Don McLean: American Pie Classic Albums


Don McLean: American Pie

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ELECTRIC GUITAR PLAYS

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# A long, long time ago

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# I can still remember

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# How that music used to make me smile... #

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Today is February 3rd,

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the day Buddy Holly's plane crashed, and for no particular...

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..we didn't plan it this way, no particular reason,

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we were in the studio looking at this album,

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um,

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which certainly has as its inspiration

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the things that happened on this day to Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper,

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and Ritchie Valens.

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# Bad news on the doorstep... #

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It was something that mattered to me a lot,

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and I kept it inside for years.

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# I can't remember if I cried

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# When I read about his widowed bride

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# But something touched me deep inside

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# The day the music died. #

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An album about America,

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an album about love

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and falling out of love, beautiful songwriting,

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beautiful songs.

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In 1971, when Don McLean came on the scene,

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he spoke about things that no other singer songwriter

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at that time was, I mean,

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no-one else was writing about - Vincent, American Pie.

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We all realised that this was a masterpiece.

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It was a very moving thing.

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We listened to that and we said, "Wow."

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# Starry, starry night

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# Flaming flowers that brightly blaze... #

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American Pie is classic American pop.

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Buddy Holly-influenced,

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but right down the middle of the heart of American pop.

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And he was taking the genre to a new place.

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# And for the first time I'm discovering

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# The things I used to treasure... #

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It's quite a lopsided record,

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because any album which contains two of the biggest, most iconic,

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not just songs, but hit singles of all time.

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And then a number of songs which most people,

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you wouldn't actually know what they were.

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But it is a masterpiece of record production.

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# And I wonder if you know

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# That I never understood

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# That although you said you'd go

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# Until you did I never thought you would. #

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A genius songwriter,

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a man with an amazing voice, amazing musician and amazing songs.

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# Bye-bye, Miss American Pie,

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# Drove my Chevy to the levee

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# But the levee was dry

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# Them good old boys were drinking whisky and rye

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# Singing this'll be the day that I die. #

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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Right, here's my voice, starting the song Vincent.

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# Starry, starry night

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# Paint your palette blue and grey... #

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I think I must have sung this 30 or 40 times before the perfect take,

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with my vibrato, my pitch, and everything else,

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they didn't have the machines that would pitch your voice

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and put it in tune.

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They didn't have all this stuff that they do now

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to make lousy singers sound like they can sing.

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You know, the studio was a world of truth.

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You either were good or you weren't.

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It told the truth back to you. Like photography told you the truth.

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Now it's Photoshop.

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I'd read a number of books about Van Gogh in my life,

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but this particular one made me want to write a song about him.

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And then, once that occurred,

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the fun part was, you know, how to do it.

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You know...

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# There once was a painter... #

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You know, you've got to...

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There's a thousand ways to go about this, you know.

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And... So I looked at the Van Gogh painting,

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Starry Night, which is his most famous painting, I guess,

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and tried to get this swirling feeling going with the lyrics.

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# Starry, starry night

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# Flaming flowers that brightly blaze

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# Swirling clouds in violet haze

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# Reflecting Vincent's eyes of China blue

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# Colours changing hue... #

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When I was about 12 years old,

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I was just watching an episode of the Simpsons,

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and Vincent came on one day.

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And I was just like, "Wow, what is that song?"

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I had no interest in music before or anything like that.

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And so I went away and found out what it was,

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and I just couldn't stop playing it for some reason. I don't know why.

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And I didn't even start playing guitar at that point, I think.

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That kind of opened the door for me.

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# Starry, starry night... #

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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# Paint your palette blue and grey

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# Look out on a summer's day

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# With eyes that know the darkness in my soul

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# Shadows on the hills

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# Sketch the trees and the daffodils

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# Catch the breeze and the winter chills

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# In colours on the snowy linen land... #

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And that song is written in the form,

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exactly like a popular song of the 1940s would be.

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It's two verses, a bridge, and a verse, with a chorus.

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When we did the album, I felt that Vincent was the diamond.

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I just thought it was just so beautiful, and it is.

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It is just a beautiful song. It's a beautiful poem.

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I was stunned by the beauty of that song.

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You know, by the standards of the day, it wasn't a single.

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It's a masterpiece.

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It deserves to be a hit, but it didn't sound like a hit.

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1971 was the year of Carole King's Tapestry.

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And Neil Young, Harvest.

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We are dealing with a point in time

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where the Beatles have just broken up,

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so we are starting to deal with solo Beatles very slowly.

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You had a series of deaths,

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Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin,

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Jim Morrison of The Doors, Brian Jones.

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James Taylor was very hot, you know,

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and was doing some beautiful work

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with those first two or three records that he made.

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Elton John became a huge star that year.

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And certainly Cat Stevens was emerging,

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and that whole idea of the singer songwriter

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where the performer not only performed the music,

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but also wrote the song and expressed themselves.

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Very folky kinds of music, I think.

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Very acoustic kinds of music.

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That is what I was drawn to,

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and that's where I believe Don came out of.

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I found an album called Bird On A Wire

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which was a Tim Hardin record,

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which was produced by a man named Ed Freeman,

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so I said, "I want Ed Freeman." Because I liked that.

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There was a certain elegant sound. I thought it was elegant.

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Ed Freeman would put a lot of things on a recording,

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and would blend some of those things very subtly.

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The album that changed my life was Rubber Soul,

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and I thought, "You know, OK, all restrictions are off.

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"You can put any instrument on any song and you can get away with it."

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This is what it sounded like when we recorded the whole...

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This is everything we put in the song.

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# Now I understand... #

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There's a harpsichord, there is a piano, there is an oboe,

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four tracks of marimba, strings, there is a harp.

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There is everything but the kitchen sink in there.

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So we recorded all that,

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and then we took it all back out.

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But the thing is, that we had to record all these things

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to find the few things that worked.

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# Now I understand... #

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See, everything about the record is dictated by the guitar.

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I was a guitarist. Um...

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And I was a good guitarist,

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and so I was very, very judgmental

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about other people's guitar playing.

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And I thought Don's finger picking was good.

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But I did not like his rhythm guitar playing.

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It was a big, major thing, you know,

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he was very condescending about my guitar playing.

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I had worked with other musicians at Columbia, and I just, you know,

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took the instrument out of their hands physically.

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Just walked into the studio

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and took the guitar out of their hand

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and said, "OK, you're not playing any more.

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"Go away."

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"We'll get a professional in here." I said, "You're looking at him."

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And that started right off on the wrong foot.

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This is where he fell down terribly as a producer.

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You are there to make things good.

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You know, "That was great, Don, you sang so great. Try one more time."

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You know? "See if we can do this. Everything was great."

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Rather than, "Yeah, I don't like that. That's not good."

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That's how you kill a groove right away.

