Don McLean’s Manuscript for ‘American Pie’ Sells for $1.2 Million

Songwriter also reveals the meaning behind the song ... and its more hopeful alternative ending.

By Al Perrotta Published on April 8, 2015

“A long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile . . . .”

And so began one of the greatest epics of popular music, Don McLean’s “American Pie.” What followed was an 8:31 journey from “The day the music died” — 1959’s death of Buddy Holly — through the turbulent 1960’s, with lyrics so shrouded in symbolism listeners have been debating each line since the single’s release.

For decades, whenever McLean’s been asked to explain the meaning behind “American Pie,” he’d only joke, “It means I don’t have to work anymore if I don’t want to.”

But now, not only has McLean revealed the full story behind “American Pie,” he can also afford an even greater life of leisure.

On Tuesday, McLean’s 16-page original manuscript for “American Pie,” with detailed notes, drafts and alternate verses, was sold at Christie’s New York for $1.2 million.

In an interview for the Christie’s auction catalogue, McLean describes “American Pie” as a “morality song in a sense.” When he wrote the song in 1970-71, he thought “things are heading in the wrong direction. It is becoming less idyllic.”

Things have not improved. “I was around in 1970 and now I am around in 2015,” he says, “There is no poetry and very little romance in anything anymore, so it is really like the last phase of ‘American Pie.'”

That final verse unforgettably ends:

“And the three men I admire most

The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost

They caught the last train for the Coast

The Day the Music Died.”

However, McLean’s manuscript reveals the songwriter originally had a more hopeful ending in mind. In his alternative ending, McLean drops to his knees in prayer, promising “to give all I have to give, if only he would make the music live again.”

“And,” these lyrics conclude, “the music lived again.”

Still, the original isn’t too shabby.

When the BBC heard Don McLean was going to be auctioning off his lyric manuscript for “American Pie,” they dug around their archives and found this performance from 1972.



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