Feb 15

MADONNA – “American Pie”

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#850, 11th March 2000

madonnapie I can’t remember, did I cry when I heard about Madonna’s “Pie”? To claim I did would be a lie, in fact I likely smiled. A dance-pop version of one of the great rock totems, by an artist on a creative roll, teamed with one of the most sympathetic producers of her career? How could it possibly fail to enrage my foes and gladden my friends? In my head existed a version of “American Pie” that had a shot at being a great single, and would at least end up a marvellous joke. Yet neither outcome came true.

The question of whether or not Madonna screws up “American Pie” is easily answered: yes. How it goes wrong for her is a bit more interesting. But most intriguing of all is what she saw in it to make her want to try. Yes, Rupert Everett put her up to it. But Madonna’s discography is not otherwise chock-ful of bad singles recorded as favours to actor mates. She is 41 at this point, a remarkably shrewd individual at a career high in terms of creative control: even if this is a complete whim, it’s a whim she carried through. Why?

To find out I need to dig into what, exactly, the original “American Pie” was. Don McLean’s lament for the death in 1958 of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, most simply. (And it does a touching, clumsy job at that: “Bad news on the doorstep / I couldn’t take one more step.”) Of course that’s only the beginning. He turns that inciting incident into a kind of myth-cycle for the entire 1960s, told through a series of riddles and coded references to the era’s pop artistocracy. Which led to the song’s enduring appeal to some people who’d lived through that decade (or wished they had): not just a validation, but a puzzle-book, a thing to be “interpreted”. And by the same token, “American Pie” became widely hated by many born after that, whose response to eight minutes of jesters and quartets and whisky and rye was, roughly, “Why do I care about this shit?”

Looked at now, “American Pie”’s status as a boomer rosetta stone is a little embarrassing, but also fascinating. Even by the CD era, let alone the Spotify one, the references seemed dreadfully on the nose: The birds flew off with a fallout shelter / Eight miles high and falling fast”. What can the answer be, O Sphinx? But in 1972 these might have played as genuine riddles, triggers for memory and reinforcements of the importance of what had happened: the sense that rock could be – deserved to be! – treated as legend. Even so the pile-up of call-backs is overwhelming, drowning most of the song’s sense. There’s a term from comics and sci-fi fandom for this particular impulse to lard a work with continuity references, determinedly excluding the not-we from the party: fanwank. And “American Pie” is sixties fanwank of the purest kind.

But every fan also has an agenda. Between the too-many lines of “American Pie” are buried schisms and debates. We’re listening, after all, to a history of the 60s in which the music is already dead, killed not when the Beatles broke up but around the time they met. “American Pie” is as much a ghost story as a celebration, and there’s a vengeful purism to McLean’s take on rock music and its decade. In some ways he toes baby boomer orthodoxy – the sixties end at Altamont – but in others he’s a heretic: the most visceral part of the song comes when he watches, furious and bitter, as Mick Jagger dances onstage, and names him Satan. Buried here is an earlier question – what has happened to the magic of rock’n’roll? – a split among the fifties and sixties generation themselves, which the party of “American Pie” seemed to be losing by the time the song was recorded. The song’s side of the schism, I’d say, holds that rock’n’roll hit teenage perfection in the mid-50s, and the sixties saw its decadence and decline. “American Pie” loves the sixties, breathes the sixties, but in this one crucial way has more in common with its haters than its fans.

Madonna, in a theological dispute between Buddy Holly and Mick Jagger, is surely of the devil’s party. But despite my initial excitement, I don’t think she was exactly trolling when she made it (and McLean gushed over her version anyway). I doubt she had much respect for “American Pie”’s meandering retread of sixties pop history, but she certainly had a use for it. In 1999 she’d enjoyed a large, worldwide hit with “Beautiful Stranger”, another Orbit production from the second Austin Powers movie. “Stranger” was a triumph – Orbit’s production managed to capture and update a swirling essence of sixties pop and clubland without actually sounding much like anything from those days. In a stroke she’d done what years of dogged Britrock effort had failed to: successfully modernise the 1960s.

So why not try and hit that spot a second time, with a song absolutely steeped in the era? William Orbit’s arrangement on “American Pie” isn’t as dense as the techno-psychedelic pop sheen he gave “Beautiful Stranger”, but its gyrating keyboard line, occasional hints of fuzz bass, and synthesised Rickenbackers suggest he’s going for a similar hit of lightly retrofied bliss. But it doesn’t work: “American Pie” is comparatively lifeless, and the instrumental touches that seemed like delightful presents to the listener on “Stranger” feel like awkward marking time here, waiting for a misguided song to end.

Does the problem lie in Madonna’s editing? She strips out most of the blind-item content – a wise move – to leave stuff about music and dancing and a bit of religion: her chosen territories. That isn’t a bad way to cut the song – especially as it positions her as the keeper of music’s flame within the record – but even trimmed a lot of McLean’s lyrics are still too idiosyncratic for another singer to get much grip on. What can Madonna do with “I was a lonely teenage broncin’-buck / With a pink carnation and a pick-up truck”? Her best, but the singer and the song don’t fit.

The wider issue, though, is the translation of folk-rock into dance-pop. McLean’s lines are long and rangy, and an acoustic accompaniment gives him space to stretch, play with the cadences, tell a story, even if it is a dumb story full of smarmy riddles. William Orbit’s elegant, clockwork productions are inimical to that, pushing McLean’s words back into line and tempting Madonna into the regulated, autocue reading she gives. Even the song’s very good lines – “I know that you’re in love with him / Cos I saw you dancing in the gym” – get swallowed up by the metre, and Madonna barely bothers to lend them any expression. The restrained, trained singing voice she used on “Frozen” and “Substitute For Love” lets her down badly here. Ultimately, “American Pie” works – for good or bad – as a shaggy dog tale its singer believes in. If this was the only version that existed, nobody would even hate it.

There’s a final mistake, too, in following “Stranger” with this. “American Pie” is a song based on the idea that the sixties mattered – that the details of their story and struggles were vital. “Beautiful Stranger”, and Austin Powers for that matter, are assertions that the sixties now matter only as an aesthetic. They treat the decade the way the hippies treated the Victorian and Edwardian era: a look, a texture, little more. It was an inevitable shift, and a relief. Covering “American Pie” – reducing the ultimate sixties-as-content record to a sixties-as-aesthetic one – might have been a smart way of underlining that, but the song beats her, forcing her to relive a fight she really has no interest in. She knew it, too – “American Pie” was left off the next Greatest Hits record, and even her successful partnership with Orbit wouldn’t last much longer. Time, once again, to move forward.



  1. 1
    Cumbrian on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Before someone else says so, I think you’ve got a typo for the year of Buddy Holly et al’s deaths. 3rd February 1959 that particular incident I think.

  2. 2
    flahr on 13 Feb 2015 #

    This is new to me. Good, innit? Maybe if you were like invested in Madonna at the time (or indeed, ever) it would be a disappointed but I essentially hear it as some sort of anonymous disco version. “American Pie”‘s got a good tune, William Orbit does good production, Madonna’s got a good voice – what’s not to like? It’s very short and there’s even some light chuckles at the incongruity of the style.

