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Fifty Years Ago Don Mclean Faced the Task of Having to Serve up Another American Pie

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Don McLean Had No Appetite For Another Slice of American Pie


Certainly it was a great accomplishment to have written an anthem, as he did back in 1971, but then Don McLean was faced with the unenviable task of making a follow up to “American Pie.” His seven minute song, which referenced everything from the Beatles to James Dean to Satan to sock hops, had been voted the best record of the year.

Looking back, it seems natural that McLean would have been uncomfortable with that kind of popularity. For the half decade before American Pie, he had been a folk troubadour, kind of like Woody Guthrie or an early Bob Dylan.

In order to come up with a follow up, McLean took a page out of the latter's book. Instead of simply baking another pie with a few different ingredients, McLean went back to his roots.

His follow up album, which turns fifty this year, is everything that American Pie was not. He does not even assign a title for the record, calling it only by his name.

There is no mention of any real life people, unlike the various names in the recipe he used for Pie. None of the ten songs on Don McLean has a running time over four minutes, the longest of which is less than half the length of Pie.

McLean immediately reveals his reaction to having written the most popular song in rock history on the album opener “Dreidel,” the first single from the record.

“I'm lost in this star car I'm a drivin', but my air soul keeps pushin' big wheels,” he sings in the bridge. “My mind is prepared to attack my past, a persuasive illusion, I'm watchin' the future-it's black.”

Side B's opener, “Bronco Bill's Lament,” is also a song about past success. The title character had been a popular TV cowboy, ho looks back on his career with much regret.

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“I perched upon a silver mount and sang with my guitar,” Bill sings as if he were McLean himself discussing Pie. “But the studio of course owned my saddle and my horse.”

Another cut from the self-titled record addresses the nagging inspiration for “American Pie,” a subject McLean had surely tired of after a year since the song reached number one.

“I can't answer the questions you ask me, I don't know what to say,” McLean admits, almost in exasperation, in Falling Through Time. “The answers are somewhere lost in the stars when night has turned to day.”

In the most bitter song from the disc, “The Pride Parade,” McLean seems to be addressing himself and the aftermath of his huge single. Here, he sounds almost regretful at having gained such fame.

“Your fire just consumes you, you alone can feel the pain,” he snarls. “But you stand in all your glory, and you know you can't complain.”

As the songs from the self-titled record clearly indicate, McLean was uncomfortable with all the adulation he received from having made a once-in-a-generation hit. Prior to that song and its album of the same name, McLean had released just one album.

Although its opening track became a Top ten hit for Perry Como, that debut was comprised of Guthrie-like folk songs such as “General Store” and “Orphans of Wealth.” Those treasures became overlooked as did Tapestry itself, when fellow songwriter Carol King released a Grammy-winning album by the same title less than one month later in 1972.

Listening to McLean's self-titled disc now fifty years later, its stark messages leave you with the impression that he might have preferred avoiding his huge hit altogether. He seems more comfortable creating a completely type of dessert, perhaps a pastry he might have titled “Humble Pie.”

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