Don McLean

  • Singer, songwriter and guitarist born in 1945 from New Rochelle New York.
  • As a teenager, McLean became interested in folk music after listening to a recording by The Weavers at Carnegie Hall in 1955. He bought a guitar at 16, and started making contacts in the music industry. He called Fred Wellerman from The Weavers and told him that he’d like to come visit him – Hellerman agreed, and they quickly became friends. After dropping out of college, he began performing folk music at coffee houses and small clubs. In 1968, he worked with Pete Seeger, learning the art of performance, and he wrote the songs that would be on his first album.
  • In 1969, he recorded his debut album, Tapestry, in Berkeley California during the student riots. He looked for a record label to issue the album – it was rejected 72 times before it finally was picked up by a label and released in 1970, and then re-launched in 1971 when the record label was acquired by another label. It was appreciated by folk lovers, but the general public ignored it. One of the songs on the record, And I Love You So, later was covered by several artists, and the version by Perry Como went to #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1973 (Como’s last hit).
  • His next recording was his breakthrough. American Pie was released in 1971, and the album and title track both reached #1. The song became legendary. At 8 minutes and 36 seconds, it is the longest song ever to be a #1 song. It was inspired by the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper in a plane crash in 1959 – in the song, McLean referred to it as “the day the music died,” and the expression has been used to recall the event ever since. In 2015, McLean sold the original manuscript at an auction – it sold for $1.2 million, the third highest auction price ever for an American literary manuscript. In 2002, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2017 the song was selected for inclusion into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
  • The second single from the American Pie album was Vincent, a tribute song about artist Vincent Van Gogh. It reached #12 on the Hot 100, and #2 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
  • McLean released 5 more albums in the 70s. Several songs from these records were top 10 on the Adult Contemporary chart, with Wonderful Baby topping that chart in 1975 and a cover of Roy Orbison’s Crying peaking at #2 in 1980. Orbison commented that McLean’s version is even better than his own iconic version. 
  • By the 80s, McLean’s records no long sold well – he released 14 albums since 1980, including his most recent, Botanical Gardens, released in 2018.  While sales of his music have been modest, he has been very successful in concerts. In 2018, he will perform more than 80 shows.
  • McLean’s music always tells a story – typical of folk artists. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004 in recognition of his work. I’m pleased to have his first 3 albums in my record collection. I sing along with all the songs – they are great acoustic pieces that are perfect when I’m feeling introspective. Here’s a 1972 recording of McLean performing Vincent. “Starry, Starry Night….”

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