A while ago I was singing the beautiful round, ‘By the Waters of Babylon’ with a group of pupils. On listening to the recording by Don MacLean, I advised the young teenager to listen to his two most famous songs, ‘Vincent’ and ‘American Pie’. When I saw her for her next lesson, she had downloaded and printed the words (ran to six pages) of the epic song and was really enthused by it.
The thing with American Pie is it’s long (eight minutes), and the chords subtly change from verse to verse so you can’t really just write the chords of the first verse down and leave it at that. I worked out the correct chords and in a feat of jiggery pokery I was extremely proud of, managed to get all the words and chords onto just two pieces of paper.
Here it is in the original key of G, and in C for higher voices –
Having said that about the fluid nature of the chord structure, I personally don’t think It’s as important to get all the subtle chordal variations of each verse as it is to get the words down pat. The words are a joy to sing and listen to. Inventive, poetic and playful, and everyone loves guessing what they are alluding to. Google it and you’ll find lots of interpretations! Surely the jester is Bob Dylan and the king, Elvis. And was it ‘Lennon’ or ‘Lenin’ who’ read a book on Marx’? I thought Lennon, My student was certain it was Lenin. I think MacLean delights in the double meaning and is quite happy to for everyone to continue debating it.
When I was my pupil’s age I had a friend who knew the whole song by heart. I remember the passion with which he sang it while we all sat round strumming and howling the chorus. With this memory in mind, I was annoyed when I heard Madonna’s insipid cover in 2000. If you’re going to sing something completely blandly as though the words have no meaning, why choose American Pie?
My student, with her baritone ukulele performed a decidedly un-insipid version as the finale of my Big Fat Music Party to the joy of all the parents and older pupils who sang along to the chorus with gusto.