“Bye Bye, Miss American Pie. Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry??”
“American Pie”, sung by Don McLean, was originally released in 1971. The song was written as a tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper who died tragically in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. “American Pie” not only pays homage to three talented musicians, but also serves as an allegory to the history of music.
Although the original song was written about twenty-nine years ago, people can today still recall most of the lyrics that Don McLean created. The legacy of “American Pie” is greater than words. The song took over the airwaves and the consciousness of American popular culture in a way that few recordings have matched. The more important chords that “American Pie” struck were ones of tone and mood.
Madonna, the Material Girl, recently released her version of “American Pie”. Madonna’s new release will probably never attain the height of popularity of McLean’s version, but it certainly is a modern twist on a timeless song. So why would Madonna want to remake this legendary piece? Perhaps Madonna chose to re-release the song to put closure to a millenium of musical eminence.
Even though the base of the new “American Pie” has been changed, the song has been modified in many ways. The change that stands out the most is the distinct difference in the back beat music. Don McLean’s version has more of a rock ‘n’ roll theme with a simple arrangement; conversely, Madonna used an electronic dance beat. The song also has distant background vocals sung by actor Rupert Everett. Madonna re-did the song for the soundtrack of the movie “The Next Best Thing” which stars Everett and herself.
It would be easy to assume that the back beat was changed to suit the modern tastes in music. Life in the 1950s and 1960s was much simpler. In the 1990s, society has become fast paced and dependent on machines. Therefore, Madonna has used synthesizers to make a faster beat for a “modern day” American Pie.
Another difference between the two songs is the length. Madonna cut the original eight and a half minute song down to five minutes. This was achieved by shortening the verses. The trimming of the verses is a difficult change for the generations that grew up singing along with McLean’s hodgepodge of images and scenes. People would listen intently, with their transistor radios pressed tightly against their ears. They would recite the words and try to decipher the clues. “The day the music died” was an easy one; obviously a reference to the 1959 crash that killed the three legendary musicians.
Madonna’s version probably won’t be able to compete with McLean’s version in a popularity contest; only the future will judge. The 1971 McLean classic was recently ranked as the nineteenth best rock song by VH1. Even though Madonna has made a substantial name for herself in the current pop-culture industry, the original version holds a place, not only in music, but also in Americana. A recent review from Newsday writer Issac Guzman described Madonna’s version as “an almost syrupy, slick take” on McLean’s original.
In any event, people loved the song, and with the new version by Madonna, its popularity can only grow. Madonna’s release will help to continue the reverberation of the chorus line “Bye Bye, Miss American Pie. Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry. And good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye, singing this will be the day that I die, this will be the day that I die”.