2021 marks the 50th Anniversary of Don McLean’s much loved American Pie album. On a trip to London Don recently spoke to BOON’s Chaz Brooks.
McClean has had Top 20 singles worldwide with American Pie, Vincent, Crying, And I Love You So, Wonderful Baby, Since I Don’t Have you, It’s Just The Sun & If We Try. Madonna, Drake and Garth Brooks are amongst many artists who have recorded Don’s songs. He is an inductee of the Grammy Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and recipient of a BBC Lifetime achievement award. This year he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
CB: Welcome to the UK Don. What do you like about the UK? Do you have any favourite places?
DM: I love the UK because I love the people, I love the history, I love the architecture. I love the fact that they love me and the fact that I am not fighting an uphill battle. I just love being here, the shops, the formality, the civility. I like that sort of thing. Everything in the modern world is trying to ruin all that and you’re still hanging on to it. That’s very important.
CB: Do you have a favourite venue in the UK?
DM: I like the Palladium a lot. I always like it there. I enjoy it very much. I love the Royal Festival Hall and have played there a number of times. And of course I enjoy the Albert Hall which is the kind of venue where you get a little nervous, and that’s the kind of job you want, one that makes you nervous and you’re anticipating it. And when you’re into it you play your best.
CB: When you come to the UK Don, what do you do to relax, when you’re on tour?
DM: I’m pretty much asleep in the bunk, a lot. I save my voice. I’m somewhat fragile, I’m not robust. I have a certain kind of energy for a Libra when I’m on stage, but I don’t run around and go sightseeing all day and sing at night. I also have asthma and am prone to get bronchitis when I’m around cars and exhaust fumes. I have to take care of my voice.
CB: And when you’re travelling next year, next September, will you travel alone or do you have family travel with you?
DM: I will have my girlfriend Paris Dylan with me. She’s my family now.
CB: Something that intrigued me was your first album was called Tapestry in 1969. And then of course Carole King came along [with her album of the same name] in 1971. Do you know is there’s any connection there?
DM: My thinking was that the word that may have been an awareness or something but my album was out first. And it’s a completely different song from her, extremely successful album. She is a very, very great songwriter in the pop realm. She writes hits, you know.
CB: She was a professional songwriter, wasn’t she before she became a performer.
DM: Correct. She’s writes really, really good hits, like The Locomotion. I mean come on, you can’t beat that. It’s the real thing, you know.
CB: Do you have a favourite song to sing when you perform?
DM: You know what, I’m there to please the audience. And I sing the songs that make them happy. Vincent makes them happy; American Pie makes them happy; Crying makes them very happy. Castles In The Air, And I Love You So. They all make them very happy and that’s the kind of thing I like to do.
Then I have songs that I think would make me happy, like new songs from an album or something. And then there’s songs like Oh My What a Shame, Crossroads, Winterwood, Magdalene Lane, Headroom. Lots of ‘em.
CB: I read that when you started off you sang some Sinatra songs in bars. Do you still sing any Sinatra songs?
DM: Yes, lately I sing a song called Drinking Again, which I learned from Sinatra. [McClean sings] “Drinking Again and thinking of when you loved me. I’m having a few, wishing that you were here.” A great song. Yes, [he jokes] I talk about the fact that during the pandemic I put on weight and have become an alcoholic!
CB: If you could collaborate with anyone in the past or present who would it be?
DM: I would like to collaborate with Duke Ellington. Yeah, I would write some really crazy pop tune and have him arrange it.
CB: And anyone in the present? Are there any young artists that you admire or would like to work with?
DM: Umm, I don’t know ….. maybe Kanye West, he seems to be some sort of a strange martyr artist and has got something. He obviously is a brilliant guy in some ways, kind of seems to be no getting around it.
CB: When you first recorded American Pie [in 1971] were you under any pressure to cut it down in length.
DM: No, one thing I made sure of was that I could do anything I wanted on my album. Nobody told me what to do. So I did it all myself.
