Don McLean, the man behind the smash hit “American Pie,” dislikes modern music, arguing that it reflects the “nihilistic” nature of Western society.
The 74-year-old folk rocker made the remarks during an interview (seemingly shot around Christmastime, but only uploaded this month) with Tom Cridland on Cridland’s “Greatest Music of All Time” YouTube program. I watched the interview while trying to get through to a 1300 number in Australia.
For McLean, music and politics are inextricably linked.
“Music and politics … flow forward parallel,” McLean said. “So the music reflects the politics and the politics reflects the music.”
So if politics goes into the gutter, music follows it.
“Now you have a kind of politics that is almost non-political, it doesn’t really mean anything,” he continued. “And the music doesn’t mean anything. The music reflects the spiritual nature of the society. We have a kind of nihilistic society now. No one believes in anything, no one likes anything, no one has any respect for anything much. And the music shows that. And the guy who is in the White House shows that.”
McLean was then asked about the quality of the music on the radio today.
“It doesn’t exist as far as I can see,” he answered. “Music is not on the radio. There is some form of music like sound, but it’s not music.”
As an example he cited an old TV show called “Name that Tune,” on which contestants had to identify songs as quickly as possible. In the ‘50s, he said, a song was instantly recognizable—you knew what it was after a few notes. Not so today.
“There is nothing on the radio [now] you can name in 20 notes. There is nothing there. It’s a single note, or it’s three or four notes repeated over and over again, with a chorus that’s done over and over until it’s drummed into your head or it makes you want to hang yourself. But it’s not a hook.”
“And the lyrics are not about anything much,” he added. “It’s very vague and vacant.”
Having said that, McLean believes that, while people no longer understand how to write melodies, “the quality of playing has gone way up.”
“The playing and the record-making are just phenomenal. Guitar-playing, drumming, bass-playing, man, I mean, that’s gone through the roof.”
As McLean sees it, the decline of American music began when Jack Kennedy was assassinated. That’s when “America lost its way” and people ceased to believe in anything.
“I think the most we can hope for is that if something happens we start to believe in each other a little bit more, and maybe that will be what happens,” he said.
Perhaps the coronavirus is that “something.”
Released in 1971, “American Pie” topped the US charts for four weeks. In 2001 the Recording Industry Association of America named it the 5th best song of the 20th century.