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I wish I had been more supportive than I was. Um...

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I wish I had known how to deal with

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a delicate artist's ego

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a little bit better than I did.

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I don't think I was very good at doing that.

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There was a lot of artistry that went into this album,

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and a bunch of arguing also,

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but it turned out OK.

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But, see, the thing sounds complete with just the voice and guitar.

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And in my mind, when I hear the record, think about the record,

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it's basically voice and guitar until the bridge,

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when I hear the marimba,

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which was a brilliant idea to have that in there.

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One of the first songs that I played on was Vincent.

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I think we experimented with me playing vibraphone first,

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because I am mainly a vibraphonist.

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I thought that we should try it on marimba.

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The marimba is an ancient instrument, really.

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It is an African instrument, and, you know,

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it has a very, very low register.

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And the bars are made out of rosewood, African rosewood.

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And so it has this, like an ancient sound to it.

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This really beautiful sort of lush...

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# Now I understand

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# What you tried to say to me

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# How you suffered for your sanity

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# And how you tried to set them free

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# They would not listen

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# They did not know how

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# Perhaps they'll listen now... #

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Initially, I wrote an arrangement for strings

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that went through the entire song.

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What I wanted to get into the Vincent song

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and the record was wind, air, circling.

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This kind of, like the air flowing through a window

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when you see the curtains flutter.

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In mixing, Don insisted that we leave the strings out

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until the very end.

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And this was one of our...

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..one of our heated discussions,

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and I have to admit that he was right.

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He was absolutely right.

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It works perfectly that the strings come in at the very end.

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And that's what he did, with those strings at the end.

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It's like the wind suddenly comes through the window.

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You know, that's how I think about it when I hear it.

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You know, I'm singing the last part and it becomes just so beautiful.

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STRINGS PLAY # Now I think I know

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# What you tried to say to me

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# And how you suffered for your sanity

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# And how you tried to set them free

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# They would not listen

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# They're not listening still

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# Perhaps they never will. #

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If you are a good songwriter, every now and then

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you'll come across something that is alive. This is alive.

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For a long, long, time before my father died,

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I was sick at home with asthma.

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I would get this in the spring, I would get it in the fall,

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and I would be home for a month, way behind in school.

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Didn't have a lot of friends.

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Couldn't get along with people. I was used to doing things my own way.

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So I started to fall in love with records and music and radio.

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Because I had a lot of time on my hands when you are sick, you know.

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I think the big thing that happened was the guitar

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and the five-string banjo later on.

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My father basically had a heart attack right in front of me.

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Late at night, like, one in the morning,

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and I had to call the ambulance,

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call the police, and he didn't want me to do that.

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Basically, I took over.

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And he was always a very authoritarian, Scottish,

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you know, he ruled.

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All of a sudden, he said, "Don't call the police."

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I said, "I'm calling the police. I'm calling the ambulance right now."

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You know, I said, "You lay down on the bed." I was in charge.

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15 years old.

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From that point on, I have been in charge.

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And... So he...

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Ha!

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He had a smile.

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He was all wrapped up... He was on his stretcher,

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and they were taking him out.

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He wasn't going to live but a few more hours,

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but he looked up at me and he smiled.

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And he said, "You are a man now."

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HE LAUGHS

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# The grave that they dug him had flowers

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# Gathered from the hillsides in bright summer colours

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# And the brown earth bleached white

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# At the edge of his gravestone

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# He's gone

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# But eternity knows him

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# And it knows what we've done... #

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The Grave was a dream.

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You know, I mean, I had the...

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I, along with millions of other young men,

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I had the war in Vietnam nipping at our heels all through the '60s.

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By 1971, it was absolutely clear that the Vietnam War was a disaster.

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And all America could do was to try

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to get out. As their President said, "Peace with honour."

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Which basically meant we need to extricate ourselves

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without looking too bad about it.

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I just lucked out. I was the only guy to come back on the bus

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that day from New York.

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Everybody else went in the army.

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Because I had this asthma, you know, they kept me away from school

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all those years and doctors' letters,

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and the guy said, "You're out."

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I said, "Huh? What? I'm out?"

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He dreamt about a soldier and his experience at the front line.

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This soldier lost his life.

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A kid that I had gone to high school with,

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a young Irish kid, nice boy, came into the bar that night,

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and said, "Yay, boy, we are going over to Vietnam."

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And he got killed, like, right away.

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# When the wars of our nation did beckon

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# A lad barely 20 did answer the calling

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# Proud of the trust that he placed in our nation

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# He's gone.

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# I'll cover myself with the mud and the earth

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# I'll cover myself

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# I know I'm not brave

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# The earth, the earth

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# The earth is my grave... #

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Now the guitar...

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ACOUSTIC GUITAR PLAYS

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You must have release, you know,

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you have tension and release in music.

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You also have to start quiet in order to get loud.

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That is something I had to learn. You can't be loud all the time.

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If you start quiet, and then you build, you have dynamics.

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The Grave didn't become the anthem for the anti-Vietnam protest.

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The song's time certainly came in 2003.

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George Michael wanted to record that song as a protest

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for the American-led invasion of Iraq.

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He was the only one that did.

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You know, nobody else did anything.

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They had us so completely cowered by that Patriot Act,

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and fearing that if anybody really was vocal and protested,

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they could end up in some, you know,

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maximum security prison, and you would never hear from them again.

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Don phoned me up and he said,

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"Alan, you've got to watch Top Of The Pops tonight.

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"George Michael is going to sing my song, The Grave."

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# But the silence of night was shattered by fire

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# As guns and grenades

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# Blasted sharp through the air

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# One after another his comrades were slaughtered

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# In a morgue of marines

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# Alone, standing there

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# He crouched ever lower

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# Ever lower with fear

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# They can't let me die

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# They can't let me die here

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# I'll cover myself with the mud and the earth

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# I'll cover myself

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# I know I'm not brave

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# The earth, the earth

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# The earth is my grave. #

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Don's always been really impressed by George Michael.

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So The Grave, perhaps one of the smallest songs in reputation

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to begin with on American Pie,

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got its own life, thanks to another major music star.

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When I was 14, I was in love with The Weavers.

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The Weavers were Pete Seeger, Fred Hellerman, and Ronnie Gilbert,

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and Lee Hays.

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The sound of the four of them was just stunning.

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I mean, it was just thrilling to hear.

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One day, I must have been 14, maybe, 15, I said,

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"I wonder if their names are in the phone book."

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I called the operator, you know, in Manhattan Directory, and said,

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"Do you have a number for Fred Hellerman in Manhattan?"

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"Yes, we do."

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And they gave me the number. I called it, you know?

0:20:380:20:41

And one by one, I guess he told The Weavers about me

0:20:410:20:44

and I would call them and got to know them and then

0:20:440:20:48

Erik Darling said, "Why don't you come to the house and we can play?"

