Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: American Pie

On January 15, 1972 – 52 years ago today – Don McLean’s folk-rock song American Pie began what would eventually be a four-week stay at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  The song made the singer, songwriter, and guitarist Don McLean (born 1945) very famous and very rich, and it is considered by many to be one of the greatest songs ever written.

Don McLean (born 1945) in 1972
Don McLean (born 1945) in 1972

No One is Perfect

Not a one of us is perfect, and that goes double/triple/quadruple for me.  I eat ice cream right out of the carton before putting it back in the freezer, and will guzzle club soda and tonic water out of the bottle before putting it back in the fridge. I will lick a knife with cream cheese or peanut butter on it, lest any of it go to waste, and I will observe my personal ten-to-fifteen second rule when I drop food on the floor (providing one of the cats hasn’t gotten to it first). 

I don’t always turn my socks right-side-out before putting them in the washing machine, and I have been known to forget to water the plants even when I’ve been reminded to do so. (Regarding the freaking plants: the heck with them if they don’t have a sense of humor; besides, do I ever ask them to make me a drink?).   

(FYI: I routinely introduce myself to house plants as “Agent Orange.” You can actually hear them shrivel.)

I would add in my favor that I always put the seat down and replace the toilet paper roll; I floss every day; hang up my towel; immediately put my dirty clothes in the hamper; and never, ever, leave dirty dishes on the counter or in the sink.

What, you ask, has prompted this bit of confession, which might very well be considered TMI by many (if not most) of you?

Here’s why. By admitting to some of my many flaws, I am attempting to pre-emptively head off your criticism of me, criticism for disparaging a rock ‘n’ roll song considered by many to be an icon, a classic, one of the greatest songs of the rock ‘n’ roll era (an era now some 70 years in age!). 

The song I am referring to is none-other-than Don McLean’s American Pie.

Freddie Mercury (second from left, as if you need me to tell you) and Queen in 1977
Freddie Mercury (second from left, as if you need me to tell you) and Queen in 1977

We’ve Been Down This Road Before

This is not the first time I’ve proven myself aesthetically imperfect by offering up a less-than-positive critical evaluation of a presumably “classic” rock ‘n’ roll song.  (Yes: I typically prefer to take a high critical road here on Patreon, but sometimes that’s just not possible.) Such a thing happened in my Music History Monday post of August 24, 2020, a post that “celebrated” what was then the 45th anniversary of Freddie Mercury and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. 

I admitted then and will admit now that I have always considered Bohemian Rhapsody to be among the most overrated things in contemporary popular culture, right up there with Tik Tok, air pods, anime, and Cardi B. 

In that post I observed that Bohemian Rhapsody was never considered, by its creator(s), to be anything other than nonsense.

According to Freddie Mercury’s friend, the DJ and television personality Kenny Everett (who played a key role in promoting Bohemian Rhapsody on his radio show), the song’s lyrics have no meaning whatsoever.  According to Everett, Freddie Mercury told him that the words were simply “random rhyming nonsense.”

Producer Roy Thomas Baker (born 1946, center) with Queen in 1975
Producer Roy Thomas Baker (born 1946, center) with Queen in 1975

Bohemian Rhapsody’s producer Roy Thomas Baker recalled in 1999:

Bohemian Rhapsody was totally insane, but we enjoyed every minute of it. It was basically a joke, but a successful joke . . . We never stopped laughing.”

However, being declared a “joke” by its author and producer has not stopped the listening public and the critical community from turning Bohemian Rhapsody into a defining masterwork, a philosophical tract of generational import, a song considered by many critics and fans alike to be among the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time, a song that routinely polls in the top five of “greatest songs of all time.” And lest we forget: in 2012, the readers of Rolling Stone magazine voted Freddie Mercury’s performance of Bohemian Rhapsody to be “the greatest in rock history.”

And so my post of August 24, 2020, critical of Bohemian Rhapsody, drew the righteous anger of many of my patrons. 

So Here We Go Again!Continue reading, and listening, without interruption, only on Patreon!

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