"American Pie" is a folk rock song by singer-songwriter Don McLean.

Recorded and released on the American Pie album in 1971, the single was a number-one U.S. hit for four weeks in 1972. A re-release in 1991 did not chart in the U.S., but reached number 12 in the UK. The song is an abstract story surrounding "The Day the Music Died" — the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.), as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson. The importance of "American Pie" to America's musical and cultural heritage was recognized by the Songs of the Century education project which listed the song as the number five song of the twentieth century. Some Top 40 stations initially played only side two of the single, but the song's popularity eventually forced stations to play the entire piece.

Background and interpretationEdit

The song is well known for its recondite lyrics that have long been the subject of curiosity and speculation. Although McLean dedicated the American Pie album to Buddy Holly, none of the musicians in the plane crash is identified by name in the song itself. When asked what "American Pie" meant, McLean replied, "It means I never have to work again."[1] Later, he more seriously 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."[2]

McLean has generally avoided responding to direct questions about the song lyrics ("They’re beyond analysis. They’re poetry.")[3] except to acknowledge that he did first learn about Buddy Holly's death while folding newspapers for his paper route on the morning of February 3, 1959 (the line "February made me shiver/with every paper I'd deliver"). He also stated in an editorial published on the 50th anniversary of the crash in 2009 that writing the first verse of the song exorcised his long-running grief over Holly's death.

Despite this, many fans of McLean, amongst others, have attempted an interpretation (see Interpretation Links); at the time of the song's original release in late 1971, many American AM and FM rock radio stations released printed interpretations and some devoted entire shows discussing and debating the song's lyrics, resulting in both controversy and intense listener interest in the song. Some examples are the real-world identities of the "Jester", "King and Queen", "Satan", "Girl Who Sang the Blues" and other characters referenced in the verses.

Notable references in the songEdit

Notable references are based on interpretations of the song by Bob Dearborn[4] and Jim Fann.[5]

Notable cover versionsEdit

A few cover versions have been made over the years. The first English language cover version was by The Brady Bunch in 1972, but a Spanish translation sung by voice actor Francisco Colmenero surfaced around Mexico in 1971. A very significant version, also in Spanish, was recorded in 1984 by the Nicaraguan singer Hernaldo Zúñiga. (Eduardo Fonseca recorded a cover version of the translation in 2000.) Ska punk band Catch 22 made a ska version which became a staple of their live show, released in several versions. Alternative rock band Killdozer recorded a thrashing, ironic version of the song in 1989.

As heard on Live, Mott the Hoople opened mid-1970s concerts with singer Ian Hunter performing the first verse on solo piano up to the phrase the day the music died. Hunter would then add "or did it?", and the full band would segue into the next number.[7]

Tori Amos performed the song often as a piano solo in her live concerts, and country singer Garth Brooks also sang this song during concerts in the early to mid 1990s. During Brooks' "Live in Central Park" concert, he performed this song as a duet with McLean himself at the end of the concert. The audience, of over 100,000 people, was also invited to sing the chorus near the end of the song.

British a cappella group King's Singers covered the song for their 1993 album Good Vibrations.

Chris de Burgh covered the song in 2008 on the album Footsteps.

Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder has sung the chorus of "American Pie" over the outro music of "Daughter" during select live performances.

It was also Hong Kong pop superstar Leslie Cheung's breakthrough song.

Madonna coverEdit

"American Pie"
Single by Madonna
from the album The Next Best Thing (Soundtrack) and Music
Released March 3, 2000
Format Radio, CD single
Recorded December 1999[8]
Genre Pop
Length 4:34
Label Maverick, Warner Bros.
Writer(s) Don McLean
Producer Madonna, William Orbit

Platinum (Sweden)[9]

Gold (ARIA, Switzerland[10] UK[11], Austria[12])
Madonna singles chronology

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"Beautiful Stranger"
"American Pie"
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Audio sample
file info · help

American singer-songwriter Madonna released a cover version of the song in March 2000 to promote the soundtrack to her film The Next Best Thing (2000). 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 pop-dance song. It was voted the worst ever cover version in a poll in January 2007 by BBC 6 Music.[13] However, Don McLean himself praised the cover, saying it was "a gift from a goddess", and that her version is "mystical and sensual."[14]

Due to the success of the single, it was included as a bonus track on her 2000 studio album Music, however this was not available on the North American version. Madonna explained in a 2001 interview on BBC Radio 1 with Jo Whiley, the reason that the song was omitted from her 2001 greatest hits compilation GHV2: "It was something a certain record company executive twisted my arm into doing, but it didn't belong on the (Music) album so now it's being punished".