0:20:480:20:52

Erik became an influence, helped refine Don's musical style,

0:20:520:20:57

the clarity of his singing and the quality of his guitar playing

0:20:570:21:02

and then, later, he wrote to Pete Seeger and asked him

0:21:020:21:06

why he believes in Communism.

0:21:060:21:08

This immediately grabbed Pete Seeger's attention

0:21:080:21:12

and they struck up a friendship.

0:21:120:21:15

He was very much..."do it yourself and learn about everything".

0:21:150:21:19

So that rubbed off on me, I mean, certainly,

0:21:190:21:21

and it was a tremendous experience.

0:21:210:21:24

You know, I wasn't always in agreement with him politically,

0:21:240:21:27

but I was in agreement with him about the value of human life and

0:21:270:21:33

the value of culture and the value of diversity and the value of love.

0:21:330:21:38

This is something that so many poor people, poor kids, black,

0:21:380:21:44

white, whatever you want to say, in this country have not had

0:21:440:21:48

this realisation that you can do anything.

0:21:480:21:52

They're taught that they're stupid, not worthy.

0:21:520:21:55

They don't realise that they can do anything.

0:21:550:21:59

The only reason I got as far as I did was

0:21:590:22:02

because I was just a powerhouse back in 1969.

0:22:020:22:06

I ended up being in debt for 20,000, which was a lot of money,

0:22:060:22:10

in order to finance the first album, Tapestry,

0:22:100:22:13

and had no solid indication that it was going to come out any place.

0:22:130:22:18

Alan Livingston was the president of the newly-formed

0:22:180:22:23

Media Arts Label.

0:22:230:22:26

Livingston had previously worked as chief executive

0:22:260:22:28

at Capitol Records and he signed Don McLean

0:22:280:22:31

and as an initial advance,

0:22:310:22:34

Don received 25,000 and financing for the production of the album,

0:22:340:22:39

which wiped out his debts and put him

0:22:390:22:42

in a much more comfortable position.

0:22:420:22:45

So I was able to give my mother money every week for three

0:22:450:22:47

years and move her back into the house that she had had to leave

0:22:470:22:51

seven years before.

0:22:510:22:53

I remember listening to his first album and thinking, erm...

0:22:530:22:58

This was quite unusual for a singer-songwriter at that time.

0:22:580:23:02

And I Love You So and Castles In The Air, those were terrific songs.

0:23:020:23:07

But I don't think in any way Don was a household name.

0:23:070:23:11

# And if she asks you why, you can tell her that I told you

0:23:110:23:15

# That I'm tired of castles in the air

0:23:150:23:19

# I've got a dream I want the world to share

0:23:190:23:22

# And castle walls just lead me to despair... #

0:23:220:23:26

I love Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and I would try

0:23:260:23:30

to learn to sing some of the slow songs that Sinatra would sing.

0:23:300:23:35

It's not so hard to sing a fast one, you know. Just connect the dots.

0:23:350:23:39

But a slow song, we really

0:23:390:23:41

understand...

0:23:410:23:44

..every millisecond

0:23:440:23:48

of time

0:23:480:23:50

is important.

0:23:500:23:52

And that's a wonderful thing to work on.

0:23:520:23:55

# And I love you so

0:23:550:24:00

# People ask me how

0:24:020:24:06

# How I've lived till now

0:24:060:24:10

# I tell them I don't know... #

0:24:120:24:16

I was always very dark. I'm a dark... I'm a blue person.

0:24:160:24:22

You know, there's just kind of a blue tinge to things, you know.

0:24:220:24:26

And it's really kind of a pointless way to be, you know,

0:24:260:24:31

when you have so much good fortune as I've had,

0:24:310:24:35

and I'm aware of that, but I guess it's the Scottish in me

0:24:350:24:39

or something, I don't know what it is.

0:24:390:24:42

But it's hard to shake.

0:24:420:24:44

You know, I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop or looking

0:24:440:24:47

around the corner and thinking, "What's going to go wrong?"

0:24:470:24:50

# Yes, I know

0:24:530:24:59

# How loveless life can be

0:24:590:25:04

# The shadows follow me

0:25:060:25:10

# And night won't set me free... #

0:25:100:25:14

And I Love You So went on to be a hit record

0:25:140:25:17

for Perry Como in 1974, and was recorded by Elvis Presley.

0:25:170:25:23

In fact, featured on Elvis Presley's last live album.

0:25:230:25:28

I also got married in 1969.

0:25:280:25:33

I was very needy.

0:25:330:25:36

I needed someone and I really didn't know anything about marriage,

0:25:360:25:42

I didn't know anything about relationships,

0:25:420:25:45

but I was desperately lonely.

0:25:450:25:47

And I married a girl, a very smart girl,

0:25:470:25:52

who was supportive of my music,

0:25:520:25:56

but it wasn't a good marriage.

0:25:560:26:00

# Morning comes and morning goes with no regret

0:26:000:26:05

# And evening brings the memories I can't forget

0:26:070:26:11

# Empty rooms that echo as I climb the stairs

0:26:120:26:17

# Empty clothes that drape and fall on empty chairs... #

0:26:180:26:23

Empty Chairs is the song of someone leaving someone and loneliness,

0:26:240:26:30

and you can't get lonelier than, you know,

0:26:300:26:33

empty clothes hanging on empty chairs.

0:26:330:26:38

Well, Empty Chairs is a sort of distance cousin of Vincent.

0:26:390:26:43

And I never really wrote any song that was similar to another one in

0:26:430:26:46

my whole life, but for some reason, this song came out and it's the same

0:26:460:26:51

thing, two verses, a bridge, and a verse, with a sort of a chorus.

0:26:510:26:57

That's the harpsichord.

0:26:570:26:59

HARPSICHORD PLAYS

0:26:590:27:01

That's neat.

0:27:010:27:03

I like that.

0:27:030:27:06

That's pretty.

0:27:080:27:10

How'd that get left out?!

0:27:100:27:12

And one thing, you know, these records were handmade.

0:27:120:27:15

All records were handmade.

0:27:150:27:17

That is to say a lot of times, we'd have to go and find hands,

0:27:170:27:20

you know, in the studio to pull,

0:27:200:27:23

to push parts up to certain marks that were made on tape,

0:27:230:27:27

at key moments.

0:27:270:27:29

So, all right, raise the strings now, slowly, to that,

0:27:290:27:32

and it was exciting.

0:27:320:27:34

It was my girlfriend who called me on the phone and said,

0:27:340:27:38

"You've got to come to the Troubadour,

0:27:380:27:40

"you've got to see this amazing singer that I love," she said.

0:27:400:27:45

"Named Don McLean."

