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"AMERICAN PIE," HELPFULLY SLICED

Inspired by the 1959 plane crash that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, Don McLean's "American Pie" was a massive hit and remains a pop perennial. (It was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2017.) Clocking in at more than eight minutes, the cultural behemoth of a song—which spent four weeks at #1 in 1972—offers McLean's reflections on "the day the music died." It's also filled with cryptic references.

The song's deep history is explored and many of those references unpacked in the Paramount+ documentary The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean's American Pie. Produced by ViacomCBS Media Networks President of Music, Music Talent, Programming and Events Bruce Gillmer—whose title takes longer to reel off than the song—the film features testimony from Garth Brooks, Brian Wilson, Weird Al Yankovic, Peter Gallagher, the band Home Free (which collaborated with McLean on a new version of the song) and McLean himself.

McLean remained famously tight-lipped about the specific details of the song for years. In 2015, the original lyrics were sold at auction for $1.2m; McLean wrote in the catalog notes, "Basically in 'American Pie' things are heading in the wrong direction. It [life] is becoming less idyllic. I don't know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense." McLean further expounds on the lyrics in the doc, confirming, for example, Elvis was not the "king" he was referring to in the line "While the King was looking down/ The jester stole his thorny crown." So who was the King? You'll have to watch the film for the answer.

The Day the Music Died is currently streaming on Paramount+. We've included the trailer right here for your delectation. In related pie news, Bruce Gillmer would like to hit us with one.