Certainly containing his biggest hits, Don McLean released probably his biggest album, American Pie, on October 24, 1971 (after being recorded in May and June of the same year). The record, which was dedicated to Buddy Holly, reached #1 on the Billboard 200 and was even included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. It hit #1 on this date in 1972. Let's take a closer look at this classic release.
What more can one say about the title track that hasn't been said already? Its length (at 8:38) really sticks out among the rest of the tracks that don't get longer than 4:03, but the song is definitely a classic and has registered over three million plays on US radio. McLean shows his sensitive side with "Til Tomorrow," with the sad lyrics about lost love. The sparse arrangement that features just McLean on his acoustic guitar and a small string ensemble, really adds to the lonely feel. Written as a tribute to Van Gogh, "Vincent" was McLean's other hit, which reached #1 in the UK and #12 in the US. Many of Vincent's paintings are referenced, as McLean was hoping his listeners would not only learn of the man's work, but of his troubled life, as well.
The sweetness continues with the biblical "Crossroads," which features Warren Bernhardt on piano. Side Two opens with "Winterwood," a pensive look at nature. McLean also seemed to be inspired by New Age artists, with his pastoral influences and simple, pleasant melodies. Not to be confused with the hit song from Les Miserables, "Empty Chairs" also describes heartbreak and is probably the album's saddest number.
The tempo finally kicks up for the sarcastic and funny "Everybody Loves Me, Baby," which is one of the more fun tracks on the record. Left off the 1980 reissue, the lively "Sister Fatima" features some of McLean's best guitar work and lyrics that can be interpreted any number of ways. Originally a protest song about the Vietnam War, "The Grave" was covered by George Michael in protest of the Iraq War in 2003. Its lyrics are, obviously, about the horrors and sorrow of war. The only cover on the album is the closer, a traditional tune called "Babylon," based on the canon By the Waters of Babylon. It was written in the Warsaw ghetto in the 1930s, and McLean really does it justice with his guitar playing.