0:27:450:27:47

And I didn't want to go, I was going through a break-up,

0:27:470:27:52

I just wanted to stay in my apartment, I was 19 years old,

0:27:520:27:56

and reluctantly, I went to see him.

0:27:560:28:01

I had not heard of him before, and sitting in the club,

0:28:010:28:05

I just felt like all of a sudden, he was singing about me and my life,

0:28:050:28:12

especially when he started to sing this particular song.

0:28:120:28:15

The effect that I had and the song had on her caused her to

0:28:150:28:20

include me and the whole experience that she had in this poem.

0:28:200:28:24

What really got to me in the song was,

0:28:240:28:27

"And I wonder if you know that I never understood."

0:28:270:28:32

# And I wonder if you know

0:28:320:28:36

# That I never understood

0:28:380:28:41

# That although you said you'd go

0:28:440:28:48

# Until you did

0:28:480:28:51

# I never thought you would... #

0:28:510:28:54

And so when everybody filtered out of the club,

0:28:560:28:58

my girlfriend as well, I stayed there and I wrote a poem

0:28:580:29:01

on a napkin that was there,

0:29:010:29:04

and that poem became Killing Me Softly.

0:29:040:29:08

And the "him" is Don McLean.

0:29:080:29:11

# I felt all flushed with fever

0:29:120:29:16

# Embarrassed by the crowd

0:29:160:29:19

# I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud

0:29:210:29:27

# I prayed that he would finish

0:29:290:29:33

# But he just kept right on

0:29:330:29:38

# Strumming my pain with his fingers

0:29:380:29:41

# Singing my life with his words

0:29:420:29:45

# Killing me softly with his song

0:29:470:29:50

# Killing me softly with his song

0:29:500:29:54

# Telling my whole life with his words

0:29:540:29:59

# Killing me softly

0:29:590:30:02

# With his song. #

0:30:040:30:07

I remember when I first heard Roberta Flack singing it.

0:30:100:30:13

My version had started to go up the charts

0:30:130:30:16

and then she heard it on an airplane and she loved it, and by the time

0:30:160:30:21

she landed, she had contacted Quincy Jones and Joel Dorn, her producer.

0:30:210:30:26

# Killing me softly with his song

0:30:260:30:30

# Telling my whole life with his words

0:30:300:30:33

# Killing me softly

0:30:330:30:37

# With his song

0:30:370:30:40

# Oh

0:30:420:30:45

# Oh-oh-oh... #

0:30:450:30:49

You could see, mine is a very simple folk song, but hers,

0:30:490:30:54

she added these elements that I never would have imagined,

0:30:540:30:57

and she made it something that I could never have imagined

0:30:570:31:00

the song holding. And yet it did.

0:31:000:31:03

And I think I was so surprised that it resonated with so many people.

0:31:030:31:08

I'm not an entertainer.

0:31:080:31:10

There are aspects of entertainment to what I do

0:31:100:31:13

and I will entertain you, in order to get your attention,

0:31:130:31:16

maybe then to do something else.

0:31:160:31:18

Crossroads, I think, is a masterpiece.

0:31:180:31:23

It's a gorgeous piece of writing.

0:31:230:31:24

Crossroads, when I was playing it, seemed to be repetitive.

0:31:240:31:28

I was going from the G to the E minor to the A minor.

0:31:280:31:31

And then Ed said,

0:31:310:31:33

"We can get this really good piano player to play it,"

0:31:330:31:36

and so they got Warren Bernhardt, a very sensitive player,

0:31:360:31:41

and so Ed created with Warren this track, and then I sang to it.

0:31:410:31:47

Turned out very well.

0:31:470:31:48

When I hear the opening strings, it's still very memorable.

0:31:480:31:54

# I've got nothing on my mind

0:31:540:31:57

# Nothing to remember

0:31:570:32:00

# Nothing to forget... #

0:32:030:32:06

See how beautiful it is.

0:32:060:32:08

# And I know that on the outside... #

0:32:080:32:11

All that stuff I was talking about, dynamics.

0:32:110:32:15

Quiet.

0:32:150:32:17

Loud.

0:32:170:32:18

Very liquid.

0:32:200:32:22

Fluid.

0:32:220:32:23

The melody is just so beautiful that it resonates with me, certainly,

0:32:230:32:28

and I think with a lot of people.

0:32:280:32:30

I think, when music is written in such a beautiful way,

0:32:300:32:34

there's no escaping it, really.

0:32:340:32:36

# So there's no need for turning back

0:32:360:32:40

# Cos all roads lead to where we stand... #

0:32:430:32:46

A lot of Don's music is sad.

0:32:480:32:50

I probably pushed for something -

0:32:500:32:52

do we have anything else that's a little bit more hit-like, please?

0:32:520:32:58

But in the end, you just have to say, well, that's what he writes.

0:32:580:33:03

Everybody Loves Me, Baby, which is about the egotistical,

0:33:030:33:08

rich leader, who everybody is supposed to love,

0:33:080:33:11

except this one person who thinks he's a jerk.

0:33:110:33:15

It was during the Nixonian time period.

0:33:150:33:18

He was a wonderful catalyst for creativity.

0:33:180:33:21

This is Everybody Loves Me, Baby.

0:33:210:33:24

It's the only other upbeat song on the album.

0:33:240:33:26

And we wanted it to sound like a party.

0:33:260:33:29

And so it's a sloppy mess, on purpose.

0:33:290:33:32

-It sounds like this.

-One, two, three, four!

0:33:340:33:38

# Fortune has... #

0:33:440:33:47

What's unusual about this is that we have a track of people,

0:33:470:33:51

I think there must have been a dozen people in the studio,

0:33:510:33:54

just carrying on, having a great drunken time, banging on every

0:33:540:34:00

percussion instrument they could find and yelling and screaming.

0:34:000:34:04

And this is what that track sounds like, solo.

0:34:040:34:06

VARIOUS PERCUSSION

0:34:060:34:11

Everybody Loves Me, Baby, I thought could have been a lot better.

0:34:120:34:15

That was one of the things where I think we dropped the ball.

0:34:150:34:18

Lyrically, it's OK, but I don't like the melody all that much.

0:34:180:34:22

I could have done a better job on that.

0:34:220:34:26

I didn't have the ideas to help the producer, but one thing,

0:34:260:34:31

I would have put voices on the chorus.

0:34:310:34:34

I think that could have made it a very catchy chorus.

0:34:340:34:36

He has got a really playful, acrobatic voice when he likes,

0:34:360:34:41

full of humour and kind of vigour

0:34:410:34:43

and effervescence, and that is to the fore on this song.

0:34:430:34:46

# You're all enslaved My own flag is forever waved by... #

0:34:460:34:50

This must have been a lot of fun to record.

0:34:520:34:55

I don't remember the session, exactly, but listening to

0:34:550:35:01

the multitrack now, I think we must have had a really good time.

