Don McLean's American Pie.
"Except to acknowledge that he first learned about Buddy Holly's February 3, 1959 death when he was folding newspapers for his paper route on the morning of February 4, 1959 (the line 'February made me shiver/with every paper I'd deliver'), McLean has generally avoided responding to direct questions about the song lyrics, such as saying, 'They're beyond analysis. They're poetry.' He also stated in an editorial published in 2009 on the 50th anniversary of the crash that writing the first verse of the song exorcised his long-running grief over Holly's death."
I first heard this song as a small child. I had the 45 record, and perhaps still do have it somewhere, and played it often. The meaning of the lyrics were a mystery to me back then, partially because of cheap speakers that didn't bring them through clearly enough, and now that I have access to better sound the lyrics are still somewhat mysterious.
We often speculated at the time that the song was about the assassination of JFK, based mostly on the first verse.
The song American Pie is literally about the death of rock and roll, a 1950s cultural phenomenon which, in the song, is purported to have ended with the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Vallens, and the Big Bopper in a plane crash on Feb 3 1959. While these three rock n' rollers are not specifically named in the song, they are represented by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
American Pie has some obvious religious overtones. In the song, there is an epic battle between God and Satan in which Satan wins. There are some subtle references to The Rolling Stones (and particularly Mick Jagger) as represented by Satan. (Jagger never could catch a break, and a lot of this is due to his own bad behavior.) The comparison between rock and roll music and religion starts with this lyric:
Did you write the book of love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?
Now do you believe in rock and roll
Can music save your mortal soul
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?
In the next verse, 10 years have passed, meaning it is now 1969.
Now for ten years we've been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin' stone
This introduces the first reference to the Rolling Stones and their great success in the post-rock and roll era.
The next 2 1/2 stanzas remain a mystery to me. McLean takes us back in time again (But that's not how it used to be); there is a reference to James Dean, another great who died a tragic young death, and a coat he supposedly wore (the Biblical coat of many colors?).
The "jester" of the king and queen's court borrowed James Deans' coat and then stole the king's crown. Nothing was done about this deceitful act (No verdict was returned); there are some speculations online that this refers to the search for a JFK assassination conspiracy (was there more than one gunman?), but that interpretation takes us out of the musical realm and doesn't cohere well with the rest of the lyrics.
As for this:
"And while Lenin read a book on Marx
A quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died"
it is a possible reference to the Beatles "quartet," with "Lenin" equated with [John] "Lennon" who was commonly thought to be involved with Communistic thus anti-American, thus anti-American Pie, ideals. But that's not to say McLean was claiming there was a Communist conspiracy to overthrow rock and roll. It is just a reference to the anti-American values of the 1960s era coincident with the Socialist leanings of the hippie movement.
The next two stanzas state:
"Now the halftime air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance
Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?"
This is a reference to the new Rock music that can't be danced to, at least not in terms of the old-fashioned sock hops of the 1950s. The 'sergeants' MAY be a reference to the Beatles album "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." The "sweet perfume" is commonly thought to be a reference to the 1960s drug culture and the Beatles' drug use. But while these ideas are coherent with the rest of the lyrics, the truth of the matter here is unknown. Whatever the meaning behind the symbolism of the allegory represented in these two stanzas, it represents the struggle between the forces of Good and Evil seen throughout the song and which is becoming even more intense as the song progresses.
I like the Beatles, and even though they are not represented in this song as the ultimate evil (the Rolling Stones), they definitely played a major role in making the Rolling Stones possible, both historically and figuratively.
The next three stanzas represent the dramatic emotional climax of the song; it is a great work of genius in its symbolical references:
Oh, and there we were all in one place
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again
So come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
'Cause fire is the devil's only friend
Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan's spell
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died
The character Jack Flash is an obvious reference to the Rolling Stones song Jumpin' Jack Flash. A Rolling Stones rock concert is represented as a Satanic ritual. I leave it up to my listeners to root out the homosexual (anti-American and anti-Christian in that day and age) symbolism referencing Jaggers' homosexual affairs (e.g., Pete Townshend).
The final three stanzas are a slow, sad dirge to the victory of the forces of Evil against the forces of Good.
I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn't play
And in the streets, the children screamed
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken
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