Don McLean Part Two
I hope you didn’t I forgotten to do Don McLean Part Two, well I haven’t, in fact, I’m doing it now. I wish I could do more, but it’s too long as it is.
“Vincent (Starry Starry Night)“
“ Vincent“ is a homage to the 19th-century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. The ideas involved McLean one early morning while looking at a book regarding Vincent Van Gogh. As he researched a print of Van Gogh‘s painting The Starry Night, he understood that a song could be written about the musician with the painting. Although it reached just number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, it showed to be a huge hit worldwide, including reaching number 1 in the UK Singles Chart. Mike Mills of REM said “You can’t change a note in that song“. The song was performed by NOFX on their album 45 or 46 Songs That Weren’t Good Enough to Go on Our Other Records and appears on the Fat Wreck Chords compilation Survival of the Fattest. “Vincent“ was sung by Josh Groban on his 2001 debut album. In 2018, singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding recorded a new, stripped back, acoustic guitar-driven version of the song.
McLean in a publicity photo, 1976.
Personnel from the American Pie album sessions were retained for his third album Don McLean, consisting of the producer, Ed Freeman, Rob Rothstein on bass, and also Warren Bernhardt on piano. The song “The Pride Parade“ gives an understanding into McLean‘s instant response to stardom. McLean told Melody Maker in 1973 that Tapestry was an album by somebody previously concerned with external circumstances. American Pie combines externals with internals, and also the resultant success of that album makes the third one (Don McLean) entirely reflective.“.
Other songs written by McLean for the album consist of “Dreidel“ (number 21 on the Billboard chart) and “If We Try“ (number 58), which was recorded by Olivia Newton-John. “On the Amazon“ from the 1920s musical Mr Cinders was an uncommon selection but became an audience favorite in concerts as well as included in Till Tomorrow, a documentary regarding McLean produced by Bob Elfstrom (Elfstrom held the role of Jesus Christ in Johnny and also June Cash‘s Gospel Road). The film reveals McLean in concert at Columbia University as he was interrupted by a bomb scare. He left the stage while the audience stood up and also checked under their seats for anything that looked like a bomb. After the all-clear, McLean re-appeared and sang “On the Amazon“ from exactly where he had left off. Don Heckman reported the bomb scare in his review for The New York Times entitled “Don McLean Survives Two Obstacles.“
The fourth album Playin‘ Favorites was a top-40 hit in the UK in 1973 as well as included the Irish folk classic, “Mountains of Mourne“ and also Buddy Holly‘s “Everyday“, a live performance of which returned McLean to the UK Singles Chart. McLean said “The last album (Don McLean) was a study in depression where as the new one (Playin‘Favorites) is almost the quintessence of optimism.“.
The 1974 album Homeless Brother, produced by Joel Dorn, was McLean‘s final studio recording for United Artists. The album included fine New York session musicians, consisting of Ralph McDonald on percussion, Hugh McCracken on guitar and a guest appearance by Yusef Lateef on flute. The Persuasions sang the background vocals on “Crying in the Chapel“, as well as Cissy Houston provided a backing vocal on “La La Love You“. The album‘s title song was influenced by Jack Kerouac‘s book Lonesome Traveler, in which Kerouac tells the story of America‘s “homeless brothers“ or hobos. The song includes background vocals by Pete Seeger.
The song “The Legend of Andrew McCrew“ was based upon an article published in The New York Times concerning a black Dallas hobo named Anderson McCrew that was killed when he leapt from a moving train. Nobody claimed him, so a carnival took his body, mummified it, as well as toured throughout the South with him, calling him “The Famous Mummy Man.“ McLean‘s song inspired radio station WGN in Chicago to tell the story and also provide the song airplay in order to raise money for a headstone for McCrew‘s grave. Their project achieved success, and McCrew‘s body was exhumed as well as buried in the Lincoln Cemetery in Dallas. The headstone had an engraving with words from the fourth verse of McLean‘s song:.
What a way to live a life, and what a way to die.
Left to live a living death with no one left to cry.
A petrified amazement, a wonder beyond worth.
A man who found more life in death than life gave him at birth.
Joel Dorn later teamed up on the McLean career retrospective Rearview Mirror, released in 2005 on Dorn‘s label,Hyena Records. In 2006, Dorn reflected on collaborating with McLean:
Of the greater than 200 studio albums I‘ve produced in the past 40 plus years, there is a handful; maybe 15 or so that I can actually listen to from top to bottom. Homeless Brother is one of them. It accomplished everything I set out todo. And it did so because it was a true collaboration. Don brought so much to the project that all I really had to do was capture what he did, and complement it properly when necessary.
In 1977 a brief liaison with Arista Records that produced the album Prime Time, and in October 1978, the single “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore“. This was a track from the album Chain Lightning that ought to have been the second of four with Arista. McLean had actually begun recording in Nashville, Tennessee, with Elvis Presley‘s backing singers, the Jordanaires, as well as many of Presley‘s musicians. Nevertheless the Arista deal broke down following artistic differences between McLean and also the Arista chief, Clive Davis. As a result, McLean was left without a record contract in the USA, however through continuing deals,Chain Lightning was released by EMI in Europe and by Festival Records in Australia.