0:35:010:35:06

It comes, I think, at a great moment in the album,

0:35:060:35:09

as far as the running order is concerned, when it really needs

0:35:090:35:12

a sort of energy lift and a kind of a humour lift.

0:35:120:35:15

And I would have it as a personal highlight.

0:35:150:35:18

This is the song, Babylon,

0:35:180:35:20

sometimes it's called By The Waters Of Babylon.

0:35:200:35:23

Babylon is an arrangement of Psalm 1:37.

0:35:230:35:28

I maintained a relationship with Lee Hays, who was

0:35:280:35:30

a member of The Weavers and he said, "Oh, hey, sing this song with me.

0:35:300:35:37

"And I'll sing it for you...

0:35:370:35:38

# By the waters... #"

0:35:380:35:42

He started to sing it. And he said, "Now..."

0:35:420:35:45

He sang the whole thing and said,

0:35:450:35:47

"See if you can remember how that goes."

0:35:470:35:49

So I remembered it, then he sang it against me.

0:35:490:35:52

He said, "Imagine a third part to that." So, I thought...

0:35:520:35:56

I heard it right away and I thought, "Oh, that's perfect," you know?

0:35:560:36:00

"And I know what I'll do with it. I'll make up a banjo part."

0:36:000:36:04

And although it's co-credited with Lee Hays,

0:36:040:36:07

in practice, Don McLean made the arrangement,

0:36:070:36:11

and insisted on giving 50% of the royalties from that

0:36:110:36:17

particular song to Lee Hays to thank him

0:36:170:36:21

for all he'd done in supporting his development in the 1960s.

0:36:210:36:26

# We lay down and wept

0:36:260:36:30

# And wept

0:36:300:36:33

# For thee Zion... #

0:36:330:36:36

It was one of the few times where Don actually sang more

0:36:360:36:40

than one part.

0:36:400:36:41

Ed wanted him to enhance it, but he didn't want to have

0:36:410:36:45

professional background singers come in and sing along with him.

0:36:450:36:48

He just wanted to use Don's voice.

0:36:480:36:52

# We lay down and wept

0:36:520:36:55

# And wept

0:36:550:36:57

# For thee Zion... #

0:36:570:37:00

It is a beautifully sung song.

0:37:000:37:02

We underrate how good a singer Don McLean is.

0:37:020:37:05

He has a very clear, beautiful, precise voice, but not a cold voice.

0:37:050:37:11

It's a voice which is, you know, full of feeling and emotion.

0:37:110:37:14

But he heard it and he said, "You sang it wrong." Cos it's...

0:37:140:37:18

# We lay down and wept

0:37:180:37:20

# And wept... #

0:37:200:37:23

I sang... # We lay down and wept... #

0:37:230:37:25

NOTE HIGHER: # And wept. #

0:37:250:37:26

Just a little note change. Instead of... # And wept... #

0:37:260:37:29

It's... # And wept. #

0:37:290:37:31

One note difference. But it makes a big difference.

0:37:310:37:34

BANJO PLAYS This is the banjo part

0:37:340:37:37

that I came up with.

0:37:370:37:40

It's in a funny tuning.

0:37:420:37:43

I think it's a G minor.

0:37:430:37:45

# Waters, the waters of Babylon

0:37:460:37:50

# We lay down and wept

0:37:510:37:55

# And wept... #

0:37:550:37:57

I DID sing it right.

0:37:570:38:00

# We lay down and wept

0:38:000:38:04

# And wept... # Yeah, I sang it wrong.

0:38:040:38:06

Sang it right the first time and wrong the second time.

0:38:060:38:10

That's funny.

0:38:100:38:12

# For thee Zion... #

0:38:150:38:19

So this was like a little finish to the whole album.

0:38:190:38:24

Just a period

0:38:240:38:26

put at the end of this whole experience.

0:38:260:38:28

With Babylon, you could end on a sense of mystery and beauty.

0:38:280:38:32

It kid of leaves it open and it gives you this kind of warm feeling.

0:38:320:38:38

And that's what albums at their best really did is that they take

0:38:380:38:43

you on a sort of an emotional

0:38:430:38:44

and intellectual journey over 40 minutes,

0:38:440:38:48

where it's not just a variety of song,

0:38:480:38:51

but a sort of thread of feeling, which kind of changes and weaves

0:38:510:38:56

around, that where you are at the end of it,

0:38:560:38:59

when you've finished side two of the album is different from where

0:38:590:39:05

you were at the beginning of it,

0:39:050:39:07

when you first put the needle on the beginning of side one.

0:39:070:39:10

# We remember thee

0:39:100:39:14

# Remember thee

0:39:140:39:16

# Remember thee Zion. #

0:39:160:39:20

I had most of the album written without American Pie.

0:39:300:39:35

In fact, they were going to call the album Empty Chairs or

0:39:350:39:40

something like that.

0:39:400:39:42

You know, American Pie hadn't been written.

0:39:420:39:46

But I wasn't happy with that.

0:39:460:39:48

You know, it's not right. I said, "It's not finished yet.

0:39:480:39:50

"I've got more to do. Something else I want to say."

0:39:500:39:53

A really big song I had in me, I knew I had this.

0:39:530:39:56

It's like a pregnancy.

0:39:560:39:59

And I knew it.

0:39:590:40:01

I was in this little gatehouse that I lived in

0:40:010:40:05

in Cold Spring on the Hudson,

0:40:050:40:08

and I shared that house with my first wife.

0:40:080:40:12

It was a happy life, because we had all these singers around and artists

0:40:120:40:15

and there were actors and there were poets

0:40:150:40:18

and there were biographers and there were painters.

0:40:180:40:20

It was a wonderful experience, very rich.

0:40:200:40:22

I just wanted to find this way of talking about America

0:40:220:40:27

that was big and that was dramatic,

0:40:270:40:30

but dramatic in a whole new way.

0:40:300:40:33

What happened to me is I had this little room in this gatehouse,

0:40:330:40:38

and I would sit up there with my guitar

0:40:380:40:40

and I had this old carpeting on the floor.

0:40:400:40:43

And I had a little bed in the corner.

0:40:430:40:47

That seclusion in the gatehouse in that small, rural community

0:40:470:40:52

was just what he needed.

0:40:520:40:55

So I was rocking in my little chair and all of a sudden,

0:40:550:40:58

I went over to the guitar, I had a little tape recorder.

0:40:580:41:02

And I just sang, "A long, long time ago,"

0:41:020:41:05

to this whole thing, right through "the day the music died".

