The music may have died long ago for music giant Don McLean, but audiences worldwide still smile when the sounds of “American Pie” fill the room.
“I just want to let people know I’m very happy, I’m very content and very enthusiastic about everything that I’m doing,” McLean told the Montrose Daily Press.
The Grammy award honoree, Songwriters Hall of Fame member and BBC Lifetime Achievement Award recipient recently announced the 50th anniversary tour for his cornerstone eight and a half minute record. McLean is slated to perform in Grand Junction at the Avalon Theater on July 8 during the North American portion of his 2022 tour.
The international expedition will pay homage to the record named Top 5 Song of the 20th century. First performed on Oct. 1, 1971, “American Pie” has transcended multiple generations and continues to make waves even today.
The ballad pays tribute to the late singer, Buddy Holly, but stands alone as an autobiographical composition. McLean begins the anthem as a young paperboy in the 1950s reading headlines surrounding Holly’s death, and continues to speak of the decades leading up to the 1970s.
“American Pie” is often fondly thought of with nostalgia, but it conveys a stark transition from a childhood innocence into the darker realities of adulthood. The song changes as America itself changes, McLean’s website says.
Besides the classic, the composer will perform fan favorites such as “Vincent (Starry Starry Night),” “Castles in the Air,” “And I Love You So” and “Cryin’,” among a slew of over 60 new songs written throughout the course of the pandemic.
Each show will include a new set list for audiences, where they can enjoy a blend of new and familiar songs. The newest album hasn’t been announced yet, but listeners can expect McLean to stay true to his style, offering lyrics that reflect current political and social commentary around the world.
McLean told the Daily Press that a song called “The Ballad of George Floyd” is on the record.
“I don’t think anybody’s done that yet. I’ll probably take a lot of grief for it too, but I’m happy to do it because it’s the right thing to do,” McLean said. “Some songs on there will make you laugh ー there’s some good stuff on there.”
The songwriter is excited to return to Colorado. Having been “everywhere,” McLean enjoys the beauty of the states’ country regions. He described himself as a “rambler” and “songster,” someone who likes to sing a lot of songs. And it doesn’t really matter where he does it.
As much as McLean loves being at home, he’s had “just about enough of it” after two years into the pandemic. But he stayed busy during his time in isolation, creating a YouTube channel in which he uploaded 11 albums and 173 tracks.
McLean and his team are currently working on a documentary about the creation of “American Pie” and its album. They’re also writing a children's book and a “bookazine,” magazine booklets found in stores, in honor of the record’s anniversary.
“Now it’s time to go back on the road and start to meet the folks,” he said.
McLean gave a rundown of the songs’ statistics from 2019-2021. His music played in 78 countries in 2019, according to Spotify streaming data. Now his songs span across 178 countries, due in part to the consistent publicity surrounding the ballad.
The song was recently dethroned as the longest song at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, a title he held for 50 years. Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift claimed the title after releasing a 10-minute long version of “All Too Well” earlier this month.
Music has evolved since McLean embarked on his career, but he respects the progress within the industry, even if current trends are not how he would choose to create music.
“It’s not my way, but it’s the new way,” said McLean, adding that music has become more conversational in its structure. “I know what the essence of music is, at least to me: It’s lyrics and melody, and I don’t really hear that anymore. But there’s a new kind of entertainment that’s out there. It’s like poetry.”
McLean writes his music with form and rules. He sees today’s lyrics as more free-verse, allowing artists to convey their message without rhyme or conventional structure. Video has become more prominent in adding to a song’s message as well, something that wasn’t as prevalent in music culture when McLean began his career in the late 1960s.
“They put it to some kind of melody, which also doesn’t have any rules, and create something that sounds like music,” the singer observed.
McLean still has a plethora of stories up his sleeve he wants to write about, some of which have sat in the corners of his mind for years. He reflected on his younger years, noting that while he has always been outspoken, there were times he wished he hadn’t been so “critical” of other people.
He attributed the quality to the competitive nature in his youth, explaining that he’s now learned to step back and criticize less as he’s gotten older.
Overall, McLean is happy and enthusiastic about his current projects, and looks forward to returning to the road where he’ll meet audiences and return to what he loves most: singing.
To purchase tickets or learn more about McLean’s upcoming tour, visit donmclean.com
Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.