Don McLean

Don McLean

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When Don McLean was recording his second album, American Pie, in 1971, he was a little-known singer/songwriter whose first album, Tapestry, had had little commercial impact. Only a year later, when he came to make his third LP, Don McLean, he was attempting to follow up a chart-topping album that had spawned two chart-topping hits, "American Pie" and "Vincent" (the latter going to number one in the U.K. and the Top 20 in the U.S.). Yet he remained the same artist he had been before the epic "American Pie" created a sensation with its long allegorical verses and catchy chorus. His worldview continued to reflect a '60s hangover, in which disappointment and failure had replaced hope and struggle. That view had been expressed in "American Pie" and "Vincent," as well as on the rest of American Pie and Tapestry, and it continued on Don McLean, which began with the rocker "Dreidel," a harsh description of life that included lines such as "No trust in tomorrow, it's a lie" and "I'm watchin' the future it's black." This was followed by the country-styled "Bronco Bill's Lament," sung in the voice of a Hollywood cowboy who considers his career a sham, another metaphor of loss and betrayal. And so it went. McLean did lighten the gloom with humor by covering the 1920s novelty song "On the Amazon" from the British musical Mr. Cinders, its nonsense lyrics employing multisyllabic words as if they were the names of animals ("On the Amazon the prophylactics prowl/On the Amazon the hypodermics howl"). And he offered hope in his love songs, notably "If We Try." That lovely ballad was released as the second single and became a minor chart entry. Had "If We Try" been the first single instead of "Dreidel" (which just missed the Top 20), the album might have been much more successful. (Beyond the song's odd musical structure and pessimistic lyrics, most people didn't know what a dreidel was. It's a Jewish children's toy.) As it was, Don McLean was rated an artistic and commercial disappointment as a follow-up to American Pie.

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