Don McLean Revealed Part of ‘American Pie’ May Be About Buddy Holly

TL;DR:

  • Don McLean revealed part of “American Pie” might reference Buddy Holly.
  • Holly’s brother jumped for joy when he heard the song.
  • “American Pie” became a massive hit.
Buddy Holly holding a guitar
Buddy Holly | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The lyrics of Don McLean’s classic rock song “American Pie” have been interpreted as referencing Buddy Holly. McLean said part of the song could be about Holly. In addition, he said the same lyrics could refer to something “almost unspeakable.”

Don McLean discussed possible inspirations behind his most famous song

The opening verses of “American Pie” mention a paperboy who becomes sad when he learns about someone’s death. He is especially moved when he learns about the widow of the deceased. According to a 2020 article from The Guardian, fans generally believe these lines of the song are about Holly. McLean was asked if these lyrics could also reference the death of his father.

“You’ve hit the nail on the head,” McLean said,. “I mean, that’s exactly right. That’s why I don’t like talking about the lyrics because I wanted to capture and say something that was almost unspeakable. It’s indescribable.” McLean called “American Pie” “a biographical song.”

RELATED: How a John Wayne Movie Inspired Buddy Holly’s ‘That’ll Be the Day’

What Buddy Holly’s brother thought of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’

During a 2022 interview with Goldmine, McLean explained “American Pie” increased public interest in Holly. “I got a letter from John Goldrosen, I found it the other day,” he said.” He said that when he wrote his book about Buddy Holly, nobody was interested in a book about a dead rock star until after the song came out, and that is what elevated Buddy to the status he deserved. He probably would have anyway because of Paul McCartney or something, but it happened because of ‘American Pie.'”

McLean also revealed how Holly’s brother, reacted to “American Pie.” “Travis was at a thing we did in 1979 or 1980, and he told me he wanted to shake my hand and told me he was driving in his truck, heard ‘American Pie’ and he pulled over to the side of the road and jumped for joy,” he said. 

RELATED: What Don McLean Felt When He Covered a Roy Orbison Song With Elvis Presley’s Backing Band

How ‘American Pie’ performed on the charts in the United States and the United Kingdom

Regardless of its subject matter, “American Pie” became McLean’s biggest hit by far. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks, becoming McLean’s only No. 1 single in the United States. For 19 weeks, the song remained on the chart. McLean released the tune on his album of the same name. American Pie topped the Billboard 200 for seven of its 48 weeks on the chart.

“American Pie” was also popular in the United Kingdom. The Official Charts Company reports it peaked at No. 2 there, lasting on the chart for 16 weeks. American Pie hit No. 2 in the U.K and stayed on the chart for 54 weeks.

“American Pie” was a huge hit and it even impressed a rock star’s brother.

RELATED: Don McLean Once Reacted to Madonna’s Widely Hated Cover of ‘American Pie’