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Don McLean Biography

Home > Music > M > McLean, Don > Biography

Birth Name: Donald McLean, Jr.
Born: 1945/10/02
Years Active: 1969 - present
Genres: Folk, Folk Rock

Donald "Don" McLean (born October 2, 1945, New Rochelle, New York) is an American singer-songwriter.

McLean recorded his first album, “Tapestry,” in 1969 in Berkeley, California during the student riots. After being rejected by 34 labels, the album was released by Mediarts and attracted good reviews but little notice outside the folk community.

McLean's major break came when Mediarts was taken over by United Artists Records thus securing for his second album, “American Pie,” the promotion of a major label. The album spawned two #1 hits in the title song, “American Pie” and “Vincent.” The success of “American Pie” made McLean an international star and renewed interest in his first album, which charted more than two years after its initial release.

As McLean's most famous composition, “American Pie,” is a sprawling, impressionistic ballad inspired partly by the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) in a plane crash in 1959. The song popularized the expression “The Day the Music Died” in reference to this event. “American Pie” reached #1 on the Billboard chart for four weeks in 1972, and remains McLean's most successful single release. The single also topped the Billboard Easy Listening survey. With a running time of 8:36, it is also the longest song to reach #1. Some stations played only part one of the original split-sided single release.

McLean’s third album, “Don McLean,” included the song “The Pride Parade” that provides an insight into McLean’s immediate reaction to stardom. His fourth album, “Playin' Favorites” was a Top 40 hit in the U.K. in 1973 and included the Irish folk classic, “Mountains of Mourne” and Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” a live rendition of which returned McLean to the U.K. Singles chart.

1977 saw a brief liaison with Arista Records that yielded the “Prime Time” album before, in 1978, McLean’s career changed direction and he started recording in Nashville with Elvis Presley’s backing singers, The Jordanaires, and many of Elvis’s musicians. The result was “Chain Lightning” and the international #1, “Crying.” The early 1980s saw further chart successes in the U.S. with “Since I Don't Have You,” a new recording of “Castles in the Air” and “It's Just the Sun.”

In 1987, the release of the country-based “Love Tracks” album gave rise to the hit singles ‘Love in My Heart,” “Can't Blame the Wreck on the Train” and “Eventually.” In 1991, EMI reissued the “American Pie” single in the U.K. and McLean performed on “Top of the Pops.”

In 1992, previously unreleased songs became available on “Favorites and Rarities” while “Don McLean Classics” featured new studio recordings of “Vincent” and “American Pie.”

McLean has continued to record new material including “River of Love” in 1995 on Curb Records and, more recently, the albums “You've Got to Share,” “Don McLean Sings Marty Robbins” and “The Western Album” on his own Don McLean Music label. His album, “Addicted to Black,” was released in May 2009.

In February 2002, "American Pie" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2004, McLean was inaugurated into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.