    In a word: good. [6]

    EDIT: Having now read the review I should maybe change my opening line “invested in anything”. I was, after all, seven at the time and thus apathetic towards Madonna, dance-pop, the sixties, rock, reclamation, detournement, recuperation, assorted Situationist bollocks, the nineties, the early noughties, the pop charts, William Orbit, or anything else at all relevant to this record.

    I am trying to empathise by imagining Clean Bunny doing a not-very-good deep house version of the Bolero of Fire from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time* but the problem is that would be kind of awesome.

    *Majora’s Mask is, of course, better but I didn’t play it until later

    ANOTHER EDIT: Also as a token and tenuous bit of self-promotion I should say that if anyone has a strange hankering to see me recognise the original version of “American Pie” then BBC2 in its infinite wisdom will give you that opportunity at 8.30pm next Monday.

  3. 3
    AMZ1981 on 13 Feb 2015 #

    This song got a pretty hostile reception at the time but I must admit that I quite liked it. So did Don McLean himself (`I’ve received many gifts from the Gods but this is the first time I’ve received a gift from a Goddess`). It was, as noted, her second standalone single from a soundtrack in a row (it did find its way on to her next studio set but as a UK only bonus track) and you suspect she was making hay while the sun shone. Three years ago she’d been a fading eighties icon, now she had serious chart power again. With hindsight it feels like a consolation prize number one; Beautiful Stranger was unlucky not to get there while American Pie feels like a fun stop gap.

    For me I knew the original from a compilation but that only had part 1 (the original single was split over two sides and radio stations used side 1 as the radio edit) so it was the first time I’d heard some of the later verses and I ended up investing in a copy of the original Don McLean album as a result and was impressed by the whole record (these days I’d just buy the song I wanted on Itunes).

  4. 4
    Inanimate Carbon God on 13 Feb 2015 #


    This is poisonous.


  5. 5
    Izzy on 13 Feb 2015 #

    I believe my first time on Popular was eight years ago, for ‘Vincent’. Here we are again, and the comment’s the same: “I’ve never heard this song, but that’s a fantastic review.”

  6. 6
    Mark G on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Meanwhile, Don McLean decides to sell his original manuscript:


  7. 7
    mapman132 on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Funny for this to be juxtaposed with “Pure Shores”. If PS represented a mythical me-in-2000 that never really was then this could be the actual me-in-2000 that was. Hard to articulate the differences outside of the life soundtrack, but anyway….

    The lyrics of “American Pie” mean little to me so I largely ignore them. Watching the video I’m not sure that Madonna paid much attention to the lyrics either, but that’s okay because this record is more about auditory and visual feel to me than whatever Don McLean was trying to say. The idealized Americana in the video takes me back to the less cynical world of 2000 – it particularly evokes the cross-US via Route 66 road trip I took that June. I stopped in tiny towns, talked to locals, ate at greasy spoons, etc. Even though I’ve taken many other road trips before and since, in particular a much longer and more ambitious cross-country trip in 2004, I have to say that in 2000 I felt a connection with America that I never quite felt before and certainly haven’t since. I don’t think I’m alone – I can’t imagine Madonna’s AP video being made in 2015 without a healthy dose of roll-your-eyes cynicism.

    So is the record actually any good? I certainly liked it at the time, but I was starved for any “proper” synth pop in the US chart in 2000 (this reached #29 btw). Madonna probably could’ve released a synth version of any classic record and it would’ve topped my personal chart (yes I have one – still do, at least a top 5). In a perfect world “Pure Shores” might have been atop the Mapman chart for four weeks in early 2000, but in the real world, it was “American Pie”. I don’t like it as much as I did then, but still good enough for 7/10.

  8. 8
    Rory on 13 Feb 2015 #

    McLean’s “Pie” was a number one in Australia, and part of the backdrop of my childhood: as ubiquitous as The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, and for similar reasons. Storytelling countrified rock went down a treat in the Australian countryside of the ’70s and early ’80s.

    Madge is ten years older than me, so she would have been in her early teens when the song came out; I imagine her covering it in the same way that many successful artists reach a point where they indulge in covers of their childhood/teen favourites.

    I never paid close attention to the words; I never owned it myself, so only ever heard them on a tinny AM radio, or through a friend’s car stereo on a drive to a campsite, or up to town for a pub-crawl. But the melody cut through those limitations, and it’s a perfectly pleasant one.

    Madonna’s cover keeps the best aspect of the song, and showers it with tasty multicoloured sprinkles of Orbitized decoration, and I still don’t care about the words. I’m with Flahr: good, to the extent of 6.

  9. 9
    Rory on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Mapman132, good point about 2000 as a highpoint of idealized Americana. Not just for Americans, either. It was the year I tried to get work in San Francisco, wrapped up in the cultural moment of Peak Web 1.0. I remember when I was there being quite taken by a pair of Old Navy pajama* bottoms made out of a giant US flag, but thought buying them might be an act of devotion too far. By the time I’d decided I wanted them, their Market Street store was all out, and I never did get any.

    Within a couple of years I was thanking my lucky stars and stripes I’d ended up in Blighty rather than the States. Not that I have any time for cheap anti-Americanism; it’s a big country, and there’s a vast amount to like. But the GWB years would have been tough to live through. Since then, of course, it’s been Blighty’s turn for political blight.

    *Note careful U.S. spelling. Was selling bottoms only a circa-2000 fashion as well, or did it persist?

  10. 10
    Rory on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Regarding Madonna’s 2000 cover versions, how I wish she’d released this. Breathtaking, like the original.

  11. 11
    Elmtree on 13 Feb 2015 #

    “In a stroke she’d done what years of dogged Britrock effort had failed to: successfully modernise the 1960s.”

    Though Saint Etienne almost did it with a not dissimilar sound ten years earlier. Some slightly more chart-hungry songwriting and they really could have been the band that defined a decade. I think I’ll always hear Beautiful Stranger as a single off the chart-conquering Saint Etienne album that never was.

    Meanwhile, this really isn’t very good, though Madonna would be back with better ideas very soon.

  12. 12
    Jonathan on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Repeat what I said on the Tumblrs: this is so clearly the superior version, by dint of being four minutes shorter.

  13. 13
    Chelovek na lune on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Second bit of impressive-surface shiny-sheeny vacuous-substance high quality wall-paper in a row. Though arguably high quality karaoke with sparkle, as here just about trumps film trailer soundtrack in my book.

    I’d be being unusually generous to give it more than 5, though.

  14. 14
    lonepilgrim on 13 Feb 2015 #

    I like the idea of music as wallpaper – superficial, brightens up the room, covers unsightly cracks, etc. This strips down the original version to its hooks and melody which are the best aspects of the song. I found the queer positive, I-contain-multitudes version of America in the video quite affecting. Not Madge’s best but still OK for me.

  15. 15
    Tommy Mack on 13 Feb 2015 #

    I wish she’d covered San Francisco instead.

  16. 16
    tonya on 13 Feb 2015 #

    #9 my brother-in-law asked for new pajama bottoms this year for Christmas and I had no trouble accommodating this request at J Crew. Old Navy and Gap also still sell bottoms separately, I think the thought is you wear a t-shirt or go bare (please) on top.

    The original was part of the wallpaper of my childhood, one of those songs where the words seem stupid but you figure there’s probably a deeper meaning that grownups understand. I’m certain it’s how I learned what a levee is, we don’t use that term in Oregon. I remember being disappointed in Madonna for covering this – who could possibly be more uncool than Don McLean? I can’t even find the kitsch in his sincerity, he’s just such a weenie.