0:41:050:41:08

ACOUSTIC: # A long, long time ago I can still remember how

0:41:100:41:14

# That music used to make me smile

0:41:140:41:17

# And I knew if I had my chance That I could make those people dance

0:41:190:41:23

# And maybe they'd be happy for a while

0:41:230:41:27

# But February made me shiver

0:41:280:41:31

# With every paper I'd deliver

0:41:310:41:34

# Bad news on the doorstep

0:41:340:41:36

# I couldn't take one more step

0:41:360:41:39

# I can't remember if I cried When I read about his widowed bride

0:41:400:41:45

# But something touched me deep inside

0:41:450:41:49

# The day the music died... #

0:41:490:41:54

I said, "Oh, wow, this is really great.

0:41:560:41:58

"I don't know what it is, but it's really neat."

0:41:580:42:00

You know, and it spoke to me, like this was going someplace,

0:42:000:42:04

and I had to figure out where it was going.

0:42:040:42:07

Buddy Holly is the singer-songwriter

0:42:070:42:09

who remains by far the most influential on Don McLean.

0:42:090:42:12

For everything he did. You know, his gifts as a melodist, as a lyricist.

0:42:120:42:17

And as a sort of an outsider,

0:42:170:42:19

a rock star who didn't look like a rock star.

0:42:190:42:22

It was that moment of Don in his mid-20s, harking back to childhood,

0:42:220:42:28

to that moment of innocence,

0:42:280:42:30

before everything got complicated and adult and conflicted.

0:42:300:42:35

A month or two went by, and I just had it,

0:42:350:42:37

and didn't know what to do with it.

0:42:370:42:40

And then I said, "I want it to be a fast song, a rock and roll song."

0:42:400:42:44

So I came up with this crazy chorus.

0:42:440:42:49

"Bye-bye, Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levee,

0:42:490:42:53

"but the levee was dry."

0:42:530:42:54

# Them good ole boys were drinking whisky and rye

0:42:540:43:00

# Singin' this'll be the day that I die

0:43:000:43:02

# This'll be the day that I die... #

0:43:020:43:05

I was in the shower a couple of months later,

0:43:050:43:08

and I got out of the shower all wet,

0:43:080:43:10

and I grabbed paper and I started writing.

0:43:100:43:12

"Did you write the book of love..." I just...

0:43:120:43:15

I just had this...this thing that came to me.

0:43:150:43:19

And then it goes...

0:43:190:43:20

# Did you write the book of love

0:43:230:43:26

# And do you have faith in God above

0:43:260:43:30

# If the Bible tells you so?

0:43:300:43:33

# Now do you believe in rock and roll?

0:43:350:43:38

# Can music save your mortal soul?

0:43:380:43:41

# And can you teach me how to dance real slow? #

0:43:410:43:47

And the four middle verses would be growing dissatisfaction,

0:43:470:43:52

growing anger, growing public unrest, if you will.

0:43:520:43:57

I don't know how to describe it.

0:43:570:43:58

I'd been to the March on Washington.

0:43:580:44:02

They tear-gassed a lot of people.

0:44:020:44:05

There was all that activity all day, but then the tear-gas dispersed

0:44:050:44:09

everybody and the streets were all empty.

0:44:090:44:11

And all that activity and, you know,

0:44:110:44:14

political anger and everything else had been dispersed.

0:44:140:44:18

I think I captured that in my head, and that was the last verse.

0:44:180:44:22

"I met a girl who sang the blues, I asked her for some happy news..."

0:44:220:44:25

She was, like, the only one left.

0:44:250:44:27

Everything else, all this other stuff that had happened

0:44:270:44:29

in the four verses before,

0:44:290:44:30

all this energy and activity had just dispersed,

0:44:300:44:36

and now it was just...the...

0:44:360:44:38

..the end.

0:44:380:44:39

# And in the streets the children screamed

0:44:390:44:42

# The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed

0:44:420:44:46

# But not a word was spoken

0:44:460:44:48

# The church bells all were broken

0:44:490:44:53

# And the three men I admire most

0:44:530:44:56

# The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost

0:44:560:45:00

# They caught the last train for the coast

0:45:000:45:03

# The day the music died

0:45:030:45:09

# And they were singin'

0:45:090:45:12

# Bye-bye, Miss American Pie... #

0:45:120:45:18

It came as a major shock and a major blow

0:45:180:45:21

to hear that Mediarts as a label were going out of business.

0:45:210:45:26

And this immediately threw into jeopardy

0:45:260:45:28

the future of the American Pie project.

0:45:280:45:30

One week, I was without a record company and the next week,

0:45:300:45:34

I was on United Artists,

0:45:340:45:36

which was a terrible record company at the time.

0:45:360:45:40

United Artists took over the business

0:45:400:45:42

and for Don McLean, took over the contract.

0:45:420:45:46

They were not a record label for a young guy like me,

0:45:460:45:49

doing what I was doing.

0:45:490:45:50

But they were trying to remake themselves

0:45:520:45:54

into something much better, which they did.

0:45:540:45:56

United Artists taking over Mediarts was perhaps a stroke of luck,

0:45:560:46:01

but gave Don McLean further momentum

0:46:010:46:05

in his development as a mainstream music star.

0:46:050:46:10

Then there were some practice sessions,

0:46:100:46:13

which I kind of liked how they felt, they felt pretty good.

0:46:130:46:18

Don was not used to working with other musicians,

0:46:180:46:21

so I put him together with a couple of players,

0:46:210:46:25

bass and drums, who were very good players.

0:46:250:46:28

But they were also not slick studio players,

0:46:280:46:33

who had done thousands of sessions.

0:46:330:46:37

Rehearsals consisted of Rob Stoner playing bass,

0:46:370:46:43

Don on acoustic,

0:46:430:46:44

and I think occasionally also Ed on acoustic.

0:46:440:46:49

And me on drums.

0:46:500:46:52

So there was...there was no piano, no guitar, electric guitar.

0:46:520:46:58

The sort of ingredient X which makes it such a stunning record,

0:46:580:47:04

is a piano, by a guy called Paul Griffin,

0:47:040:47:07

who played with Bob Dylan, Dionne Warwick.

0:47:070:47:11

When we were about to record,

0:47:110:47:13

Ed told us that we needn't go into the room yet,

0:47:130:47:18

because he wanted to do a piece with the piano player,

0:47:180:47:21

who'd just showed up.

0:47:210:47:22

He came to me and said, "What am I supposed to do?

0:47:220:47:24

"I don't know how to do... I don't know how to play this."

0:47:240:47:27

I said, "Paul, don't worry about it, you'll figure it out."

0:47:270:47:30

What he did was that he free-associated the, as it were,

0:47:300:47:34

the emotion of the song,

0:47:340:47:35

but also he listened very clearly to the lyrics of the song.

0:47:350:47:40

And, yeah, the song is called American Pie,

0:47:400:47:43

because his piano playing is full of what you might call Americana.

0:47:430:47:47

When he came in and got it,

0:47:470:47:49

he just said, "Man, that was so great." He was pounding the piano.

