American Pie (Don McLean album)

American Pie is the second studio album by American singer-songwriter Don McLean, released by United Artists Records in October 1971. The folk rock album reached number one on the Billboard 200, containing the chart-topping singles "American Pie" and "Vincent". Recorded in May and June 1971 at The Record Plant in New York City,[3] the LP is dedicated to Buddy Holly,[4] and was reissued in 1980 minus the track "Sister Fatima".[5] The album was released to much acclaim, later being included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[6]

American Pie
Studio album by
ReleasedOctober 1971
RecordedMay–June 1971
StudioRecord Plant Studios, New York City
GenreFolk, folk rock
45:37 (2003 re-issue)
ProducerEd Freeman
Don McLean chronology
American Pie
Don McLean
Singles from American Pie
  1. "American Pie"
    Released: November 1971 (original release)[1]
  2. "Vincent"
    Released: February 1972[2]

At the Australian 1972 King of Pop Awards the album won Most Popular Overseas L.P.[7]



American Pie is McLean’s second album; his first, Tapestry, having been released to only moderate commercial success and acclaim in 1970. McLean was a protégé of Pete Seeger, having played with him in the 1960s. The album American Pie was intended as a unified work, as McLean has said that he was influenced by the Beatles' Sgt Pepper album and envisioned American Pie to be a similar album.[8] Believing that an artist's work should stand by itself, McLean generally did not offer explanations for his work's themes or meaning,[9] though he did describe the title song as involving "a sense of loss".[8] McLean dedicated the album to Buddy Holly, one of his childhood icons, and it was released in 1971. It has a melancholy feel and rather sparse arrangements.[10] At the time of the writing McLean’s first marriage was failing and the optimism and hopefulness of the 1960s was giving way to the nihilism and hedonism of the 1970s.[11]



The album was recorded in Studio A at The Record Plant on West 44th street in New York City.[3] The producer, Ed Freeman, decided to use accomplished musicians who were not "studio musicians who could act like a metronome" because he wanted to capture the feel of a "band that was really cooking," so he rented a rehearsal studio and they rehearsed the title song for two weeks before they recorded it.[3] Because McLean rarely phrased his singing the same way twice there were as many as 24 takes for some of the voice parts, but the rhythm tracks are mostly one take.[3]

The original United Artists Records inner sleeve featured a free verse poem[12] written by McLean about William Boyd, also known as Hopalong Cassidy, along with a picture of Boyd in full Hopalong regalia. This sleeve was removed within a year of the album's release. The words to this poem appear on a plaque at the hospital where Boyd died. The Boyd poem and picture tribute do appear on a special remastered 2003 CD.[13]

The title track contains references to the death of Buddy Holly (McLean being a 13-year-old paper-boy at the time[6]). The phrase "The Day the Music Died" was used by McLean on this song, and has now become an unofficial name for the tragedy.

On the original release, the title of the song "Sister Fatima" is misspelled "Sister Faima" [4]

The final track, "Babylon", is a close paraphrase of the 1st Verse of the 137th Psalm.[14] It is based on the canon "By the Waters of Babylon" by Philip Hayes,[15] originally published in 1786.

Back-up singers


The final chorus of "American Pie" features multi-tracked overdubs, credited in the sleeve notes to the "West Forty Fourth Street Rhythm and Noise Choir". Although the individual choristers have never been publicly named, the album's producer, Ed Freeman, has claimed that the choir included Pete Seeger, James Taylor, Livingston Taylor and Carly Simon.[3]

Release and reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [16]
Christgau's Record GuideC−[17]

The album reached number 1 within two weeks of release and was certified gold within six months, spending almost a year on the Billboard album charts.[18] Its appeal cut across genres in what was becoming a fragmented music scene.[19]



The album was reissued in 1980 without the song "Sister Fatima", and again on June 27, 2003 with the track restored, along with the addition of two bonus tracks.[20] Also the first Spanish issue delivered by Hispavox was released without "Sister Fatima".[citation needed]



In February 2003 George Michael recorded a cover of "The Grave" as a protest against the imminent Iraq War.[21] A cover of the song "Babylon" was included in a scene in the television series Mad Men.[14] It is based on the canon "By the Waters of Babylon" by Philip Hayes.[15]

"Empty Chairs" was an inspiration for the hit song "Killing Me Softly with His Song".[22][23]

Track listing


All songs written by Don McLean except where noted.[24]

1."American Pie" 8:33
2."Till Tomorrow" 2:11
3."Vincent" 3:55
4."Crossroads" 3:34
5."Winterwood" 3:09
6."Empty Chairs" 3:24
7."Everybody Loves Me, Baby" 3:37
8."Sister Fatima" 2:31
9."The Grave" 3:08
10."Babylon"Philip Hayes;[15] arranged by Lee Hays and Don McLean1:40
Total length:36:24
2003 Capitol Records Reissue Bonus Tracks
11."Mother Nature"5:10
Total length:45:37


