“American Pie” by Don McLean

This song is admittedly kind of frustrating, because unlike the Bob Dylan poem-ballads it’s modeled on, it is pretty obviously a very specific cryptogram where every line has an actual concrete meaning, and McLean has been persistently stubborn about explaining any of the references. This is particularly tantalizing since we can actually more or less decipher a few individual cases (the Jester=Dylan, The Sergeants=the Beatles, Satan=The Rolling Stones, and so forth). But whether you can figure out the specific meaning of the song or not (and there are people who have dedicated their lives to doing so), the overall effect is oddly arresting and captivating…while McLean may have taken a much more concrete approach to his cryptic songwriting, he did manage to create a hauntingly poetic effect comparable to Dylan’s work, especially on the final verse, where even though we have no clear idea what’s being said, he still manages to break our heart. Yes, the song is exceptionally long for a radio hit, but it holds the listener’s attention throughout, and whether you prefer to pour your efforts into deciphering the mysteries of the lyrics or just enjoy the sheer abstract sound of the whole thing, it has fairly earned the fascination that several generations have now paid it.

Verdict: Good.

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