What Inspired Don McLean to Write "American Pie"?


Quick Answer

The tragic plane crash that killed singers Buddy Holly and Richie Valens in 1959 inspired Don McLean to write the hit song “American Pie” in 1971. The crash became known as The Day the Music Died, and McLean used the phrase as one of the lyrics in the song.

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Full Answer

Holly and Valens died on Feb. 3, 1959, when their small plane crashed into a frozen farmer’s field in Iowa, minutes after taking off in a snowstorm. Disc jockey J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson also died. McLean was 13 when he learned about the crash while folding newspapers for his paper route. In 2009, McLean revealed that writing the song helped him deal with his grief over Holly’s death.

“American Pie” is an epic 800-word song full of ambiguous cultural references that McLean left open to interpretation. He has described the song as a farewell to the 1950s and 1960s, and the end of the American dream.

In 2015, when McLean sold the manuscript with the original lyrics for $1.2 million, he described "American Pie" as a photograph he tried to capture in words and music. He also confirmed that some of the lyrics referred to Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, along with references to the Kennedy family, the Beatles, Karl Marx and Vietnam.

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