0:47:490:47:52

But, you know, Ed Freeman found him, thank God.

0:47:520:47:56

It's a music which reaches to the Church, to the backwoods,

0:47:560:48:01

to the honky-tonks, to the Great White Way of Broadway.

0:48:010:48:06

It's all in there.

0:48:060:48:07

When Paul Griffin played the part that he did, it was such a relief

0:48:070:48:11

to me, because finally, I was in the pocket,

0:48:110:48:14

I was in the groove that I wanted.

0:48:140:48:16

I could feel this thing lift up and it was flying,

0:48:160:48:19

like I had imagined it would and how I had heard it in my head.

0:48:190:48:23

WITH PIANO: # Do you believe in rock and roll?

0:48:230:48:27

# Can music save your mortal soul? #

0:48:270:48:31

PIANO AND GUITAR ONLY

0:48:310:48:35

This is just acoustic guitar and Paul playing along.

0:48:370:48:41

And you can hear...this is the kind of miracle that happens in sessions

0:48:440:48:51

that you hope for, but doesn't always happen, obviously.

0:48:510:48:55

The combination just works perfectly,

0:48:550:48:59

and this kind of style that he came up with,

0:48:590:49:02

it's the perfect American Pie piano playing.

0:49:020:49:06

It blew me away, because I had long been a fan of Paul Griffin,

0:49:080:49:13

the pianist.

0:49:130:49:14

He was a great piano player.

0:49:140:49:18

And he shows up and he just plays the hell out of it.

0:49:180:49:21

The piano is the whole game.

0:49:230:49:26

He's all over this thing.

0:49:260:49:27

Very Ray Charles.

0:49:270:49:31

# ..the music died

0:49:310:49:34

# He was singing

0:49:340:49:36

VOCALS ONLY: # Bye-bye, Miss American Pie... #

0:49:360:49:39

In the body of the song, everybody is playing live.

0:49:390:49:42

And there are no splices.

0:49:420:49:46

The rhythm guitar, Don's rhythm guitar, piano, bass, drums,

0:49:460:49:50

electric guitar, they're all playing live.

0:49:500:49:53

There are no splices, there are no overdubs, that's the way it is.

0:49:530:49:56

Now, the beginning of the song, where there's just the piano,

0:49:560:50:01

I think the first verse had 12 splices.

0:50:010:50:03

Don is a free-form kind of performer.

0:50:030:50:06

He doesn't... You can't put a metronome to him.

0:50:060:50:09

So to get the piano and Don, which are both playing in free-form,

0:50:090:50:16

both together perfectly, at the same time,

0:50:160:50:20

we did a few takes and then cut it together

0:50:200:50:25

to make it a single flow.

0:50:250:50:28

Don is a wonderful singer, he was perfectly capable

0:50:280:50:32

of singing it perfectly all the way through the first time.

0:50:320:50:37

If he had wanted to sing it that way, he could have,

0:50:370:50:41

but he didn't want to. He wanted to improvise.

0:50:410:50:44

One of the things that I was doing a lot, when I made American Pie,

0:50:440:50:50

was singing, sort of way out there, sometimes.

0:50:500:50:55

And Ed didn't like that.

0:50:550:50:57

And he was probably right about that.

0:50:570:51:01

VOCAL AND ACOUSTIC GUITAR: # We were singin'

0:51:010:51:04

# Bye-bye, Miss American Pie

0:51:040:51:05

# Drove my Chevy to the levee But the levee was dry

0:51:050:51:09

# And them good old boys were drinkin' whisky and rye

0:51:090:51:12

# Singin' this'll be the day that I di-i-i-i-ie

0:51:120:51:16

# This'll be the day that I die... #

0:51:160:51:19

So I just edited out all his improvisations...er...

0:51:190:51:22

And I think eventually, we sort of arrived at some kind of an agreement

0:51:220:51:28

that that's the way it was going to be done,

0:51:280:51:32

is that he was going to sing it any way he wanted and that was fine,

0:51:320:51:37

and I was going to do anything I wanted to in editing his vocals,

0:51:370:51:41

and that was fine.

0:51:410:51:43

# I was a lonely, teenage broncin' buck

0:51:430:51:46

# With a pink carnation and a pick-up truck

0:51:460:51:49

# But I knew I was out of luck

0:51:490:51:52

# The day the music died... #

0:51:520:51:56

Each time you'd get to the end of "the day the music died",

0:51:580:52:00

that was a different thing that happened that day,

0:52:000:52:02

so that when you got to the chorus, each time, the chorus is enhanced

0:52:020:52:07

by the new information that you've had, by the last verse.

0:52:070:52:12

# And while Lenin read a book on Marx

0:52:120:52:15

# The quartet practised in the park

0:52:150:52:18

# And we sang dirges in the dark

0:52:180:52:21

# The day the music died... #

0:52:210:52:26

And then the next verse does it again, so it builds that way.

0:52:270:52:30

But the group had to play like that also.

0:52:300:52:34

The band had to play and build, and it had to be mixed that way,

0:52:340:52:37

so that it would build. And then it drops down...

0:52:370:52:40

..you know, to this end, which is a dirge,

0:52:400:52:43

it's like, you're standing in an empty street, or standing over,

0:52:430:52:46

you know, someone's gravestone or something

0:52:460:52:49

in some graveyard somewhere quiet,

0:52:490:52:52

thinking about all this stuff that happened.

0:52:520:52:56

So it's a complete, you know, circle.

0:52:560:52:58

When the whole album was finished, I turned to Don's manager and said,

0:52:580:53:03

"That's all very well and good for an album,

0:53:030:53:05

"but what are we going to do for a single?"

0:53:050:53:07

And he said, "Oh, we're going to release American Pie."

0:53:070:53:10

And I said, "You've got to be kidding!"

0:53:100:53:12

There had been long singles before.

0:53:120:53:15

Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan in 1965

0:53:150:53:18

was, I think, about seven minutes long.

0:53:180:53:21

Hey Jude by the Beatles in 1968, much the same.

0:53:210:53:25

It was 8 and a half minutes long, you just don't, not in those days.

0:53:250:53:29

In those days, if you had a record

0:53:290:53:31

that was three minutes and four seconds long,

0:53:310:53:34

you put 2 minutes 57 on the label,

0:53:340:53:36

so that DJs would actually play it,

0:53:360:53:39

because they wouldn't play anything longer than three minutes.

0:53:390:53:43

We had to break it up and put it on two sides of a 45,

0:53:430:53:48

which was an awful idea.

0:53:480:53:50

It was just awful.

0:53:500:53:51

It sort of faded out halfway through the middle of a verse,

0:53:510:53:57

and then reprised on the second side of the 45. It was terrible.

0:53:570:54:02

We actually did get it all on a 45rpm record on one side.

0:54:020:54:09

We did a technical thing called half-speed cutting.