Cover historyEdit

The cover was produced by Madonna and William Orbit, who had previously worked with her on the 1998 studio album Ray of Light and 1999 single "Beautiful Stranger". Released in March 2000, the song was a big worldwide hit, reaching #1 in many countries, including the UK, Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Finland. The song was the 19th best selling of 2000 in the UK. There was no commercial single release in the US, but the single still reached the #29 spot on Billboard's Hot 100, based on airplay alone.

Music videoEdit


The music video, directed by Philip Stolzl, pays tribute to the seventies in which the original song by Don McLean was recorded. It shows several snaps of ordinary people; playing children, happy couples, a lonely woman in a store, etc. in splitscreens intercut with shots of Madonna dancing in front of a large American flag. Rupert Everett also features in the video and provided backing vocals in the song.

Track listings and formatsEdit

UK CD single 1 (9362 44839 2)[15]
AU CD single 1 (9362-44839-2)[16]
  1. "American Pie" (Album Version) - 4:33
  2. "American Pie" (Victor Calderone Filter Dub Mix) - 6:06
  3. "American Pie" (Victor Calderone Vocal Dub Mix) - 6:17
UK CD single 2 (9362 44840-2)[17]
AU CD single 2 (9362-44840-2)[18]
  1. "American Pie" (Album Version) - 4:34
  2. "American Pie" (Richard "Humpty" Vission Radio Mix) - 4:29
  3. "American Pie" (Richard "Humpty" Vission Visits Madonna) - 5:44
UK CD single 3 (W519CD3)[19]
  1. "American Pie" (Victor Calderone Vocal Club Mix) - 9:07
  2. "American Pie" (Victor Calderone Extended Vocal Club Mix) - 10:35
  3. "American Pie" (Richard "Humpty" Vission Visits Madonna) - 5:43
  4. "American Pie" (Richard "Humpty" Vission Radio Mix) - 4:27
  5. "American Pie" (Album Version) - 4:33| width="50%" align="left" valign="top" |
EU 12" vinyl (9362 44865 0)[20]
US 12" promo vinyl (PRO-A-100115)[21]
  • A1 "American Pie" (Victor Calderone Vocal Club Mix) - 9:07
  • B1 "American Pie" (Victor Calderone Extended Vocal Club Mix) - 10:35
GR CD single (9362 44837 2)[22]
  1. "American Pie" (Album Version) - 4:33
  2. "American Pie" (Richard "Humpty" Vission Radio Mix) - 4:27
  3. "American Pie" (Victor Calderone Filter Dub Mix) - 6:06
  4. "American Pie" (Richard "Humpty" Vission Visits Madonna) - 5:43

Official VersionsEdit

Remix/Version Run Time
Album Version 4:34
Richard "Humpty" Vission Radio Mix 4:29
Richard "Humpty" Vission Visits Madonna 5:44
Victor Calderone Filter Dub Mix 6:06
Victor Calderone Vocal Club Mix 9:07
Victor Calderone Extended Vocal Club Mix 10:35
Victor Calderone Vocal Dub Mix 6:17


Chart (1999/2000) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[23] 29
U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play[23] 1
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks[23] 21
Australian ARIA Singles Chart[24] 1
Austrian Singles Chart[24] 3
Belgium Singles Charts[24] 6
Dutch Top 40[25] 4
Finnish Singles Charts[24] 1
French Singles Chart[24] 8
German Singles Chart[24] 1
Italian Singles Chart[24] 1
New Zealand Singles Chart[24] 4
Norwegian Singles Chart[24] 1
Swedish Singles Chart[24] 1
Swiss Singles Chart[24] 1
UK Singles Chart[26] 1

Other parodies, revisions and usesEdit

Former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten played an adapted version of American Pie when opening for Jefferson Starship on August 9, 2005, the tenth anniversary of Jerry Garcia's death. Constanten altered the lyrics to allude to Jerry's death and how he heard the news by a phone call from Bruce Hornsby.