In April 1980, the Roy Orbison song “Crying“ from the album started getting airplay on Dutch radio stations as well as McLean was called to Europe to appear on numerous essential musical variety shows to plug the song and also support its release as a single by EMI. The song achieved number 1 status in the Netherlands initially, followed by the UK and after that Australia.
McLean‘s number 1 successes in Europe and Australia brought about a new deal in the USA with Millennium Records, which released Chain Lightning two as well as a half years after it had been recorded in Nashville and also two years after its release in Europe. It charted on February 14,1981, and reached number 28, as well as “Crying“ reached number 5 on the pop singles chart. Orbison himself believed that McLean‘s version was the best interpretation he‘d ever before heard of among his songs. Orbison believed McLean did a much better job than he did and also went so far as to say that the voice of Don McLean is one of the great instruments of 20th-century America. According to Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys,“McLean‘s voice could cut through steel – he is a very pure singer and he‘s up there with the best of them. He‘s a very talented singer and songwriter and he deserves his success.“
McLean had more chart successes in the USA in the early 1980s with “Since I Don’t HaveYou“, a new recording of “Castles in the Air“ as well as “It‘s Just the Sun“. In 1987, the release of the country-based album LoveTracks generated the hit singles “Love in My Heart“ (a top-10 in Australia), “You Can’t Blame the Train“ (U.S.A. country number 49), and also “Eventually“. The latter two songs were written by Terri Sharp. In 1991, EMI reissued “American Pie“ as a single in the UK, and McLean performed on Top of the Pops. In 1992, previously unreleased songs appeared on Favorites and Rarities, as well as Don McLean Classics included new| brand-new studio recordings of “Vincent“ as well as “American Pie“.
McLean has continued to record brand-new material, consisting of River of Love in 1995 on Curb Records, and also more recently, the albums You‘ve Got to Share, Don McLean Sings Marty Robbins and The Western Album for his very own Don McLean Music label. Addicted to Black was released in May 2009.
McLean‘s other popular songs consist of the following.
• “And I Love You So“ included on McLean‘s first album Tapestry initial released in 1970. The song was later recorded by Elvis Presley, Helen Reddy, Shirley Bassey, Glen Campbell, Engelbert Humperdinck, Howard Keel, Claude François, and a 1973 hit for Perry Como. The song was performed at the Royal Wedding reception of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018.
• “Castles in the Air“, which McLean recorded two times. His 1981 re-recording was a top-40 hit, reaching number 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1981.
• “Wonderful Baby“, a homage to Fred Astaire that Astaire himself recorded. Primarily rejected by pop stations, it reached number 1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart.
• “Superman‘s Ghost“, a homage to George Reeves, that portrayed Superman on tv in the 1950s.
• “The Grave“, a song that McLean had actually written about the Vietnam War, was recorded by George Michael in 2003 in protest against the Iraq War.
The American Pie album includes a version of Psalm 137, entitled “Babylon“. The song is based upon a canon by Philip Hayes as well as was arranged by McLean and also Lee Hays (of The Weavers). “Babylon“ was performed in the Mad Men episode of the name although that the song would not be released until ten years after the time in which the episode is set.
In 1981, McLean had an international number one hit with a version of the Roy Orbison classic “Crying“. It was just after the record became a success over seas that it was released in the USA. The single hit reached number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981. Orbison himself once described McLean as “the voice of the century“, and in a subsequent re-recording of the song, Orbison included elements of McLean‘s version.
For the 1982 animated cult film The Flight of Dragons, produced by Jules Bass as well as Arthur Rankin, Jr., McLean sang the opening theme. However, no soundtrack has ever been released. Another hit song associated with McLean (though never recorded by him) is “Killing Me Softly with His Song“, which was claimed by Lori Lieberman to have actually been written about McLean after she, likewise a singer-songwriter, saw him singing his composition “Empty Chairs“ in concert. After that (according to Lieberman) she wrote a poem regarding the experience and also shared it with Norman Gimbel, that had long been looking for a way to utilize a phrase he had duplicated from a novel badly translated from Spanish to English, “killing me softly with his blues“. Apparently, Gimbel as well as Charles Fox reworked the poem and also the phrase into the song “Killing Me Softly with His Song“, originally recorded by Lieberman and later on by Roberta Flack (and later recorded by the Fugees). This claim was disputed, especially by Fox. Ultimately, however, the issue reached an indisputable conclusion when simultaneous articles from the early 1970s were exhumed, every one of them proving Lieberman.
In an April 5, 1973, article in the New York Daily News, Norman Gimbel was quoted as follows: “She (Lori Lieberman) told us about this strong experience she had listening to McLean (“I felt all flushed with fever/ Embarrassed by the crowd/ I felt he had found my letters/ And read each one out loud/ I prayed that he would finish/ But he just kept right on …“). I had a notion this might make a good song so the three of us discussed it. We talked it over several times, just as we did for the rest of the numbers we wrote for this album and we all felt it had possibilities.“