0:54:090:54:15

Then the record company rejected it,

0:54:150:54:17

because the jukeboxes wouldn't play the whole thing -

0:54:170:54:21

they were set to lift the needle out of the record

0:54:210:54:24

at a certain point in time,

0:54:240:54:26

so that the needle wouldn't go into the paper of the record

0:54:260:54:32

and hurt the needle.

0:54:320:54:34

And then, everybody of course went and bought the album,

0:54:340:54:37

so they could hear the song without having to turn the record over.

0:54:370:54:41

I was shocked when it came out and it hit number one instantly.

0:54:410:54:46

The thing about American Pie the single,

0:54:460:54:49

it wasn't just a big hit single, it was a phenomenon.

0:54:490:54:52

I remember in the fall of 1971,

0:54:520:54:54

just the song literally seemed to explode.

0:54:540:54:58

Give people something with tunes and imagination,

0:54:580:55:03

and they will go for it and they will love it.

0:55:030:55:05

American Pie, and American Pie the single specifically,

0:55:050:55:09

propelled him to instant superstardom in 1972.

0:55:090:55:13

Newspapers running stories about the song, about Don McLean.

0:55:130:55:18

Investigative reporters were going out of their way

0:55:180:55:23

to find stories about Don McLean.

0:55:230:55:25

There's stories of them searching his trash, planting women

0:55:250:55:30

in his dressing room - perhaps all the trappings of superstardom.

0:55:300:55:35

If I were to go to a town, I was always on the news,

0:55:350:55:37

I was always on the CBS Evening News.

0:55:370:55:39

I was always... Anything I did was news.

0:55:390:55:41

Um...which was a lot for me to handle.

0:55:410:55:45

When my kids were in grade school, it was part of their English lesson.

0:55:450:55:53

It was actually in the textbooks of the schools in this country.

0:55:530:56:00

The lyrics are fascinating. They are fantastic.

0:56:000:56:03

You know, they are full of sort of culture,

0:56:030:56:05

but also there's a mystery involved. Everybody loves a mystery.

0:56:050:56:07

Who is the jester? What does "eight miles high" mean?

0:56:070:56:12

That particular song was just so historic,

0:56:120:56:15

and all of us, you know,

0:56:150:56:16

paused and wondered what the heck he was talking about.

0:56:160:56:19

We all had our own theories about it.

0:56:190:56:21

And I love that he has never actually said what it was about.

0:56:210:56:24

Don himself has said, "If I actually have to start explaining

0:56:240:56:28

"what a song means, line by line,

0:56:280:56:30

"then it has kind of failed as a song."

0:56:300:56:32

Sometimes just let the mystery resonate, you know?

0:56:320:56:37

American Pie does mean a lot of different things

0:56:370:56:41

to a lot of different people,

0:56:410:56:43

and that's part of the genius of writing what is a hit song.

0:56:430:56:48

You know, people can listen to it and they can get whatever meaning

0:56:480:56:52

out of it they want, whatever suits them.

0:56:520:56:55

The producer Ed Freeman thinks the song told the story

0:56:550:56:59

of America in the 1960s.

0:56:590:57:01

It's like a funeral oration for America

0:57:010:57:05

that allowed the Americans to grieve and to move forward.

0:57:050:57:10

After American Pie came out,

0:57:100:57:13

there was an article about it in Life magazine,

0:57:130:57:17

and two weeks after the article came out,

0:57:170:57:19

there were some letters to the editors about it.

0:57:190:57:22

And one of them came from a woman

0:57:220:57:24

who said that her husband was missing in action in Vietnam,

0:57:240:57:30

-and...

-HIS VOICE BREAKS

0:57:300:57:32

..that she used to cry and feel sorry for herself a lot,

0:57:340:57:39

until she heard the full version of American Pie,

0:57:390:57:44

and it made her realise how much we had all lost.

0:57:440:57:49

And, um...

0:57:500:57:52

I think that says it about as well as I've ever heard it said.

0:57:520:57:57

It's the loss of that innocence,

0:57:570:58:00

and the innocence is what died in 1959, when Buddy Holly died.

0:58:000:58:05

Not the music, as such, but what the music meant to him,

0:58:050:58:11

as a sort of idealised innocence of happiness and joy.

0:58:110:58:17

That went.

0:58:170:58:19

Don wanted to do his version of Sgt Pepper,

0:58:190:58:22

and it was supposed to be a concept album.

0:58:220:58:26

And for the life of me, I didn't understand the concept,

0:58:260:58:30

but then, eventually, I did.

0:58:300:58:34

If you look at the lyrics in the songs, it's all about loss.

0:58:340:58:38

It just really made me feel good, and it was just beautiful.

0:58:380:58:43

It's like a symphony.

0:58:430:58:44

That is where I think he's rated,

0:58:440:58:46

I think he is rated along with the greatest songwriters of all time.

0:58:460:58:50

My songs will be around a long, long time from now.

0:58:500:58:54

Because they already have been around almost 50 years.

0:58:540:58:56

And I've been alive for that, so who knows what will happen when I die?

0:58:560:59:01

# And they were singin', what? #

0:59:010:59:03

AUDIENCE SINGS AND CLAPS ALONG: # Bye-bye, Miss American Pie

0:59:030:59:08

# Drove my Chevy to the levee But the levee was dry

0:59:080:59:13

# And them good old boys were drinking whisky and rye

0:59:130:59:17

# Singing this'll be the day that I di-i-i-ie. #

0:59:170:59:25

RAPTUROUS APPLAUSE

0:59:250:59:28

The story of Don McLean's second album American Pie. Crowned by its titular overture and the song Vincent, McLean's equally moving tribute to Van Gogh, American Pie is a classic of the folk-rock genre, earning its place alongside Carole King's Tapestry, Joni Mitchell's Blue and Neil Young's After The Goldrush as one of the landmark singer-songwriter LPs of 1971, a year recently celebrated in a book by award-winning journalist David Hepworth as 'rock's golden year'. Don McLean features in extensive new interviews, discussing the intricacies of his songs, the sometimes fraught recording process, and the album's legacy.

Forty-five years after its release, there has never been another album quite like American Pie. While a product of its era pinpointing a precise moment of cultural change in the shattered hopes of baby boomers, its impact continues to reverberate down the years with a poignancy and relevance that hasn't diminished.

The questions it raises about its country's past, present and future are as much a part of our cultural dialogue in Trump's 2017 as they were in Nixon's 1971. "I had most of the album written without American Pie," explains McLean. "But I wasn't happy with that. I knew it wasn't finished. I had more to say. I had this this really big song I needed to get out."

Interviewees include producer Ed Freeman and musician Jake Bugg, whose musical path was initiated when hearing Vincent for the first time on the TV, and a poignant archive performance of George Michael performing The Grave.


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