Sale of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ lyrics could reach $1.5m

Hand-written manuscript will ‘divulge everything there is to divulge’ about 1971 song

Songwriter Don McLean’s original manuscript of American Pie, one of the most iconic songs of its time, could fetch up to $1.5 million (€1.3 million) when it is sold on April 7th, auctioneers Christie’s said on Thursday.

The 16 pages of hand-written and typed drafts include notes and deletions for the recording that became a hit after it was released in 1971.

It was named a Song of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.

McLean (69), is among the most renowned singer-songwriters of his generation. He said he decided to sell the manuscript on a whim and has admitted the beginning of the more than eight-minute song is about the death of singer Buddy Holly, who died in a plane crash with Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson in 1959.


He has been elusive about the meaning of most of the lyrics, which has heightened interest and led to countless interpretations.

“I wanted to capture, probably before it was ever formulated, a rock-and-roll American dream,” McLean said. “The writing and the lyrics will divulge everything there is to divulge.”

Francis Wahlgren, the international director of printed books and manuscripts at Christie's, said American Pie holds an important place in the history of music.

“The fact that the drafts, the working process of it, are all being offered as this lot makes it a remarkable insight into the mind of Don McLean and into this incredible song that has touched so many people.”

Written in Cold Spring, New York and in Philadelphia, the six verses of American Pie reflects the social upheavals of the 1960s and early 70s.

“There is something about this song that captures the era of that period and there is a kind of innocence to it, a loss of innocence in America,” Mr Wahlgren said.

Bob Dylan’s lyrics for Like A Rolling Stone, which sold for just over $2 million at auction last year, set the record for a handwritten manuscript. It shattered the previous record of $1.2 million for John Lennon’s lyrics for A Day in the Life.

“We’ve seen records double or triple for manuscripts in a matter of years because there has been a heightened interest in those very rare and truly significant manuscripts that come on the market,” said Mr Wahlgren.