  17. 17
    Izzy on 13 Feb 2015 #

    I adore Led Zeppelin’s version of San Francisco. It’s a great example of playing against type – a bad vibes band having a proper go at a good vibes song. The tension that results is pretty wonderful in my view.

  18. 18
    thefatgit on 13 Feb 2015 #

    If you asked me what I thought of the Don McLean AP, I’d reply: “well, it’s not speaking to me, is it? It speaks to my parents’ generation.” And that would be that. If you asked me if I liked AP, then a firm shake of the head would follow. I can respect it, but I can not say I like it.

    So along comes Madge and Orbit, and try to retool the song to speak to a new generation. It’s not Gen-X, but Gen-Y; those unburdened by that period between The Beatles and The Sex Pistols. That was the way I saw it anyway.

    But even now, my assumption back then is grossly flawed. It’s easy to dismiss this song as a dusty, forgotten artefact in Madonna’s canon. Orbit-era Madge meant “Frozen”, “Beautiful Stranger”, and the sublime “Drowned World/Substitute For Love”. A lot of Gen-Xers like me found the parent album, (ahem) a “stunning return to form”. With all that came with that, the new, mature Madonna really turned my head, with the help of Orbit at the controls. AP, though is the one bad mussel in my moule mariniere. I just can’t engage with it in the same way as the rest of her Orbit ouevre. I blame the song. I still maintain neither version speaks to me, even with her all-inclusive video. Unfortunately, great swathes of that nation don’t agree with its let’s-all-of-us-unite-under-the-Stars&Stripes philosophy, so her message rings hollow. All the points awarded by me go to Madge for making a decent fist of it. (5)

  19. 19
    Doctor Casino on 13 Feb 2015 #

    A steady, muted burble of a backing track – funnily enough, quite appropriate soundscaping for an Old Navy or J. Crew store. But not much for a statement, or even a single; the track and the performance both flatten out the song to where one could hardly notice the chorus has come around again. Whatever the faults in McLean’s version, it at least knows how to wrest drama out of dynamism in the arrangement.

    My best guess is that Madonna tried on the opening stanza and recognized something true and rich there for a performer who had, indeed, made the people dance, but was just now realizing it was, now, a long long time ago. For a few seconds, you have the feeling this is going to be a really powerful track, but the rest of the lyric can’t bear this out. More sensible would have been to interpolate those lines – and those lines alone – as a bridge in some completely new song, where the original text and its appropriation could both operate tactically. Something like a 3 for me, as it’s such air pudding one can hardly notice it enough to be offended by it.

  20. 20
    Tom on 13 Feb 2015 #

    I’d forgotten the video – well, no, I remembered Madonna wiggling about in front of a flag, and the muted colours, but for some reason I thought it was a different single, maybe her other one with “American…” in the title (possibly because it feels kind of like a post-9/11 video?). I really should discipline myself to actually watch the videos before I write the reviews, there’s no excuse for relying on the MP3s. But I don’t think it changes the substance much, other than to remind me of the nationalistic element in McLean’s interpretation of rock history – the Brits were able to come along and change/ruin everything because of the void left by the death of BH et al. (I don’t think Don was expecting especially great things of the Big Bopper, to be fair, though I’d pick “Chantilly Lace” as my favourite of anything the casualties recorded…)

  21. 21
    23 Daves on 13 Feb 2015 #

    I don’t really have anything much to say about this record, but the appearance of this entry does seem to be absurdly timely. Just in today: http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/news/latest-news/don-mclean-to-reveal-meaning-of-american-pie-lyrics

  22. 22
    Ricardo on 13 Feb 2015 #

    A cover song, recorded on a dare by a friend, included on a soundtrack to a forgettable rom-com (starring the singer with said friend) and the last collaboration with William Orbit. You probably wouldn’t even need to hear it to know it’s a throwaway. And sure enough, it sounds like it.
    And when you realise this actually beat *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” in the race for the top (#3 for JT’s old chums, fact fans), it’s even more baffling! I know *NSYNC never gained the same traction in the UK as they did over in America or Central Europe. But still…

  23. 23
    Auntie Beryl on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Empty and devoid of anything salvageable, this. I’m no fan of the original but this, following the Ray Of Light album, was Madonna leaning back and thinking she’d nailed this pop lark for good.

    She’d lost it for good. RIP. 1

  24. 24
    Shiny Dave on 13 Feb 2015 #

    Absolutely extraordinary timing for this review, as mentioned.

    Comments have reminded me how good Beautiful Stranger was. I can’t believe how many songs from this era I’d forgotten (although in fairness I’d quite literally slept through half of it), and Tom pointing out the sixties-as-aesthetic side of that which carried over to this is a fascinating take on it.

    It’s also interesting that he noted in the comments that he sees this video as kind of post-9/11: another of Orbit’s works from this time was the reworking of Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which was perhaps no less totemic than “Pie” for a somewhat different purpose, a go-to piece for America’s darkest times. But it wasn’t Orbit who reworked it into a trance anthem; Ferry Corsten did. It’s interesting enough that Madonna wanted to touch “Pie,” but did Orbit know quite what he’d been let in for?

  25. 25
    mapman132 on 13 Feb 2015 #

    I could see where one would associate the video with post-9/11 patriotism, but for me it very distinctly feels pre-9/11. Perhaps it’s because it specifically evokes the feelings I had during my June 2000 road trip. Or maybe it just feels innocent and apolitical compared to what came later. It’s also worth noting that the worst of post-9/11 culture didn’t actually occur in the immediate aftermath – it took a few months to a year to gestate. But that’s all yet to come obviously.

  26. 26
    Tom on 13 Feb 2015 #

    One of the frustrating things about this release is that her OTHER William Orbit collaboration for The Next Best Thing soundtrack, “Time Stood Still”, is fantastic: a really big, wintry, broken-hearted ballad. It’s closer to her 90s style than any of her 00s work, though, which is probably why it didn’t get the single nod and this did.

  27. 27
    Ed on 14 Feb 2015 #

    What’s always interested me about AP is how proto-punk it is: hating the sixties’ bombast and excess, and worshiping the rock’n’roll that came before it.

    Very on-trend for 1972: contemporary with Let It Rock (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vivienne_Westwood) and Jonathan Richman’s “I still love the 50s, and I still love the Old World.” Also just a year before Mud started having hits and Showaddywaddy formed.

    How any of this might have made Madonna think this song was worth her time, I have no idea.

    Surely what it really needed was the Professional Widow treatment: they should have chucked out most of the vocal and just looped “we all got up to dance”.

  28. 28
    Ronnie on 14 Feb 2015 #

    I can imagine a good song where Madonna sings the line “Did you write the book of love and do you have faith in God above?”

    I cannot imagine a good song where Madonna sings any of the other lines in this particular song.

    Jonathan @12 says it’s better than the original solely by virtue of being shorter, and I think that sums up the only way you could say something nice about it. If you have a negative opinion of “American Pie,” well, Madonna’s version subtracts some of the negative. But it sure as fuck doesn’t add anything positive. There is zero reason to listen to this more than once.

