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In my opinion Don Mclean is one of the most underrated singer-songwriters I have ever heard. Whilst he has admittedly achieved high accolades for the single American Pie , there are so many other beautifully composed and beautifully sung songs on this album alone, not to mention the many other albums he has produced. Most notably on this album the songs "vincent" and "empty chairs" are both incredibly beautiful and moving. Don Mcleans' unique brand of folk-rock I am sure would be enjoyed by so many more people if only they were to have heard the songs on this album, I am often stunned however by the number of people of all ages who can only heard of American Pie and non of these other songs. Whilst his voice and many of the songs are fairly simple, they are both beautiful and pure. Mclean is also an excellent folk guitar player and Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder are amoung those who have noted his musical talents in this regard. If you are looking for some lovely songs to listen to, go no further than this album
American Pie - Don McClean
This album was originally released in 1971, this is the 1980 CD version, though I have a confession to make.....I clearly need an eye test, or EMI print too small, as when I reviewed this for another well known site, I thought it said 1988 on the CD sleeve.
It IS the 1980 CD, I checked it again, and then checked when CD's first came out in this country as this seemed a bit early to me, and lo and behold, 1980 was the first raft of music Cd's in UK, though apparently they were first invented in 1964, well I never. So, rather than get rid of this CD I am going to keep it, just in case it becomes a collectors item (yeh right!).
According to various sources this album is amongst the 'best ever' American albums, really?
McClean was/is primarily a folk singer and this album, by all accounts was a 'one off', he certainly has little fame apart from this album. The album itself is quite an epic, particularly the title track 'American Pie', a song of over eight and a half minutes that tells a story that is a mix between psychedelia, Americana folk and angsty ballad. The famous line 'The day the music died' is referring to the air crash that killed Buddy Holly.
This album should not include 'Sister Fatima' according to Wikipedia, but does!
The album is seen, certainly in America, as an all time great, so let's have a look at the tracks.
1. American Pie
The title and opening track. Though this needs little explaining, as there surely cannot be many people that have never heard this, I will give you my interpretation. Released at the height of the psychedelic time in America, summer of love, tune in, drop out etc. this feels almost like a mourning of the innocence of America, it certainly remains, for me a ballad like list of all the is 'good' about America. Like Bohemian Rhapsody, it is a major production of a song, yet does not have all the bells and whistles that Queen had. It is more about a man a piano and a guitar. Fabulous lyrics, great pace, great construction, clarity in vocals. 10/10.
2. Till Tomorrow
A real folks ballad type song, you can just imagine it being sung with an acoustic guitar in the sunset at a festival. Quite a beautiful song really, his vocals are quite moving. 8/10.
3. Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)
To me this is as good as, if not better than 'American Pie'. The songs tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh and one of his most famous paintings. It is a soft, angst ridden ballad charting Van Gogh's genius, insanity (he lived with depression and schizophrenia) and subsequent suicide. A haunting song that has several key changes which add to the depth of the story. Beautiful, first time I heard this I cried, and often still well up. 10/10.
I am not a fan of this track, it is lovely in terms of the music, piano and (a little) guitar again, yet the lyrics and vocals are a little cheesy for me. Cheese is no bad thing when intended, but this takes itself a little too seriously, 5/10.
Nice acoustic guitar start with some tapping (on the side of the guitar), has an early rock n roll, bluesy, country feel about it, which would normally put me off, but not here. It is catchy and pleasant. 8/10.
6. Empty Chairs
A very Latin/Spanish feel about the intro guitar work and in fact he sings about Gypsy Moths etc. all a little too cheesy again, I do love the guitar work though. 6/10.
7. Everybody Loves Me, Baby
A song based on his 'fame' I guess, quite a parody, much more up tempo than the other songs so far. Very 70's folk/protest feel about it, hate it. 1/10.
8. Sister Fatima
A very weird song, all a bit pretentious for me. All about, well, I'm not exactly sure.....is it about a real woman that is a nun, or is it about a deity, or is it about a fortune teller? Not sure. Some very bizarre and disjointed vocals and guitar work, all very 'arty' I'm sure, hate it. Someone on another site said this was their favourite and gave me a telling off for rating it low, opinion is always subjective, I hate it. 0/10.
9. The Grave
Very Folk inspired. Almost spoken at the beginning, then goes into one man and his guitar again. Quite a protest song, pretty much (I guess) anti Vietnam war. One of those protest songs that we rarely hear about. Telling a story of a marine that fights from (and dies in) a trench. Quite powerful stuff actually. 8/10.
Shortest song on the album at 1.41. Very Jewish inspired in terms of the music and the vocals, in fact, I think this is a cover of a hymn. It is actually very good with some hymn like backing vocals too. I like the fact that it is quite out of step with the rest of the album, probably would not buy this as a stand alone track however. 8/10.
One of the best albums ever? No.
Some of the best tracks ever? Maybe.
American Pie and Vincent stand out and I would certainly recommend anyone that does not have these tracks getting them. But I would not by the whole CD unless that is your thing, two tracks from itunes, £1.58...if you can get the album for the same price (close on Amazon), fair enough.
An updated version of a review I posted on Ciao, same member name.