  • Don McLean – vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo
  • Warren Bernhardt – piano ("Crossroads")
  • Ray Colcord – electric piano
  • Tom Flye – drums ("The Grave"), engineering
  • Ed Freeman – string arrangements
  • Paul Griffin – piano ("American Pie")
  • Lee Hays – arranger
  • Mike Mainieri – marimba, vibraphone
  • Roy Markowitz – drums, percussion
  • Gene Orloff – concertmaster
  • Bob Rothstein – bass, vocals
  • David Spinozza – electric guitar ("American Pie")
  • West Forty Fourth Street Rhythm and Noise Choir – chorus


Chart performance for American Pie
Chart (1971–2022) Peak
Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[25] 1
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[26] 1
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[27] 31
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[28] 34
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[29] 12
UK Albums (OCC)[30] 2
US Billboard 200[31] 1
UK Album Downloads (OCC)[32] 25

Certifications and sales

Certifications and sales for American Pie
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[33] Gold 50,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[34] Gold 100,000*
United States (RIAA)[35] 2× Platinum 2,000,000^

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ "American Pie [Part 1] / American Pie [Part 2] - Don McLean". 45cat. Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  2. ^ "Vincent / Castles in the Air - Don McLean". 45cat. Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  3. ^ a b c d e Buskin, Richard. "Don McLean 'American Pie'". Sound on Sound. SOS Publications Group. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  4. ^ a b Back cover of the 1971 United Artists LP (UAS-5535)
  5. ^ Back cover of the 1980, Liberty Records re-issue (LN-10037).
  6. ^ a b Dimery, Robert (2009). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. London: Octopus Publishing Group. p. 239. ISBN 9781844036240. Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  7. ^ "Australian Music Awards". Ron Jeff. Archived from the original on 30 June 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
  8. ^ a b Robert Fontenot. "What has Don McLean himself had to say about the song?". Oldies Music: American Pie and Don McLean FAQ. Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  9. ^ McLean, quoted by Cecil Adams The Straight Dope
  10. ^ William Ruhlmann. "American Pie". AllMusic.
  11. ^ McParland, Robert (26 Sep 2012). Shuck, Ray (ed.). "A Generation Lost in Space". Do You Believe in Rock and Roll?. McFarland: 150–155.
  12. ^ Fann, James M. (December 10, 2006). "Understanding AMERICAN PIE". Archived from the original on October 16, 2012. Retrieved April 3, 2013.
  13. ^ inner sleeve, 2003 Capitol Records CD remaster (72435-84729-2-9)
  14. ^ a b King James Version Bible, Psalm 137, 1:1
  15. ^ a b c Stowe, David W. (2016). Song of Exile: The Enduring Mystery of Psalm 137. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-046683-1. LCCN 2015044386. I know which version she's talking about from her college years: the one Don McLean sings on American Pie, the song performed in the folk club scene in Mad Men. For such a simple round, the song has frequently been misattributed.... American Pie's liner notes mistakenly attribute the tune to William Billings.... The actual source of the version popularized by McLean is quite surprising: a piece titled "The Muses Delight: Catches, Glees, Canzonets and Canons," written in the late eighteenth century by an English composer and Oxford professor of music named Dr. Philip Hayes.
  16. ^ AllMusic review
  17. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: M". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 7, 2019 – via
  18. ^ "Album charts". Billboard. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  19. ^ Bangs, Lester. "Don McLean-American Pie". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  20. ^ Puterbaugh, Parke. "Don McLean - American Pie". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  21. ^ "Michael praised for protest cover". BBC News. 2003-03-01. Retrieved 2017-10-26.
  22. ^ "The "Killing Me Softly" Story". January 21, 2009. Archived from the original on October 16, 2016. Retrieved October 8, 2016.
  23. ^ Lori Lieberman - Killing Me Softly (The Story Behind) on YouTube
  24. ^ Track listing
  25. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 187. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  26. ^ "Top RPM Albums: Issue 5338". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved December 10, 2022.
  27. ^ " – Don McLean – American Pie" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved December 10, 2022.
  28. ^ " – Don McLean – American Pie". Hung Medien. Retrieved December 10, 2022.
  29. ^ " – Don McLean – American Pie". Hung Medien. Retrieved December 10, 2022.
  30. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved December 10, 2022.
  31. ^ "Don McLean Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved December 10, 2022.
  32. ^ "Official Album Downloads Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved December 10, 2022.
  33. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Don McLean – American Pie". Music Canada. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
  34. ^ "British album certifications – Don McLean – American Pie". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved December 10, 2022.
  35. ^ "American album certifications – Don Mc Lean – American Pie". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved January 26, 2023.