Though Don McLean is mostly remembered for his 1971 hit “American Pie” — the iconic single that turned 50 this year — McLean has not followed the path of a typical one-hit wonder. Though he never matched the success of “American Pie,” he has continued to write and record music over the last half century, scoring a handful of minor hits in addition to maintaining a healthy touring schedule.
McLean makes a stop 7 p.m. Friday, July 2, at The Ocean City Music Pier. We spoke with him recently about what he has been up to, why he still tours and why he isn’t much of a fan of modern music.
Ryan Loughlin: What initially made you want to become a musician?
Don McLean: Well, I could sing when I was very little, and I was always being trotted out to sing by my mother, who was always encouraging me. My father couldn’t have cared less though. I wasn’t much of a student or an athlete, but if I sang something in the choir, everyone would remember the next day. So it made me realize that I had something different and nice.
RL: What makes you want to keep performing after so many years?
DM: I just like the idea of moving and seeing things, and I have a desire to be out in the world. Having sat for a year and a half without being able to travel confirmed for me that I will die on stage. I made the most of it (the pandemic), but I don’t want to do that again, so I’m going to find a way to always keep working.
RL: When you first wrote “American Pie,” did you ever expect it to have the staying power or the effect on your career that it has had?
DM: I didn’t think I would be around the next year. I was always ready for the worst. I was brought up that way. My parents were older than the other parents, and they had been through the depression and wars and things. They weren’t the kind of people to fill their children with hope by saying, “You’re the greatest,” and “You can do anything!” It was the opposite – they would say, “You can’t do that, don’t even try. Get a REAL job!”
RL: As a songwriter, do you feel as inspired now as when you started?
DM: Well, I’ve got a new album out of all new songs, so I hope that answers that question. It took me a while to get started, but once I did, things went smoothly.
RL: You were quoted in an interview last year as saying that today’s musical groups don’t know how to write melodies. Isn’t it a little unfair to write off an entire generation of songwriters?
DM: Oh yes, it’s very unfair. And I apologize for all of my failings, but one failing that I don’t have is to say something that I don’t mean. If I heard something that suited me, I would jump up and down, but I just haven’t.
RL: Do you listen to a lot of modern music?
DM: Oh, you can’t get away from it! I have a girlfriend who is 27, and I hear it all the time. But I don’t hear anything that matters much. Although the performance, the stagework and the instrumental abilities have become phenomenal. Way better than anything we ever knew, or that I know now. But it’s the vehicle that’s the problem. It’s like having all these great actors on stage but not having (a great play like) “Death of a Salesman” to show you what they can do. The vehicle is missing. And I wish it weren’t that way. I thought things would go in the other direction and become more sophisticated, more poetic and more melodic, but they haven’t.