  29. 29
    swanstep on 14 Feb 2015 #

    I’m pretty sure I’ve never listened to more than a 4 min radio version of McLean’s original before….and, gawd the full 8m33s drags. And complaining about Jagger as the devil is one of the most tone deaf things I’ve ever heard; nobody seriously blames the Stones for what happened at Altamont and their records at the time are universally loved peak rock ‘n’ roll, ‘the music’ if anything is.

    Anyhow, Madonna’s edit of the song is relatively astute and the record’s perfectly pleasant, but it’s very dull. The video’s a reminder that Americans never seem to need much of an excuse to wrap themselves in their flag.

    I didn’t see ‘The Next Best Thing’ (it got very poor reviews and I seem to remember that Madonna’s friendship with Everett didn’t survive the debacle). Does anyone know how the track fits into the film? I vaguely thought/assumed TNBT was comedy but the plot (from wiki) doesn’t sound very funny: “Two best friends – one a straight woman, Abbie, the other a gay man, Robert – decide to have a child together. Five years later, Abbie falls in love with a heterosexual man and wants to move away with him and Robert’s little boy Sam, and a nasty custody battle ensues.” What National and Historical issues would be raised by such a story? Note that TNBT was the final film by sporadically genius director John Schlesinger (Billy Liar, Darling, Midnight Cowboy, Day of The Locust). Presumably he lived a pretty full-blooded version of the ’60s and therefore might have had the odd good idea about how to use the track…

    Agree with ed@27 that a more radical, ‘Professional Widow’-style treatment was probably the way to go:
    3 (I’d probably give McLean’s original a 2)

  30. 30
    flahr on 14 Feb 2015 #

    “their records at the time are universally loved peak rock ‘n’ roll”

    Clearly not universally if your complaint is that Don doesn’t love them…

    (And if ‘at the time’ is 1972, Don is talking about Exile on Main St and I can only agree with him!)

  31. 31
    Mark M on 14 Feb 2015 #

    Beautiful Stranger is, I think, the last Madonna song I actually liked, and I think Tom is spot-on about it. Her American Pie, on the other hand, is not a good thing.

    Re27 etc: The ‘rock’s lost the plot’ line goes back at least to Nik Cohn’s Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, which was written in 1968, published in ’69: ‘Very soon, you’ll have pop composers writing formal works for pop choirs, pop orchestras; you’ll have pop concerts held in halls and the audience sat in rows, no screaming or stamping but applauding politely with their hands, you’ll have sounds and visuals combined, records played on something like a gramophone and TV set knocked into one, the music creating pictures and patterns; you’ll have cleverness of every kind imaginable.
    Myself, though, I’m not interested.’

    Cohn on Dylan: ‘How do I rate him? Quite simply, I don’t – he bores me stiff.’

    On Brian Wilson: ‘Musically, he has travelled a long way, most of it backwards […] The way he wrote car songs, so simple, so obvious but still so improbable, it was something like the way Muhammad Ali fights, Elvis moves, Brigitte Bardot looks sexy. [But then] Almost he was ashamed of pop. He got snob.’

  32. 32
    anto on 14 Feb 2015 #

    This was an early hint of just how suffocating re-makes and revivals in the terrible-idea-let’s-do-it-right-away fashion would become. It can’t escape its air of pointlessness – The original ‘American Pie’ might seem corny but it worked as a pop one-off so covering it just seemed like a careless whim carried too far. Madonna’s version is not terrible, but it’s not anywhere near strong enough to be convincing.

  33. 33
    wichitalineman on 14 Feb 2015 #

    Before AP, Phil Ochs had also being walking a line between folk storytelling, a love of 50s r’n’r, and a mild suspicion of Dylan. He went as far as wearing a gold lame suit on stage at the Carnegie Hall in 1970 and alienating most of his fans.

    It also should be remembered that the single of AP was three-and-a-half minutes, and unless you bought the album that’s what you always heard – the first verse unfamiliar to most listeners would have been “helter skelter in summer swelter…”

    Anyhoo, this version: I agree with Ed and others who say the lyric should have been severely pared back. I didn’t/still don’t really understand the point of it (apart from as a dare – which was a good enough reason to give it a go).

    The production sounds thin and prissy, not iconoclastic in any way. Madge doesn’t do anything with the tricksiness of the lyric, singing it all in her musical theatre voice (which had worked fine on the heftier Frozen). And that “60s-ish” guitar at the end of the chorus is pretty horrible.

  34. 34
    Mark M on 14 Feb 2015 #

    Re33: I had, this week, been pondering the relationship between Tape From California and American Pie – Tape From California also being a sprawling allusive folk-rock epic that speeds up and slows down. What I was struggling towards is whether I could make a solid case for Tape… while dismissing …Pie, other than well, I dig Ochs and not McLean. Tape… has a lot of dodgy lines (‘Madonnas do the minuet for naked millionaires’), although it also – more often that …Pie reverts to plain speaking (‘The landlord’s at my window/And the burglar’s at my door/I can’t take it anymore/I guess I’ll have to fly, it’s worth a try’).
    But that’s to overlook that I first got to know Tape… in a very different genre cover version that chopped out lots of the words, and made it very difficult to make out anything other than the super-urgent chorus, so I guess (as usual) I was drawn to the music rather than the lyrics. (Not to say I don’t love a lot of Ochs’ storytelling).

  35. 35
    swanstep on 15 Feb 2015 #

    @flahr, 30. I’ve always thought that ‘peak devil’ for Jagger was ’68-’70, roughly ‘Sympathy for The Devil’ through to the release of Performance, hence that that rather than Exile was what must be being called out by McLean. Anyow, I agree that Exile is much more open to criticism musically, whereas if someone thinks ‘the music died’ on any of the previous three albums, they just seem out of touch.

    @Mark M. 30. But, famously, Kohn hailed things like Beggars Banquet against White Album Beatles and ‘cleverness’. I tend to think Kohn scored some good points against late Beatles, and like him I prefer the Stones (and also VU and Led Zep and P.Floyd) at the end of the ’60s, but I also think his hyperbolic imagination carried him away: e.g., calling Abbey Road an ‘unmitigated disaster’ and George Harrison’s two songs on it: ‘mediocrity incarnate.’ Brilliant.

  36. 36
    swanstep on 15 Feb 2015 #

    @33,34. I much prefer Ochs to McLean. His stuff is usefully coverable too, e.g., Och’s Changes http://youtu.be/rlVfVBFdMaM vs Digits’ cover of a few years ago (which almost nobody heard, I’m its only youtube comment!).

  37. 37
    Tommy Mack on 15 Feb 2015 #

    Flahr et al, wasn’t there a school of thought at the time that Jagger personally carried a lot of the blame for Altamont after scuppering the concert’s original staging by giving away the location ahead of the agreed schedule?

