Sixteen pages of lyrics that became one of the most iconic songs of the 20th century sell for US$1.2mil (RM4.3mil), according to auctioneers Christie’s.

Although the April 7 auction for singer songwriter McLean’s American Pie lyrics fell short of the US$2mil record set last year for Bob Dylan’s hand-written lyrics for Like A Rolling Stone, it was no less a momentous occasion for the song that has beguiled generations of listeners around the world since its release in 1971.

Tom Lecky, head of the books and manuscripts department at Christie’s, says the price was a fitting tribute to one of the foremost singer songwriters of his generation. “The result is a testament to the creative genius of Don McLean and to the song’s ability to still engage and inspire,” he says in a statement.

McLean’s hand-written and typed drafts, 16 pages in total, include notes and deletions that give clues to the meaning of the 8-minute epic that has had countless interpretations – including a dance pop version by Madonna and a Star Wars-themed parody version by Weird Al’ Yankovic.

McLean’s version hit No.1 on the US Billboard 100 charts for four weeks in 1972 in addition to topping the charts in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. While the song was typical of the folk rock sound of its era, its enigmatic lyrics continue to make fans wonder what it’s all about.

“The writing and the lyrics will divulge everything there is to divulge,” says McLean, 69, in an interview ahead of the sale. “You’ll see what I am thinking about. It is a piece of a dream that I am trying to capture.”

“The day the music died”

McLean was a struggling songwriter when he wrote the song in Cold Spring, New York, and Philadelphia. Its six verses reflect the social upheavals that were occurring in the US in the 1960s and early ‘70s.

“The death of Buddy Holly was the beginning of the song,” says McLean. “That’s what came to me. I loved Buddy Holly and that is very autobiographical, the first part of the song.”

The lyrics “the day the music died” in American Pie refer to the Feb 3, 1959 plane crash that killed Holly, along with fellow rock ‘n roll singers Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, known as “The Big Bopper.” Subsequent verses make sardonic references to the Vietnam war, The Beatles, and Jackie Kennedy, the widow of assassinated US president John F. Kennedy.

American Pie

Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ lyrics.

 

 

Meanwhile, the famous first line to the chorus “Bye bye Miss American Pie” was written as an ironic farewell to the American dream of the 1950s, when the phrase “as American as apple pie” was already deeply entrenched in American culture and identity.

Francis Wahlgren, the international director of printed books and manuscripts at Christie’s, says the song captures the essence of a period in American history.

“There is a hint of optimism. Although it is about the crash of Buddy Holly, I do think there is a very optimistic message coming through because of the beauty of the song,” he says. “There are many different things going on in the song and it takes you on a little journey.”

American Pie was named a Song of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. – Reuters