Monday, 20 October 2008

Lyrics & their meanings Part 18- American Pie


We tackle the big ones: What the hell is it all about?

American Pie (1971) Don McLean

Don McLean released the American Pie Album in 1971, the same year as Led Zeppelins Stairway to Heaven and everyone’s had an opinion on what the hell they were about ever since.
American Pie was released in 1971 as a single from the album of the same name and reached Top 5 on the US, UK and Oz charts. Almost straight away it became sport to decipher the cryptic lyrics.

The only explanation the tunes songwriter; Don Mclean offered, was that he dedicated the album as a whole to Buddy Holly. (The Rock ‘N’ Roll idol of his youth).
He also admitted to the Holly reference in the opening stanzas.

In McLean’s own words “ I have never discussed the lyrics. You will find many ‘interpretations’ of my lyrics but none of them by me. Isn’t this fun?”

You think this would be enough for most people, but for some it has become an obsession.
In the majority of cases it has been assumed that the song is a running commentary of the history of rock since the death of Buddy Holly through the eyes of its creator. This would be fine if it was in some kind of chronological order and wasn’t so obtuse.

The most popular method is to break up every line from each verse and translate it into what they believe it be, with lots of little explanatory notes attached.

A good examples of this can been seen at

Here’s a sample:

(Verse 5)
And there we were all in one place.

A generation lost in space
Some people think this is a reference to the US space program, which it might be; but that seems a bit literal. Perhaps this is a reference to hippies, who were sometime known as the ‘lost generation’, partially because of their particularly acute alienation from their parents, and partially because of their presumed preoccupation with drugs. It could also be a reference to the awful T.V show” Lost in Space….”

Either Don McLean is master of the ambiguous or these guys haven’t got a clue. I’ll go for the latter.

The most hotly disputed part of the song seems to be the Chorus. No one can come to terms why anyone would drive a Chevy to the Levy if it were dry? Who the good Ol’ Boys are and most importantly what’s an American Pie?

Two explanations commonly used have never been confirmed or proven. That McLean once dated a Miss American candidate (I believe McLean started this rumour himself) and the plane that carried Buddy Holly to his death was called ‘America Pie’.

Hopefully one day they’ll figure that out and the rest will follow, but don’t hold your breath.
Could it be McLean had a catchy tune some snappy lines thrown together to sound good? It’s an established fact McLean was a popular folk singer before the release of the album and the majority of his audience were hippie’s, maybe he was throwing them a bone?

A lot of the lines from the song are borrowed from the period it was written.
I.E; Lost in Space, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, I met a girl who sang the blues, Do you believe in Rock ‘N’ Roll , ..a pink carnation and a pick up truck, Helter Skelter and so on. I wonder what Procol Harum lead loony Keith Reid thought when he heard …caught the last train to the coast. A line he found in his pyjamas one night when he wrote the words to A Whiter Shade of Pale but that’s another story.

Maybe the song was never meant to mean anything and we should just stop analysing it, Don McLean apologised years ago to Chicago newspaper columnist Cecil Adams in a letter stating that he was sorry to lead every one on, but realised he should make a statement and move on, maintaining a dignified silence. The trouble was everyone else couldn’t shut up about it.
As an endnote Don McLean even though he denies it probably does have the best explanation of the story. When ask what American Pie means he replied:

“ It means I never have to work again if I don’t want to”.

(c) 2002 shidot

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Lyrics & their meanings Part 15 -Ca plane pour moi

This continuing story of song lyrics and their meaning in some of the worlds best loved songs.


Plastic Bertrand was the name adopted by Belgian Roger Jouret.
Part of a musical family, Jouret made his first record in 1966 as part of a band named The Bisons in which he played drums; he was eight years old at the time. When things returned to normal again he settled down to classical studies and when finished school trained as a stage manager.
In 1975 Jouret formed Hubble Bubble the first Belgian Punk band and released one non- memorable album. During this period Jouret met producer Lou de Pryck and together they created the persona Plastic Bertrand, a satire on the safety- pin image of punk. (The name was derived from a punk journalist and singer popular in the Belgian music underground)
With Jouret’s good looks, ruffled hair and bright coloured pseudo punk clothes they had a huge hit in 1977 with “Ca Plane Pour Moi”. They did what many had failed to do by making Punk rock palatable to the unconverted.
With its big production, buzz saw guitars and frantic drumming it was perfect plastic pop. Having the song sung in French just added to the novelty value, (which is what this song was intended to be, a money making novelty song.) In actual fact Punks critics complained that the words sung by Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, Dave Vallum et al were unintelligible at the best of times.
The song itself translates very badly into English, which is understandable, as it has been described as nonsensical in French.
The title has been translated as meaning This life’s for me, All wells for Me and Come glide on Me but after my own investigations I believe it to be This Planes for Me. To see the English version of the lyrics is not a pretty sight and defiantly deserves to be sung in French much the same as Ninas 1980 hit 99 luft balloons sounded better sung in German.

A quick snippet of the words are as follows:

Go hop! The chick

What a Panard(?) What a vibration

To be sent, On the door mat

Filed, ruined, emptied, filled

“You are the king of the couch”

That she says to me in passing


I am the king of the couch

Contrary to rumours when it was realeased it is not a Belgian version of Elton Mortello’s UK hit “Jet Boy Jet Girl”. Mortello incidentally was a session player on the Bertrand Album.
Noted rock writer writes on the Trouser Press web site: “Ca Plane Pour Moi” is truly great dumbness – Bertrand singing verbose, seemingly nonsensical French lyrics over a classic three chord Ramones roar with Spectorish saxes and a winning falsetto “ oooh-weee-oooh” on toe chorus. It must have been truly inspiring dumbness because years later the Ramones did work with Phil Spector to record The End Of The Century album in 1980.
Described by one Pop music Encyclopaedia as “the laughing stock of the worlds Punk scene” (a tough ask that one.) The song ended up in Rolling Stone Magazines top 100 rock songs of all time.
As for Plastic Bertrand, he had minor hits in his native Belgium and Canada
In 1987 he was the Belgian entrant in the Eurovision Song Contest where he came second last.

© 2004 Shidot Prod.