?
We started singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
And singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

Oh, and there we were all in one place
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again

So come on Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend

Oh and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan’s spell

And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died
He was singin’

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away

I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

And in the streets the children screamed
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
And they were singing

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

They were singing
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die

Songwriters: Don McLean
American Pie lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

29 thoughts on “♫ American Pie ♫

  1. Always a favorite Jill but not a lot of people know the backstory. It saddens me when I hear the song but I love it as well. It was made starkly real for me when I saw La Bamba and got a more intimate look at Richie Valens.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If memory serves me correctly, and at times it fails completely, there was not a revisiting (redux) of this song on this or any other date in 2021. I do recall leaving a rather lengthy comment on a previous year’s post which was undoubtedly due to indulging my Propensity for Loquacity…and I seem to recall that it was warmly received by you! So then, if you will once again tolerate my P4L, I will give some interesting facts that have occurred since this excellent featured song was released. First let us begin at the beginning! You may know that the final career performances of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson took place during “The Winter Dance Party Tour” which began in January of 1959. It was a 24-day tour of the mid-western United States. On Feb. 2nd they had just performed at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa after which the fateful crash on the 3rd resulted in the deaths of Holly, Valens, Richardson and the pilot. The Winter Dance Party Tour did not stop…Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup continued from Feb.3 – Feb.15, 1959 completing the tour! It was not until the late 70’s when Iowa radio host Darryl Hensley, who went by “The Mad Hatter”, had an on air pretend conversation with Buddy Holly in which “Holly” suggested holding a memorial concert on the 20th anniversary. An initial line-up of performers by Hensley ended with cancellations and after bringing another radio host on board, the well known “Wolfman Jack”, “The Tribute to Buddy Holly Concert” was held on Feb.3,1979 at the Surf Ballroom. That became an annual two day event in 1980 and by 1992 it expanded to the annual three day affair. Due to the pandemic it was cancelled in 2021, but is taking place this year as I am typing! Side note : the Surf Ballroom was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2021. It can be said that though Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” died that day, indeed their music has not! WHAK!! Thank-you!

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    • I would just like to add that emergency replacement entertainers were brought in as quickly as possible to fill the spots of the “Three Stars in the Sky.”
      There are conflicting reports about who replaced them, but it seems Bobby Vee and the Shadows headlined the Moorhead date the next night, but the Shadows were probably the Crickets in disguise. Soon after, Jimmy Clanton, Fabian, and Frankie Avalon were added to the bill.
      One thing I do not remember knowing was that Dion and the Belmonts were on the tour bill from the start, as was Frankie Sardo.
      The first tribute song to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper was written and recorded by Tommy Dee shortly after his death. As a warning to those who care, the song was extremely religious, but considering it was 1959, this is not surprising!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I never … NEVER … question your memory, my friend, for it is spot-on 99.8% of the time! And indeed, if only I had an archive you might have found the post you were referring to from 2020 here: https://jilldennison.com/2020/02/04/♫-american-pie-♫-2/

      And yes, dear Ellen, I always appreciate and enjoy your P4L!!! I’ve learned much from you, but sadly my memory is not as good as yours and I forget things in a matter of days, sometimes minutes, even seconds! Thanks for adding some interesting follow-up to the post!!! As you say, the artists may have died that day, but their art lives on for us to enjoy until eternity! Thank you!!! WHAK!!!

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  3. Jill, truly a magnum opus, but McLean wrote several more good songs. We saw him live in a smaller venue and he was terrific. Madonna had just cut a cover of “American Pie,” so he referenced singing that Madonna song later in the show. Keith

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    • You and your wife have been to so many concerts!!! Good for you … so many wonderful memories. I cannot imagine Madonna’s version, but then I am not a Madonna fan, so I think I’ll just not go listen, lest it colour my opinion of the song altogether 😉

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  4. Pingback: American Pie. |jilldennison.com | Ramblings of an Occupy Liberal

  5. I was a senior in high school when the music died. It was a defining event among so many in the decade that followed. On a less serious note. While doing an all-night stint as a radio Jock I loved this song when it came into the rotation since its playtime was over 8 minutes. That meant another cup of coffee and a run to the men’s room before a live mic session.

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    • I was only 6 years old, so I don’t remember it as vividly, but have loved their music and mourned the all-too-soon deaths of the three. Ha ha … I’m sure you did enjoy that 8-minute pottie/coffee break! I used to be an avid listener of Wolfman Jack, and whenever I think of you as a DJ, I hear his voice coming from your mouth!

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