  38. 38
    lonepilgrim on 15 Feb 2015 #

    Allegedly, it was the Grateful Dead who suggested that security for the show be handled by the local Hells Angels but the Stones took the blame because of their ‘Satanic’ image – and because the murder took place during their show. I believe that there were deaths at Woodstock but they weren’t caught on film and they didn’t fit the narrative of peace & love

  39. 39

    interesting that exile is coming in as a “road less travelled” on tom’s LP-listening thread, and apparently a net negative here: it’s probably actually my favourite stones LP (sometimes after between the buttons, sometimes before) and for years it was a prime crit-pick — it downplays jagger’s trolling and theatricality (or he’d began retreating from same), and it’s incredibly dense, a sustained suffocating impressionist fug of the dancemusic of the ugly places grown-ups hang out when they’re running away from adulthood (crappy bars & strip joints). its two predecessors (beggars banquet and sticky fingers) are organised round obvious poke-morality-in-the-eye highpoints — singles as literal devil worship — but both tend to fall off into noodly diffidence a bit away from the highlight (i think i’m arguing that light and shade, no bad tactic as a way to sequence an LP, does the non-highlight moments no favours on BB and SF: EoMS is certainly playing a difft game; i think its music is better, as well as more internally if less melodramatically varied, but it also gives you far fewer high-contrast routes in)

    (example: “shake your hips” is easily my favourite RS deep cut — i think it would seem a lot more flimsy and throwaway on BB or SF or even let it bleed, because the surround wd drain away a key element in its character)

    haha is this a kneejerk wire reviewer’s argument (it’s the NOISE-MINIMALIST SONICS d00ds) for what eventually collapses into the blobby gillespie aesthetic? I SAY NO but hmmmm —

  40. 40
    Mark M on 15 Feb 2015 #

    Re37/8: Yes, two people died at Woodstock, but there is a pretty significant difference between a smack overdose + someone being run over by a tractor on the one hand, and a man being stabbed by a member of a motorcycle gang being used to guard the stage.

    As I remember it, the implication in The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones, written by Stanley Booth who was on the 1969 tour (although not published until the ’80s), was that Jagger at that point was still desperate to maintain the Stones’ hip credentials and therefore allowed the band to be railroaded into headlining a hastily cobbled-together free festival, which ended up having a disastrous change of venue. The suggestion being that if Jagger had been truer to his capitalist self then tragedy would have been averted.

    It’s also true that Altamont is one of those events whose symbolic impact (IT”S THE END OF THE HIPPY DREAM) outweighs what actually happened there – ie a lot more people have died at other gigs.

    (As a parallel, consider another ‘where the ’60s went wrong event’ Ronan Point– four people died due to a gas explosion in 1968, which was considered enough by many to discredit high-rise living in the UK forever despite the fact that it wasn’t the first of many similar incidents and many people have died before or since in gas explosions in conventional houses).

  41. 41
    Tommy Mack on 15 Feb 2015 #

    One of the extras on the Gimme Shelter DVD is an audio recording from a San Francisco radio phone in from (I think) a couple of days after Altamont. Already, callers were discussing the events in Death Of The Hippy Dream terms. An eyewitness says Altamont was ugly from the start: people at Woodstock were helping each other through the mud, sharing food etc, people at Altamont were pushing through to get a better place etc. Read into that what you will.

    I wonder if Exile’s reputation has suffered as ‘rock album that has to be heard in it’s entirety to be appreciated’ has drifted downwards from signifier of artistic depth to unwieldy and impractical time waster with no obvious hits that can be pruned away for a playlist. I’ve listened to it twice I think and enjoyed it: sometimes I want big hooks, sometimes a sustained murky, sweaty groove is fine!

    Don McLean’s American Pie album is such a big part of my childhood that I’m incapable of being objective about it. The song American Pie probably is quite silly but I heard it regularly when most of my other favourite songs were actual nursery rhymes (28 years old I was, Stew…) so it seemed a beguiling, epic story: silly riddles don’t seem so silly when you’re four! Even the idea of him driving a pick-up truck was intriguing, let alone the jesters, Kings, Queens, marching bands, angels born in hell etc. I was disappointed with Madonna ‘s cover (not that I was a fan back then but I was no longer such a snob about pop so I was intrigued to see what she would do with it) – all she seemed to do was sap the energy from the song. I should listen again as I’ve not heard it for years.

  42. 42
    Ed on 15 Feb 2015 #

    Mark M @40 “Altamont is one of those events whose symbolic impact (IT”S THE END OF THE HIPPY DREAM) outweighs what actually happened there”

    Yes. Altamont symbolised the end of the hippy dream because something had to. Along with the Manson murders and the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison.

    Amusingly, I have seen lyrics explanation sites identifying “the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost” from AP as those three. I am sure McLean couldn’t bear any of them. If you think Dylan is excessively self-regarding relative to his talent and artistic contribution, you’re *really* not going to like The Doors.

    Swanstep @29: “nobody seriously blames the Stones for what happened at Altamont”

    Disagree. As well as the logistical issues and the use of Hell’s Angels mentioned above, I have also heard it argued (by Stanley Booth?) that the generally sour and aggressive tone of the Stones’ music at the time was in effect an incitement to violence.

    Listen to ‘Midnight Rambler’, for a start, and it is easy to see the point.

    IIRC, Ian MacDonald argued something similar with respect to the mean-spiritedness of some of The Beatles’ later work, most notoriously ‘Piggies’.

  43. 43
    lonepilgrim on 15 Feb 2015 #

    I would disagree that ‘that the generally sour and aggressive tone of the Stones’ music at the time was in effect an incitement to violence’. I think they were far more cynical about the efficacy of ‘peace and love’ and the ‘age of aquarius’ and on an occasion when they did fall for that agenda they became the scapegoats for the violence – although their music matched the actual mood more accurately than the other acts. The Grateful Dead walked away from the concert with their image as harmless hippies virtually intact despite being instrumental in recruiting the Hells Angels.
    I don’t think the Stones are a benign influence but their demonisation (particularly for this event) seems unwarranted.
    Picking up on the other thread, I AM a fan of Exile on Main Street. It works particularly well as a piece of mood music with lyrics slurred and obscured. There’s a Riot goin’ on works in a similar way for me.

  44. 44
    Tommy Mack on 15 Feb 2015 #

    The Grateful Dead also escaped blame for Altamont as they didn’t actually play due to scheduling issues and so appeared only briefly in the Gimme Shelter film (appearing pretty magnanimous by suggesting they forgo their slot to let the Stones play on schedule).

    Listened to Madonna’s American Pie. Christ it’s boring. Two and a half minutes in and it already felt twice as long as Don’s eight. Weird off-putting video too. Beautiful Stranger’s really grown on me though: I remember quite liking it then tiring of it’s radio ubiquity but there’s loads of killer hooks in there (the ‘you’re everywhere I go’ refrain especially). Pretty tame production for a psych-throwback number mind: updating the 60s surely doesn’t have to mean sanding ALL the rough edges off, does it? Terrible video too. Hate Austin Powers as a character though some laughs to be had in the movies.

  45. 45
    Izzy on 15 Feb 2015 #

    When I mentioned “a bad vibes band having a proper go at … good vibes” and the tension resulting (no.17 above), it was of course the Stones at Altamont that was uppermost in my mind. The Under My Thumb they were playing when *it* happened is actually rather warm and lovely.

  46. 46
    Tommy Mack on 16 Feb 2015 #

    Not words I assosciate with that song! I like it but as an early example of Jagger as Satan or at least as psychopath. It’s got to be one of the most chilling things in the Stones canon. What was the reaction to it at the time? Was it ‘he’s a bad’un Mick Jagger’ or was more just ‘yeah, that’s how you deal with a woman who’s getting out of hand’?

    EDIT: Wow, according to FT’s internal clock, I am posting from THE FUTURE!

  47. 47
    swanstep on 16 Feb 2015 #

    @Mark M, 40. Stanley Booth was the featured guest on Sound Opinions a few weeks ago: http://www.soundopinions.org/show/479/.

  48. 48
    Ed on 16 Feb 2015 #

    @46, @45 Yes! Lyrically, Under My Thumb is one of the least warm and lovely songs in the Stones’ entire catalogue.

    BTW, Izzy @17: I agree Led Zep’s (extemporised?) San Francisco is a wonderful thing.

  49. 49
    Tommy Mack on 16 Feb 2015 #

    45, 48: sonically, UMT is quite delicate but this underscores the creeping menace in the song to me.

    I keep getting the ‘you’re posting too quickly message’. Is that related to the faulty date stamp on my last comment or am I really using more than my fair share?

  50. 50

    last time i got the “you’re posting too quickly” it came after i hadn’t posted for several weeks so i’d take it with a pinch of salt: it’s a robo-message generated by the wordpress machinery and triggered by i don’t know what; certainly it’s not an editorial or admin comment of any kind!

  51. 51
    Mark M on 16 Feb 2015 #

    Re49/50: I tend to get that message when I’m trying to post from my phone…

  52. 52
    James BC on 16 Feb 2015 #

    Awful yet iconic singer covers iconic yet awful song. What could possibly be worse? U2 doing Imagine, I suppose. Imagine indeed.

  53. 53
    Fivelongdays on 16 Feb 2015 #

    Ooh, interesting thread.

    Blaming the Stones for the Altamont Murder reminds me of a band of bunnies who were blamed for rapists raping people at Woodstock 99 on the grounds that they (the bunnies) were loud and stupid. A bit daft, really.

    From what I can recall, Madge’s version keeps the stuff from AP that’s good and gets rid of all the pseudo cryptic thing, leaving it as a song about thinking about music and how it impacts on people. And isn’t that, ultimately, the point of this blog?

  54. 54
    Tommy Mack on 16 Feb 2015 #

    I’d say sporadically brilliant singer covers flawed but enjoyable song (as I’ve said, I’m biased here) What a shame it’s so limp and boring but yes, U2 doing Imagine. Shudder.

    Re: Sukrat’s thoughts on Exile, I’d also put Captain Beefheart’s The Spotlight Kid in the category of long slow-burning groove rather than stand-out tracks. Arguably much of Trout Mask Replica is doing this in a more sonically extreme fashion but only in the middle of the album, sides 1 and 4 are very much ‘this idea then this idea then this idea’. I think Tom talked about something similar in terms of songs rather than albums, as Pageturners or Doing It Doing It Doing It songs but the same model could equally be applied to longer musical forms

  55. 55
    23 Daves on 16 Feb 2015 #

    #48 – Once when I was in a hurry to plug some gaps in my Northern Soul singles collection for DJ’ing purposes, I snapped up a cheap copy of Wayne Gibson’s cover of “Under My Thumb”. I got it home, played it to remind myself of the general tempo and contents, then couldn’t bear to do anything else with it. The Rolling Stones version is one thing, but the joyous nature of the cover takes it into new realms of wrongness. Gibson’s version is ridiculously triumphant.

    I’ve still got it gathering dust in a box somewhere. It’s one of those records you’re supposed to keep to one side at certain mod/ Northern Soul nights in case anyone requests it, but in my experience, nobody ever actually does these days.

  56. 56
    Tommy Mack on 16 Feb 2015 #

    Not heard his version. The Stones’ original is so creepy, calculating and nasty that even in the 60s, I can’t imagine anyone hearing it as anything other than proto-Eminem ‘I am evil and you should fear me’ song but triumphal Northern Soul cover suggests otherwise I.e. At least some were thinking ‘serves her right, the haughty bitch’

  57. 57
    punctum on 16 Feb 2015 #

    Misogyny klaxon

  58. 58
    Tom on 16 Feb 2015 #

    I’m not seeing it, Punctum – seems a fair summation of the mindset of someone who’d like a triumphant version of Under My Thumb! Not an actual endorsement of said mindset.

    Mind you I think the Stones are being, at best, deliberately ambiguous in terms of whether they want you to hear that song as evil or justified – I think that’s “proto-Eminem” too, though. But we’ll have plenty of time for THAT conversation before long.

  59. 59
    Tommy Mack on 16 Feb 2015 #

    Yes, I’d hope that it was fairly obvious that was meant as critique of that mindset. I’d also agree The Stones revel in moral ambiguity, it’s one of the things that makes Jagger such a compelling performer but it does make UMT uncomfortable to say the least. What I am curious about is how the song was received at the tim: was it read as Jagger playing or even being a dangerous character or was it taken as ‘well, you’ve got to get tough sometimes’, an attitude which for the sake of disambiguation let me state, I don’t endorse but I could imagine being prevalent at the time.

  60. 60
    Elmtree on 16 Feb 2015 #

    Other Madonna cover I wish had got to the top instead of this: Massive Attack’s terrifying, needy, slow-burn version of I Want You. Really makes you wish they’d tried to write some original songs together.

  61. 61
    Ed on 17 Feb 2015 #

    @59 The 60s counter-culture was notorious for not paying much attention to women’s interests and opinions, so I think it’s quite possible that many Stones fans were uncritical supporters of UMT and the like.

    There was definitely some feminist criticism at the time, though. As described here: https://books.google.com/books?id=4pXsV06JjY8C&pg=PA161&lpg=PA161&dq=feminist+rolling+stones+under+my+thumb&source=bl&ots=njGlAoyGlF&sig=0mma7pAD_RrbeTJpQSkRYvzro8M&hl=en&sa=X&ei=9cviVLCRJ-vfsASU3ILoBw&ved=0CCwQ6AEwBjgU#v=onepage&q=feminist%20rolling%20stones%20under%20my%20thumb&f=false

    Charles Shaar Murray’s fantastic book Crosstown Traffic has a great chapter on sexual politics, arguing that while Jimi Hendrix may have been rooted in the blues, he managed to transcend its traditional misogynistic streak, in a way that the Stones did not.

    Joining the dots back to Tom’s My Own Private Record Club post, I guess that may be why Liz Phair thought Exile on Main Street needed an answer record.

  62. 62
    Martin F. on 17 Feb 2015 #

    #2 – Hard lines. I was rooting for your team this series even before I knew you were you. If you know what I mean.

  63. 63
    Tommy Mack on 17 Feb 2015 #

    Re: 61 Tori Amos did an answer record of a different sort: a dozen or so songs written by men about women, revoiced to give a female perspective but without changing the actual lyrics. I remember playlisting her version of The Stranger’s Strange Little Girl for my college radio station because I am a feminist crusader*. Most striking was a chilling version of Eminem’s Bonnie and Clyde 97 but as Tom says, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

    *it must have had an impact on me because I wrote a half remembered rip off that became an early General Khaki song but then we’re really getting ahead of ourselves there.

  64. 64
    Tommy Mack on 17 Feb 2015 #

    Addendum: Tori Amos’ covers album was called Strange Little Girls, nearly after the Stranglers cover that was it’s lead single (double A side with the Eminem cover iirc)

  65. 65
    Mark M on 17 Feb 2015 #

    Re2/62: Yes, hard luck. At least (as regards your credibility here), your pop knowledge was sharp enough.

  66. 66
    Cumbrian on 18 Feb 2015 #

    I find it interesting that the DM AP is “widely hated” – I obviously do not hang around with the cool kids. In my provincial backwater of a town, when I was a teenager in the mid-late 90s, there were a number of my contemporaries who really liked it, though generally more because of the tune and the singability of the thing, especially the edited version that excises all that stuff about jesters and fallout shelters. Then I went to university and a totally different set of people, from different parts of the country and different backgrounds, also seemed to really enjoy it when it got played at student club nights or what have you – again, the singability and the communal aspect of that part of it played well. Subsequently, I have found myself in a pub in Newport, South Wales, that used the DM version as the last song of the night and every one sang along to that too – a third group of people, not connected with the other two groups I had come across, also seeming to get along well with it.

    The connecting tissues seem to be that no one was that bothered about the message of what was being sung (and if they were it was the broken hearted teenager standing at the side of the gym looking on that they were probably connecting with, rather than some sort of slanted symbolic history of 60s rock music) and that all of the groups were made up of people from “uncool” parts of the country. Thinking about it, it chimes back with something I remember talking about on one of the Manics threads about their metal influences – kids in the provinces latch on to whatever, coolness doesn’t seem to come into it. If this is “widely hated” it certainly wasn’t by large groups of people who were my age.

    DM’s AP is thus, I think, alright. It’s catchy and melodic and easy to sing along to. I don’t much like the heavy handed historical parts of it and think it could have been a much better cinematic song about a sad sack kid who had the worst early February of his life (his heroes die, he loses the girl, presumably he loses his paper round too if he’s frozen to the door step and doesn’t deliver the rest of his bag) and left at that. But it does roll along well, just loose enough to rollick when required.

    All this by way then of saying that I totally agree with Tom’s review of the Madonna version, encapsulated in his penultimate graph. This is too mannered, too precise, doesn’t roll along enough to inspire the sing along moment. It’s just not loose enough and, perhaps weirdly given this criticism, it’s all a bit listless.

    Beautiful Stranger is excellent. Would have been far happier with that at #1 than this. Austin Powers operated to solidly diminishing returns though – there’s a good argument that Beautiful Stranger is the best thing about the series after the first film (indeed, it may even give that first film a run for its money).

  67. 67
    Mark M on 18 Feb 2015 #

    Re66: Must admit I thought I had almost no memory of The Spy Who Shagged Me – but it’s the one in which Mini-Me is introduced, so I suspect the first two films blur in my mind. Anyway, there was decent music throughout the series – I like the two (very different from each other) (unbunnied) Neptunes-produced singles from the third film: Beyoncé’s Work It Out and Britney’s Boys. And I remember when I saw the International Man Of Mystery enjoying the closing credits song, BBC, which is Myers singing with his expert ’60s pastiching mates (Matthew Sweet, Susanna Hoffs). Maybe it’s just Hoffs back in ’60s gear w/a Rickenbacker like very early Bangles that I’m a sucker for.

  68. 68
    wichitalineman on 19 Feb 2015 #

    Other new entries this week which Madonna kept at bay included N’Sync’s Bye Bye Bye at 3 (which is one place higher than it went in the US); Lene Marlin’s Sitting Down Here at no.6 (a very different Scandi production which is featherlight singer/songwriter pop but I’ve always been fond of, big Radio 2 favourite); and Honeyz’ Won’t Take It Lying Down at no.7, which sounds pretty good to me these days as adult UK R&B , passed me by at the time.

  69. 69
    Kinitawowi on 19 Feb 2015 #

    Always preferred Unforgivable Sinner to Sitting Down Here, myself. (And Finally Found – and End Of The Line – to Won’t Take It Lying Down.)

  70. 70
    weej on 20 Feb 2015 #

    I also grew up with DM’s version, and while I’m not going to defend it as some landmark in popular music, there are certainly good reasons that so many people liked it then and like it now, very few of which are captured in any textual analysis I’ve seen. Madonna’s version is pointless, an uninspired vocal over a collection of overused William Orbit scraps, not sacrilege but aimless recycling without any sort of spark. I can sort of see why they tried making it, but really not sure why they thought it was worth releasing as a single.

  71. 71
    Inanimate Carbon God on 20 Feb 2015 #

    “They Didn’t Read Books”

    1968 came too early for some, all the trendies feeling empowered
    1976 was a passage of rites, but we blossomed, we weren’t deflowered
    1984? Yeah, there were a few good people who wouldn’t drown in a Pina Colada sea
    1997? “Great, good fantastic Tony”, and Eurovision victory

    But was it something he said?
    Things only got better in the “funky” people carrier that was serenading you in the head

    They told the fortysomethings they’d be wild and free again
    How many years of hurt had passed since way back then?
    But how does Champagne Charlie spark the revival
    Of what they used to know and what used to be vital?

    Matt LeBlanc killed the greasy spoon café
    Vernon Kaye, our poet laureate
    But don’t go around blaming us
    We were told never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever to read books
    Never, never, never, never, never, never, to read books
    Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever to read books
    Never, never, never, never, never, never to read books

    Remember that song playing on the radio, “best footy anthem in the world ever”
    It’ll take you to heaven in a pint of Bombardier, but isn’t someone else saying “Gotcha?”
    We’ll never mind, we’ll come straight from behind like we did against the Armada
    But you’ll never win this war like your forefathers did, there ain’t no Nelson or Magna Carta

    But was it something that night?
    Three Lions on a shirt rubs me well into the dirt and flirt with ideas we’re always right
    (And would Churchill ever appear in a pizza ad?)

    Next year Teflon man makes someone’s dreams come true in Tickertape
    Doesn’t it remind you slightly of something from the pages of “Sugar Ape?”
    But hey, they were sure this bloke had swing and style to employ
    Like a kid let loose in a sweet shop who’s free to play with all these new toys

    But what if you’re one of the boys
    Who’s got the apparatus but can’t do the experiment because your soul’s been long-term unemployed?

    And now the fortysomethings are fainting on the telephone
    Someone you never knew met their end on the River Seine
    The Palace walls are paved with old punks and crocodile tears
    Show your real face – this country just makes you the sad Beefeaters
    Of this shiny new country you fear
    This shiny new country you fear

    We were told never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever to read books
    (Gallaghers, charmingly shameless)
    Never, never, never, never, never, never, to read books
    (Damon, sharp wit tourist)
    Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever to read books
    (Jarvis, thanks – you said no to the la-de-dah who wanted to slum it)
    Never, never, never, never, never, never to read books
    (‘Boyfriend’ by Ashlee Simpson? Once had Justine Frischmann. Suffered so much for her pop art)

    Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever to read books
    (50,000 kids can’t hold pencils – are you blameless?)
    Never, never, never, never, never, never, to read books
    (Shamed Charleroi vomit)
    Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever to read books
    (Now we all dress like scumfucks to be sexy and ironic)
    Never, never, never, never, never, never to read books
    (She frowns and views a yuppie flat that killed the Hacienda… aah!)

    Their cupboard contained seven types of pasta
    FIFA Road to World Cup and Encarta
    Winner Tacos, Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food
    A new 4×4 not driven north of Watford
    Girl power lime green T-shirts on your daughter
    But her “cute” pencil case said “Nutty Tart”, yeah
    Five years later, she’s the “Kappa Slapper”
    Wife’s run out of ideas, don’t want to know her
    Son’s failing exams but he don’t care
    Gotta crash ‘n’ burn when you’re going nowhere
    Wearing clothes, oh-so-chic misspelt F-words
    And now David Hasselhoff’s his Geoff Hurst
    Got digital TV, the latest rom-com
    Hugh and Julia in their London toytown
    Hamza, Izzadeen? Just turn the volume down
    And Daddy looked for a ‘niche career’
    Maybe a super freelance interweb designer
    But everyone else line danced or went to ‘gastropubs’
    Smalltown boys made good don’t come from yoga clubs
    Mum logged into Friends Reunited
    “Just catching up, a quick chat, don’t get too excited”
    And son’s home unexpectedly early
    Hears her scream “I wish my husband was this dirty”
    Opens the door, a casual married man
    Who takes away the pain of her oppression
    Of a country and a town that lost its passion
    Getting pissed, clenching its fist with no direction
    Reminds me of a few decades way back when
    A hot hot heatwave to break all the tension
    When the call centres closed, no explanation
    Getting beat up, blown up at the station

    You can always come back to it later

    Can you really come back to it later?

  72. 72
    Inanimate Carbon God on 22 Feb 2015 #

    In case anyone wonders what the hell I’m on about in my last post, they’re the lyrics from one of the songs I wrote for my never-to-be-formed band, “The Cutthroat Razors” back in summer 2006. Something about starting a new career/degree in a new town (Bristol) and thinking I could form the next Led Zeppelin. It didn’t work out. And this song was supposed to be a “Britpop elegy”, an American Pie for the naively optimistic 90s and more sinister 2000s. More background information here:


    For more

  73. 73
    Tommy Mack on 22 Feb 2015 #

    Good band name!

  74. 74
    Inanimate Carbon God on 23 Feb 2015 #

    Aye, cheers, just a shame we never actually formed, it was all just a concept in my own head and pages and pages of scattergun Manics/Clash-esque agit-pop lyrics. But one day, we might come to life.. one day.

    We were originally going to be called Cutthroat Island after the infamous pirate flick (IIRC one of the biggest film flops of all time.)

  75. 75
    ciaran on 27 Feb 2015 #

    American Pie felt like a milestone for me as a teenager in the same way as Stairway To Heaven or Bohemian Rhapsody did. Maybe it was the similar length of it and it’s re-release in 1991 brought it to a new audience again but I’m still baffled by its legacy.The only other thing I would have encountered like DM was James Taylor when he was in the simpsons back in 1994 offering his tuneful support to Homer in space.Even then I found the whole Good Old US of A bar ‘n’ country tinged shtick a bit of a turn off. Music for blokes in pubs with boots/check shirts and 7 or 8 bottles of beer a night.

    Madonna having a go at it was instantly something to be wary of and and just seems like a bit karaoke with Madge just passing the time away.Doesn’t suit her at all but thankfully there was slightly better ahead. I’m leaning towards a 3 myself.I dont mind Mclean as much as others but given the noted dislike of Don Mclean by the author I’m a bit shocked it got a 4.

    I liked beautiful stranger and its one of those songs that takes a while to get going but when it does it’s sheer joy. Wasnt that keen on the second Austin Powers after a magnificent first movie. Havent got round to the 3rd film but did like Work it Out. Suffered a bit in comparison to what Sasha Fierce did after……

    Its the records that were kept off the top by AP that give the most reasons to be annoyed with Madonna here. Bye Bye Bye would have been a terrific Number 1 (something of a stateside Five) and I even liked ‘Its Gonna Be Me’ later in the year. The success of JT helped the re-evaluation of N Sync for some I’d guess. Sitting Down Here was and still is another favourite of mine. Fell away rather quick afterwards but hear it quite a bit again as early 00s memories come back into fashion.

  76. 76
    Inanimate Carbon God on 28 Feb 2015 #

    True fact about @71: The lines from “Their cupboard contained seven types of pasta” were meant to be sung to the tune of a 2001 bunny (albeit at warp speed in an angry Joe Strummer voice). I’ll leave you in suspense as to which until we get to it!

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    Inanimate Carbon God on 1 Mar 2015 #

    I must admit I’m a bit shocked at the derision Don McLean’s original gets from the Popular cognoscenti-intelligentsia. Yes, the chorus is irritatingly nursery-rhyme and points a dog shit-strewn path down to Passenger, Mumfords, all that posh boy folk, and the clumsiest lyrics make “You’re about as easy as a nuclear war” look Shakespearean. However, it’s got so many factors that have earned some records here a “10” – jam-packed with hooks, a pithy but piquant take on its subject matter, a sheer determination to be iconic. (I know some get irritated by the latter, “nobody should aim to make an iconic, cult, this is the one-record”.. but the exact mentality was deployed in Dancing Queen and Come on Eileen. Is it because of the relative conservatism of McLean’s genres?)

    Maybe it’s the perceived pro-50s/anti-60s British Invasion/American imperialism/anti-Britishness allegation? But I tell you what, ending my perception music began in 1963 with phoney Beatlemania was probably the best thing I ever did, and in the last 12 months finally growing up not to consider Buddy/Elvis/Chuck/Little Richard/Eddie Cochran et al as “fogey music” (also with older films as well*) was one of the keys to understanding pop culture with some original substance and having something to bring to this blog’s particular table.

    Plus, “the song is too long” arguments will be deployed, but AP never seems to overstay its welcome with me, as you’re so carried away with the imagery. Maybe I like it because I wasn’t around at the time and for it to irritate me beyond belief as a “standard.”

    I don’t like Madonna’s version as it treats the cover version as phoning it in, not a noble art.. it brings nothing piquant to this particular table, and it’s depressing to see one of the most commanding pop stars of her generation who once could do anything she wanted, and get anything she wanted, take her foot off the gas and do a lip-service cover version totally out of context with what anybody needed from pop in spring 2000. And that toytown keyboard loop at 0:27 is hideous. The video apparently is less conservative and more inspirational but more discussions on Americanis(z)ation later, much more…

    * This time last year, watching James Dean’s performance in Rebel Without A Cause and Brando’s in On The Waterfront single-handedly saved me from running off and joining the circus.

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    Ed on 8 Apr 2015 #

    The BBC explains it all in a very reasonable BBC way: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32196117

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    coach handbags new 2015 on 28 Nov 2015 #

    There are diamond heart rings, gemstone heart rings and silver heart rings.
    coach handbags new 2015 http://coachhandbags.backpacks2015.com/

  80. 81

    […] to explode phallic blood vessels is more grossly nostalgic than “Blow Away.” Tom Ewing has a great write-up of Madonna’s “American Pie” cover on Popular (which you frankly should read instead of […]

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    Gareth Parker on 31 May 2021 #

    Again, Tom’s 4/10 seems fairly on the money.

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    TheGerkuman on 20 Oct 2021 #

    American Pie has always been a weird sell to the british, despite some of the referenced musicians being british, and Madonna didn’t really help. Regardless of whether you agree with Don’s takes, he at least lived them. What cataclysmic musical events has Madonna lived through?

    It’s a portent of her American Life album, but that’s for a different article.

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