Finnish rock musician Hector (Heikki Harma) made a Finnish cover of the song "American Pie" in 1971, under the name Suomi-Neito (Maid Finland). While the original song covered the American issues, Hector's version was likewise "translated" to deal with the Finnish post WWII history and the loss of innocence in Finnish culture.

The swedish folksinger Lalla Hansson recorder in the 80´s a version in Swedish. The song is called "Nalen". The song is now about swedish music and the classic club "Nalen" in Stockholm, Sweden.

"American Diet" ("I'm too heavy for my Chevy; I belong in a sty..."), played on radio stations in Baltimore, MD during the late 1970s and early 80s.[citation needed] "The day the routers died" was written and performed by Gary Feldman at the conclusion of the RIPE 55 meeting.[27]

On That '70s Show, In the episode "Celebration Day (AKA Graduation Day)", (Season 5, episode 25),the character Michael Kelso uses the music of "American Pie" to create a song dedicated to Jackie Burkhart, and later, when confronted with the fact that he ripped off McLean, claims that the "American Pie guy" stole the music from him.

In 1983, Lauren Weinstein crafted "The Day Bell System Died" about the breakup of AT&T. The song was very popular on the Usenet.[28]

In 1984, Ken Kaufman offered up "Network Pie" [29], a song about Usenet groups.

At the 1984 Yale Law Revue, a satirical show performed by Yale Law Students, a parody entitled "The Year Yale Law School Died" featured entirely reworked lyrics, such as a reference to "The three men I admire least – Jay Katz, Klevorick and George Priest."

A version of American Pie was adapted in 1997 to the first retirement of NHL legend, Mario Lemieux, entitled "Bye Bye, French-Canadian Guy". The song was written by two brothers from Pittsburgh, Michael Murphy and Bill Murphy. It was originally aired on Pittsburgh-based radio station, WDVE. Often, it is wrongfully credited to a Canadian parody band, The Arrogant Worms.

In 1998, the Christian parody band ApologetiX released a parody of the song, entitled "Parable Guy", about Jesus' ministries through the use of storytelling.

In 1999, "Weird Al" Yankovic did a Star Wars inspired lyrical adaptation of "American Pie". Entitled "The Saga Begins", the song recounts the plot of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace through the eyes of Obi-Wan Kenobi. While McLean gave permission for the parody, he did not make a cameo appearance in its video, despite popular rumor. McLean stated he was very pleased with the parody. He even admits to almost singing Yankovic's lyrics at live shows, due to the fact that his children played the song so often.[30][31]

The Jewish Summer Camp Song book, used at various Jewish summer camps in the Northeast USA, includes the song but changes the allusion to the trinity to "the three men I admire most, Abraham, Isaac, and Yaakov". It also changes the line "the church bells all were broken" to "those wacky synagogue bells were broken".

The Center for Talented Youth has been using this song at their summer camps, every dance at every site, for a long time. It has a great meaning to all the tens-hundreds of thousands of people who have been there.

In a season two episode of Roswell, Colin Hanks and Nick Wechsler - trapped in an underground cave filled with parasitic alien crystals and running out of oxygen - sing the song while Max, Liz, Isabelle, and Tess try to prevent them from being buried alive. The episode, entitled "How the Other Half Lives", aired on February 19, 2001, and was the fourteenth of the season.

In the Futurama episode "The Why of Fry", upon finding themselves trapped in a parallel universe for all eternity a race of alien 'brains' are at a loss for what to do. One brain suggested that they could sing "American Pie" to which a depressed Fry replied, "Go on, I deserve it."