Then they cut [American Pie] down to three minutes for a single which went to number one. People bought the album and they wanted to hear that. So they played it off the album. They had to bring the album into the studio when they were playing the top 40 which is kinda funny.
CB: And when you recorded it did you know that it was special. And the people in the studio, did anyone react to it when you were recording it?
DM: I think everything I do is special, but that doesn’t mean that anybody else will! We all have our moments when we do things. It’s really weird how it happens.
You know the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan they had their day in the 60s, they did all the stuff that they’re remembered for and then they did a lot of other really good stuff but it’s not that. It just isn’t. Start Me Up is great but it’ll never be Paint It Black, it’ll never be Under My Thumb.
CB: So, so which do you think is the best song you’ve ever written?
DM: A lot of songs that I think are among the best I’ve ever written. I can’t even begin to tell you. Again it has nothing to do with whether they sold or not. I think Tapestry is one of the best songs I ever wrote, I think Primetime is one of the best songs I ever wrote about America, America as a game show.
It’s all on YouTube – you can go to my channel. Yeah, there’s nothing I’ve ever done that you can’t hear. You’d be surprised what you can hear on me. We’re going back 50 years and there’s a lot of stuff out there. I’ve probably recorded 400 tracks, I’ve got like 30 studio albums and live albums, compilations with special tracks on them. There’s a ton of stuff.
CB: Don, thank you so much for your time, and we look forward to seeing you in about a year.
DM: Well I enjoyed talking with you very much, I really did. Thank you.
ABOUT AMERICAN PIE
In 1971, New Yorker Don McLean released American Pie as a double-A single and it charted within a month. Interest from the media and public sent the single to #1 in the U.S. and Don to international stardom. Despite decades of attempted interpretations, Don has always remained enigmatic as to the song’s meaning & the mystery remains to this day!
Now, 50 years later, American Pie resides in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, joining less than 500 works including Somewhere Over the Rainbow. American Piewas named by the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) a top 5 song of the 20th Century. In 2002, the song was inducted into the GRAMMY® Hall of Fame. McLean has performed the song for numerous dignities including President Clinton at the Lincoln Memorial Gala in Washington D.C.
DON McLEAN – UK TOUR DATES 2022
Sunday 11/09/2022 Cardiff St Davids
Tuesday 13/09/2022 Ipswich Regent Theatre
Wednesday 14/09/2022 Birmingham Symphony Hall
Friday 16/09/2022 Bath Forum
Saturday 17/09/2022 Torquay Princess Theatre
Sunday 18/09/2022 Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre
Tuesday 20/09/2022 Brighton Dome
Wednesday 21/09/2022 Southend Cliffs Pavilion
Friday 23/09/2022 Manchester Bridgewater Hall
Saturday 24/09/2022 Gateshead Sage
Sunday 25/09/2022 Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Tuesday 27/09/2022 Edinburgh Usher Hall
Wednesday 28/09/2022 York Barbican
Friday 30/09/2022 Leicester De Montfort Hall
Saturday 01/10/2022 Sheffield City Hall
Sunday 02/10/2022 Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Tuesday 04/10/2022 London Palladium
Friday 07/10/2022 Dublin 3 Arena
Sunday 9/10/22 Nijmegen Holland
Monday 10/10/22 Amsterdam Holland
Friday 14/10/22 Bergen Norway
Peer Gynt Salen
Saturday 15/10/22 Stavanger Norway
Sunday 16/10/22 Oslo Norway
Tuesday 18/10/22 Goteburg Sweden Lorensbergsteatern
Thursday 20/10/22 Turku, Finland
Friday 21/10/22 Helsinki, Finland
Sunday 23/10/22 Stockholm Sweden
Monday 24/10/22 Malmo Sweden
Tuesday 25/10/22 Greve Denmark
Thursday 27/10/22 Hamburg Germany
Friday 28/10/22 Neuruppin Germany
Saturday 29/10/22 Berlin Germany
Tuesday 1/11/22 Antwerp, Belgium
Saturday 12/11/21 Munich Germany
Sunday 13/11/21 Linz Austria