Although he had numerous other hits, “American Pie,” Don McLean’s eight and a half minute long tribute to Buddy Holly and a generation’s loss of innocence, is what made him a legend in the annals of rock. Purists weren’t too keen on Madonna’s hit discofied version of the tune in 2000, but her success — along with countless fan websites analyzing the enigmatic lyrics about “The Day The Music Died” - once again proved the song’s amazing durability. In 2002, adult contemporary singer Josh Groban covered McLean’s second best known hit, “Vincent.” Just as McLean immortalized Holly, “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” sung by Roberta Flack and later The Fugees, was a tribute to “American Pie.”
The New Rochelle, NY native got his start in the folk clubs of New York City during the mid-60s, struggling for a number of years and later building a small following through his work with Pete Seeger on the Clearwater, a sloop that sailed up and down the eastern seaboard to promote environmental causes. He was singing at elementary schools in Massachusetts when he wrote “Vincent” as a tribute to Van Gogh in 1970. His debut album Tapestry was issued by Mediarts that same year, but without much success. United Artists picked up his contract and released American Pie the album and its title track single, which topped the U.S. chart and reached #2 in the UK. When “Vincent” hit #1 in the UK, McLean the long-in-coming “overnight success” was hailed as one of America’s top young singer-songwriters.
McLean's affection for Buddy Holly inspired his successful 1973 cover recording "Everyday." Meanwhile, his song catalogue was attracting attention, and Perry Como scored a surprise international hit with a cover version of "And I Love You So."
Don's career foundered during the mid-70s, but his penchant as a strong cover artist helped his comeback effort in the early 80s, most notably with his 1980 revival of Roy Orbison’s “Crying" (UK #1/U.S. #5). This renewed interest led to a repackaging of McLean’s old hits and extensive touring.
As the 80s progressed, he moved into the country market, but remained popular in the pop mainstream. In 1991, his 20-year-old version of "American Pie" unexpectedly returned to the UK Top 20, once again reviving interest in his back catalogue. His more recent recordings include 1990's For the Memories (a collection of classic pop, country and jazz covers) and 1995's River of Love (featuring all new original material). Between the 1971 and 2000, Don McLean released over 20 albums.
On his website, he thanks his longtime fans for their ongoing interest: “Thanks for taking an interest in this page and in my activities. I have been singing since I was a small child but once I began to play the guitar, I formed in my mind the idea that perhaps I could write songs. Simple rock songs like ‘Teenager in Love' could be played with the same chords over and over. I've taught my young daughter how to play this tune, it's that simple. Folk songs were also everywhere in the fifties and the guitar was perfect for them. A simple, beautiful song will inspire most musicians to try to write.”