On season 4 on NBC's The Office on the episode "The Chair Model" Michael and Dwight sing American Pie at the cemetery mourning the death of the chair model with whom Michael was infatuated.

The final episode of series 11 of Bremner, Bird and Fortune features a dream sequence sung supposedly by Tony Blair with lyrics referring to New Labour:[citation needed]

In "24 Hour Propane People" of King Of The Hill, Hank remarks that "You never realize how 'American Pie' is seven minutes long until your boss makes you sing it for karaoke."

Seattle radio disc jockey Bob Rivers produced a parody entitled "American Pie Eulogy" in which a singer impersonating Don McLean's voice laments, "Why did Madonna kill "American Pie"? / Well, it’s tragic, but this classic has been hung out to dry / She might as well have poked a sharp stick in my eye / She’s making all the neighbor dogs cry."[32]

The Don McLean recording was used in the films The Next Best Thing (2000) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989).

The song was parodied on the AFL Footy Show in early 2009, with Garry Lyon playing the part of McLean, and changing the lyrics to become a lament of the pending introduction of a new team to the Australian Football League.


  1. Howard, Dr. Alan. "The Don McLean Story: 1970-1976". 25px Hello. In case you didn't know, when you add the title of a book, film, album, magazine, or TV series to an article, it should be italicized by adding two single apostrophes on either side ('' ''). Titles of television episodes, short stories and songs should be placed within quotation marks. More detail can be found in the Wikipedia Manual of Style. Retrieved on 2007-06-03. 
  2. "What is Don McLean's song "American Pie" all about?". 25px Hello. In case you didn't know, when you add the title of a book, film, album, magazine, or TV series to an article, it should be italicized by adding two single apostrophes on either side ('' ''). Titles of television episodes, short stories and songs should be placed within quotation marks. More detail can be found in the Wikipedia Manual of Style. The Straight Dope. 1993-05-14. Retrieved on 2007-06-03. 
  3. "American Pie". Don
  4. Dearborn, Bob (2002-08-10). "Bob Dearborn's Original Analysis of Don McLean's 1971 Classic "American Pie"". 
  5. Fann, Jim. "Understanding American Pie".  Historically-oriented interpretation of "American Pie". The interpretation was specifically noted on in an archived version of McLean's website page on "American Pie".
  6. McLean's official website lyrics spell the name "Lenin", not "Lennon", although some interpretations say it refers to John Lennon.
  7. Perkins, Adrian. "Mott The Hoople track finder". 25px Hello. In case you didn't know, when you add the title of a book, film, album, magazine, or TV series to an article, it should be italicized by adding two single apostrophes on either side ('' ''). Titles of television episodes, short stories and songs should be placed within quotation marks. More detail can be found in the Wikipedia Manual of Style. Mott The Hoople and Ian Hunter. Adrian Perkins. Retrieved on 2007-12-20. "This 1974 set opener would segue neatly into The Golden Age of Rock n Roll" 
  13. "American Pie". 25px Hello. In case you didn't know, when you add the title of a book, film, album, magazine, or TV series to an article, it should be italicized by adding two single apostrophes on either side ('' ''). Titles of television episodes, short stories and songs should be placed within quotation marks. More detail can be found in the Wikipedia Manual of Style. Retrieved on 2009-05-30. 
  15. Madonna - American Pie
  16. Madonna - American Pie
  17. Madonna - American Pie
  18. Madonna - American Pie
  19. Madonna - American Pie
  20. Madonna - American Pie
  21. Madonna - American Pie
  22. Madonna - American Pie
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Billboard chart peaks Retrieved 22 June 2009.
  24. 24.00 24.01 24.02 24.03 24.04 24.05 24.06 24.07 24.08 24.09 24.10
  27. Entry on the RIPE database for "The day the routers died".
  30. ""Ask Al" Q&As for September, 1999". Retrieved on 2006-10-29. 
  31. TheForce.Net - Jedi Council - Interviews | Weird Al Yankovic
  32. "Bob Rivers Twisted Tunes parody". Retrieved on 2009-02-12. 

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