Don McLean / American Pie – What to Listen For

Hot Stamper Pressings of Folk Rock Albums Available Now

More Records with Specific Advice on What to Listen For

Beware of copies that are thin, dry or edgy; they take too much of the fun out of the music.

Full vocals and a big, solid piano are key to balancing the singers and musicians correctly.

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars can be heard on all the better copies.

Of course they can. This is 1971 after all: they still remembered how to get that sound on tape. On the better copies, Vincent can have rich, sweet, harmonically correct guitars to rival the best recordings from that era.

A little smear, thickness or opacity is not the end of the world — lots of very enjoyable records from 1971 have such issues and they still sound right. Tapestry, Mud Slide Slim, and Tupelo Honey come immediately to mind. It would not be hard to name dozens of others.

You want to keep what is good about a Tubey Magical analog recording from The Golden Age of Popular Music while avoiding the pitfalls so common to them:

  • poor resolution,
  • compression,
  • thickness,
  • opacity,
  • blubber,
  • compromised frequency extremes,
  • a lack of space and
  • a lack of presence.

How’s that for a laundry list of all the problems we hear on old rock records, old classical records, and old jazz records? 

What record doesn’t have at least some of these faults? Not many in our experience. A copy with few or none of these problems would do very well in our Hot Stamper shootouts indeed.

How come we never see Hot Stamper pressings of this album on the site?

Some records are just too noisy to find in the kind of numbers we need for our shootouts, no matter how good they sound. We do the best we can, but the reality is that we have had very little luck with finding early pressings of American Pie for years now. Things do not seem to be getting better in the market either.

Which simply means that if you do ever see this title show up on our site, best to jump on it. It could be ten years before we find the next shootout winners.

Side One

American Pie
Till Tomorrow
Vincent (Starry Starry Night) 

Side Two

Empty Chairs 
Everybody Loves Me, Baby 
Sister Fatima 
The Grave 

Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, 1-20-72

Don McLean’s “American Pie” has ripped out of nowhere and taken the country by storm both in its album and truncated single versions. It took exactly two weeks to shoot to the top of the charts, everybody I know has been talking excitedly about it since first hearing, and, even more surprisingly, it has united listeners of musical persuasions as diverse as Black Sabbath and Phil Ochs in unbridled enthusiasm for both its message and its musical qualities.

All of which is not so surprising once you’ve heard it, because it is a brilliant song, a metaphor for the death and rebirth of rock that’s at once complex and immediately accessible. For the last couple of years critics and audience alike have been talking abut the Death of Rock, or at least the fragmentation of all our 1967 dreams of anthemic unity. And, inevitably, somebody has written a song about it. About Dylan, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Stones, Byrds, Janis and others. About where we’ve been, the rush of exhilaration we felt at the pinnacle, and the present sense of despair. Don McLean has taken all this and set it down in language that has unmistakable impact the first time you hear it, and leaves you rubbing your chin — “Just what did that line mean?” — with further listenings because you know it’s all about something you’ve felt and lived through. A very 1967ish song, in fact, in the way it makes you dig for deeper meaning, but not the least bit mawkish.

It opens with a slow, mournful sequence abut reading the headlines about the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper while delivering papers as a child, then into the chorus: “Bye bye, Miss American Pie/Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry/Them good ole boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye/And sayin’ this’ll be the day that I die.” Then all at once it rears up and charges through the years in a giddy rush: “I was a lonely teenage bronckin’ buck/With a pink carnation and a pickup truck,” the “Book of Love,” sock hops in the gym and puppy jealousy, and then into the heart of the myth, where Dylan is a Jester “in a coat he borrowed from James Dean,” laughing at the king “in a voice that came from you and me.”

The halycon days of Sgt. Pepper are brilliantly caught: “The half-time air was sweet perfume/As Sergeants played a marching tune,” but suddenly the Jester is on the sidelines in a cast, the stage is taken by Jack Flash (“Fire is the devil’s only friend”), and Altamont, the Angels and the despairing resentment the Stones left many fans pass in a dark panorama. Finally coming down to the levee again, where the good old boys are draining the bottles and talking as if it’s all over, as they did when the plane bearing “The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost” fell and as they will again and again through the years. It’s just the old Calvinist sense of impending apocalypse and perdition, but they’re good old boys anyway and we can’t resent them because we too “believe in rock ‘n’ roll/And [that] music can save your mortal soul.” Because they’re us.

“American Pie” is a song of the year, and its music is just as strong as those lyrics, propelled with special resonance by the piano of Paul Griffin, who played with the Jester when his myth was at pinnacle. If you’ve ever cried because of a rock & roll band or album, or lain awake nights wondering or sat up talking through the dawn about Our Music and what it all means and where it’s all going and why, if you’ve ever kicked off your shoes to dance or wished you had the chance, if you ever believed in Rock & Roll, you’ve got to have this album.

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