“The Day The Music Died” – Don McLean


Rachel Weiner, Writer

Not many people know the story behind the well appreciated 70’s song, American Pie. It was written by Don McLean in the late 1900’s, and it shows his true perspective on the events going on at that time in America. At this time in our country, the peace and tranquility we, as people, have fought for was slipping down the drain. A sequence of unfortunate events continued for a while, and people were losing faith in the American community. When McLean refers to “the day the music died,” he is referring to a plane crash involving Buddy Holly (an American singer and songwriter), Ritchie Valens (an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter), and J.P. Richardson (an American musician and a disc jockey/DJ). At this time, McLean was a paperboy, he delivered news to peoples’ doors. In his song, Don McLean sings, “Long long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile and I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance and maybe they’d be happy for a while.” In an interview, McLean talks about how when he was younger he looked up to the people in the plane crash, and how he wanted to be like them when he grew up. That’s what he is singing about here. He is saying that he remembers how their music made him smile and he wanted to have that same effect on people. He then sings, “But February made me shiver, with every paper I’d deliver, bad news on the doorstep, I couldn’t take one more step,”. In this small verse, Don McLean is talking about his paperboy days. He is remembering how he used to have to deliver bad news to everyone, and that really affected him. Not only did delivering the terrible news affect him, but so did receiving it. “I can’t remember if I cried, when I read about his widowed bride, but something touched me deep inside, the day the music died.” In this part, Don McLean is talking about how finding out his idols are dead really touched him. He talks about not remembering if he cried because he wants listeners to understand that he doesn’t remember every small detail, but one thing he remembers for certain is that he was very affected by the receival of this news.

The Chorus

“So bye-bye miss American pie, drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry, them good ol’ boys drinking whiskey and rye, singing ‘this’ll be the day that I die’, this will be the day that I die.” When McLean is saying “bye-bye” to “American Pie,” he expresses a loss of American innocence. There is a popular expression, “as American as apple pie,” and McLean is talking about how the sweet America, filled with freedom, harmony, and tranquility (American pie), has lost its innocence. He feels that the America everyone knew and loved is now gone. When McLean says, “drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry,” he could mean one of two things: when McLean says this, he could be talking literally. Back in those days, and even now, people play, swim, boat, and just have a fun time at levees. By saying “the levee was dry,” McLean could be implying that the fun American times had come to an end. Although that would make sense, there is one other possible implication to analyze. That being, by levee, McLean could be talking about The Levy, a bar in his hometown in New York. By the levee being dry, he could be saying that he went there, but couldn’t get a drink. Maybe the bar shut down, or maybe he just missed the last call. When he refers to “The good ole boys drinking whiskey and rye,” McLean is probably referring to how he and his friends used to drink to “the good ole boys,” meaning to the people that passed away in the plane crash referred to previously. “This’ll be the day that I die,” is quoting a Buddy Holly song called “That’ll be the day.” In the song, Buddy Holly says “That’ll be the day that I die,” and once Buddy Holly actually did unfortunately pass, McLean sung, “This will be the day that I die”.


     Although many of the meanings behind the well thought out lyrics by Don McLean are about the events going about back in the 1970’s, connections can be made to life today as well. As many know, America is being both politically and socially divided. In the song, McLean talks about how America is falling apart in ways that affect him individually. Whilst the ways in which America declined varied, in both the 70’s and present day, America is losing a fraction of its essence. It’s clear that a lot is behind the vivacious tunes listened to both today and back in the day; so always be sure to analyze the lyrics to fully comprehend the true meaning of the song.