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American Pie lyrics sell for $1.2 million

Don McLean American Pie Cover

The day the music ‘nearly’ died

It’s finally time to say ‘bye, bye’ as the lyrics for one of the most popular songs of all time have just been sold to an anonymous buyer at Christie’s in New York City. Don McLean’s classic “American Pie” paints a picture of an idyllic counter-culture America and the tune has long been a staple of the American Classic Rock songbook.

However, it’s the lyrics that have been the main source of focus for pop music historians and fans worldwide. The song is over eight and a half minutes long and is the longest ever to reach number one on the US charts.

What do the lyrics mean?

McLean has never given much away, only ever hinting that the intro about ‘the day the music died’ was a reference to the fatal plane crash that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson as they were touring the mid-western United States.

The event had a huge impact on Don McLean, he goes on to reference it in the first part of the song with the immortal lyric ‘February made me shiver’.

He left the rest of the song up to interpretation, claiming that “they’re (lyrics) beyond analysis. They’re poetry”. He recently expanded on this, “For more than 40 years I have rambled around every state of the union and many, many countries of the world. My primary interests in life have been America, singing, song-writing, and the English language.”

“I love the English language as much as anything in life and words really do mean something. I thought it would be interesting as I reach age 70 to release this work product on the song American Pie so that anyone who might be interested will learn that this song was not a parlour game. It was an indescribable photograph of America that I tried to capture in words and music and then was fortunate enough through the help of others to make a successful recording. “

“I would say to young songwriters who are starting out to immerse yourself in beautiful music and beautiful lyrics and think about every word you say in a song.”

What’s included in the manuscript?

The actual lyrics come as part of a complete working manuscript. It even features revisions and unpublished deleted sections which offers a fantastic insight into the working mind of a genius.

For example, here’s one of the omitted verses. “And there I stood alone and afraid, I dropped to my knees and there I prayed, And I promised him everything I could give, If only he would make the music live, And he promised it would live once more, But this time one would equal four, And in five years four had come to mourn, And the music was reborn.”

The auction itself

Tom Lecky, head of books and manuscripts at Christie’s in New York had this to say about the manuscript, “What you have in the manuscript is how we got to that stage. It’s the creative process from beginning to end.”

“You see great moments of inspiration, you see him attempting things that then didn’t work out. The direction that he was going in that he then didn’t want to follow. And so these words that we all know so well and are fixed weren’t fixed in the beginning.”

For most, the actual auction of the lyrics was a pleasant surprise. Don McLean had just reached his 70th birthday and as a result decided to auction the manuscript pretty much on a whim. The song was written in Cold Spring, New York and Philadelphia during the late 60’s and really sums up the social and cultural upheavals of the late 1960’s.

American Pie was also named ‘Song of the Century’ by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The record for a hand-written manuscript is held by Bob Dylan’s excellent ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ which sold at auction for $2 million (£1.34 million) last year. Christies auctioneers thought that this particular sale would go for at least $1.5 million (£1 million).

Music memorabilia will always hold a special place in people’s hearts as it’s so embedded in our culture. It has a value often much higher than expected, and here at NBSP we’re always excited to see what people might have as an asset.

Director of New Bond Street Pawnbrokers and Specialist for Channel 4’s ‘Four Rooms’, David Sonnental is a renowned collector of musical memorabilia, especially anything to do with the original king of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley.

David’s collection features items such as a private phone from Graceland, an Elvis signature and in the latest season of Four Rooms he managed to purchase a photo album from one member of Elvis’s entourage.

Our Mayfair pawnshop offers loans with minimal paperwork, plus specialist advice on the art of many artists, more info available on our loans on fine art page for more information.

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