Classic Rock Corner

Inside "American Pie," Pop Music's Longest Allegory

Rocks Off has always been a fan of symbolism, hidden meanings and puzzles in general, so besides Raymond Chandler, Stephen King and Larry McMurtry, our favorite form of "lit-rah-chah" is allegorical stuff like George Orwell's Animal Farm, William Golding's Lord of the Flies and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death." And when it comes to music, Don McLean's "American Pie" has been keeping people like us busy for years.

Besides lending its name to those Stifler movies - something we're sure McLean is very proud of - "American Pie" has been covered by Madonna and (much less catastrophically) Garth Brooks, was named one of the 20th century's Top 5 songs in a poll conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America, and has supposedly been played more than three million times on the radio.

Rocks Off estimates we have heard about 50,000 of those three million times, so since McLean is playing Dosey Doe in the Woodlands Saturday night, we thought we'd put on our lit-crit caps and run down McLean's myriad allusions in his eight-and-a-half-minute song. It begins with the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Beaumont's J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson (and could easily have killed Waylon Jennings instead of the Bopper) in February 1959, and doesn't stop until it has covered the entire history of rock and roll up to about 1970 and a good bit of '60s social history besides.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray