My Record Collection 150

Don McLean – a true giant in the pantheon of modern song.  A bit of a loner, quite a shy man who was seemingly introspective in his song-writing at times.   He came to prominence in the early Seventies in the rush of singer songwriters who emerged out of the Sixties.  A brilliant guitar and banjo player he was a folkie to begin with and a bit of a protest singer too.  He had toured with Pete Seeger and was an accomplished performer.  Like most people I first heard the song and album American Pie, and then went back and bought his first album Tapestry (1971).  And what an album, what a debut – the songs so good, so perfect, and the playing, singing and production immaculate.   The lead-off song ‘Castles In The Air’ is almost as good as anything he would write later. ‘And I Love Her So’ was covered by so many artists, including Sinatra.  But really all the songs are good…I especially love ‘Magdalene Way’ and ‘Circus Song’.  A very excellent record.  Followed and surpassed by American Pie the following year – though these songs had been written a few years earlier.  Well, what can you say about the title track and huge single – it is one of the classic songs of the Twentieth century – and at 8 and a half minutes an incredible listen.  It is still enduringly popular and has been covered even by Madonna. But it isn’t even the best song on the record.  Nor was follow up single ‘Vincent’ which was also a huge hit.  My favourite songs are ‘Empty Chairs’ and ‘Winterwood’ -but like its’ predecessor, there is not a poor song on the record. So, two in a row – where could Don go after this.  Well, inwards was the answer.  That difficult third album Don McLean was quite introverted really – despite the mood lightening ‘Narcisssma’ and ‘Amazon’ the album deals with sadness and loss really.   My favourite songs are ‘Oh My, What A Shame’, ‘The More You Pay’ and ‘Bronco Bill’s Lament’.  Another excellent record, though I did wonder why album number 3 should be self-titled – but it was maybe the record company’s idea.  Anyway, Don was pretty established by now and we all looked forward to album number 4. But we all expected another album of brilliant self-written compositions, a bit of protest maybe.  But nobody was prepared for this album of very old songs played on banjo and guitar in a more or less traditional style.  It was called Playin’ Favourites – and was just that; Don playing a few old songs he had always loved.  The critics and most of his fans didn’t understand why he was almost alienating his hard-won audience.  But actually, it is a delightful, if quite different sort of album.  It is now actually a bit of a collector’s item and is hard to find on CD or indeed even on vinyl. Best tracks – ‘Mountains of Mourne’ and ‘Fools Paradise’,  Don returned somewhat to his original style with Homeless Brother (1974) his fifth album in 5 years….but really this was not my favoutite album of his.  I felt that he was drifting into a more middle of the road territory, apart from the title track and lead-off song ‘Winter Has Me In Its Grip’, I am not enamoured with the rest.  Then Don had a three years break and changed record companies.  He returned in1977 with a zinger Prime Time, one of his best.   The title track is about as close to a rock number as Don ever got, and it really rolls along.  There is a sort-of protest song ‘The Statue’ about immigrants and how they’re no longer welcome.  There is a humourous song ‘Building My Body’ and a couple of tender ballads – and my very favourite ‘The Pattern Is Broken’.  A very good album.  For some reason I stopped buying his albums around this time; my only defence being so many other artists I was following.  But lately I bought a 3 cd box set with his next 2 albums on it.  Chain Lightning came out in 1978 – and it seems only half an album; half the songs are originals and the others are standards, which Don sings mostly in a Fifties Doo-Wop style, complete with backing by The Jordanaires.  A syrupy sort of album, not that it is really bad, but veering far too close to the middle of the road.  One song is so religious too that it almost weeps with divinity.  Don’s voice is sumptuous but the edge seems missing completely.  He speak-sings one song ‘It’s A Beautiful Life’, and does a beautiful cover of Roy Orbison’s (see O) ‘Crying’ which was a number one hit.  The long title track is quite good, but hardly up there with his very best – so – a disappointment.  Even worse really was Beleivers  (1979) half the songs are standards with nothing to really warrant their inclusion.  Apart from that, only ‘Sea Man’ bears any faint resemblance to his classic stuff.  He seems to have lost it.  However he has continued to churn out albums, mostly of old hits by others; I have just one For The Memories which is pretty dire stuff I must say.  But let us finish with the wonderful Greatest Hits which concentrates rightly on his early songs.  I have seen him live where he likewise sung his early hits and he was great.  Anyway, a great talent whoi seems to have run out of ideas – or just decided to make money with recording old songs by others.  Who knows?

Don McLean American Pie – The True Story | Best Classic Bands