On this day (Mar. 3) in 2000, Madonna released her version of “the day the music died” by covering singer-songwriter Don McLean‘s 1971 hit “American Pie” (which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks in 1972) for the soundtrack of her film The Next Best Thing.
Billboard’s Chuck Taylor reviewed the song at the time of its release: “Applause to Madonna for not pandering to today’s temporary trends and for challenging programmers to broaden their playlists. In all, a fine preview of the forthcoming soundtrack to The Next Best Thing.”
The accompanying music video cuts between Madonna dancing in front of an American flag (wearing a tiara) and various Americans, including same sex couples, working class citizens and angst ridden teens who may or may not believe in rock ‘n roll. Cheerleaders and a guest appearance by co-star and BFF Rupert Everett (who provides backing vocals in the song) make it appear that all is right in the land of the free, but is anyone else listening to the lyrics masked by the upbeat tempo?
The original version peaked at No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart, and in the decades that have followed, McLean has attempted to clear up confusion as to what exactly the song is about. As for the lyrics, he said, “They’re beyond analysis. They’re poetry.” That may be so, but the song presents an abstract story of McLean’s life.
“It is biographical in nature and I don’t think anyone has ever picked up on that. The song starts off with my memories of the death of Buddy Holly. But it moves on to describe America as I was seeing it and how I was fantasizing it might become. The song was written as my attempt at an epic song about America and I used the imagery of music and politics to do that.”
So there you have it, America. Oh, and just what did McLean think about Madonna’s cover of his national treasure?
“It is a gift for her to have recorded ‘American Pie,'” McLean said. “I think it is sensual and mystical. I also feel that she’s chosen autobiographical verses that reflect her career and personal history. I have received many gifts from God but this is the first time I have ever received a gift from a goddess.”