A a radio staple the world over, Don McLean’s American Pie captured listeners’ ears with a melodic journey that tells a story of America and, presumably, a loss of innocence that rocked the country at the time. of its release in 1971. But what the singer-songwriter was actually trying to convey has been the subject of debate for half a century, with generations of fans and critics dissecting every nuance of its running time. nine minutes. It’s a discussion that has extended into the current era, with the song and McLean himself, the subject of the new documentary aptly dubbed The Day the Music Died: American Pie.
American Pie isn’t the only song in the vast history of popular music that has been chosen word for word as if it were a biblical text. Examined for double, even triple meanings, these are the smash hits full of metaphors, allusions and allegories that rocked the charts and, as a result, became entrenched in culture.
Taylor Swift – Too Good
It’s the most recent example of a song with more layers than an onion, with fans happily separating each track. Taylor Swift’s 10-minute version of All Too Well, an epic soliloquy about a relationship going south that later culminated in a short film, sparked a flurry of discussion with Swift’s legion of fans trying to decode the track line by line. Was the song actually about the star’s real-life relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal? Which lines are fiction and which are fact? And what happened with his famous red scarf? After all, Swift has built her career on dropping hints, clues and riddles both in the form of lyrics and promotion to her rabid Swifties. As a result of the hype, last fall the track became the longest-running No. 1 hit in Billboard history.
Don McLean – American Pie
“I wanted to write a song about America, but I didn’t want to write a song about America like no one had ever written before,” says Don McLean in the aforementioned documentary, directed by Mark Moormann. This is exactly what MacLean did, although he did not seek to paint a rosy patriotic picture in the vein of George M Cohan. According to the song’s producer Ed Freeman: “To me, American Pie is the praise of a dream that didn’t happen. We have witnessed the death of the American dream.
While its lyrics center on the tragic February 1959 plane crash that claimed the lives of early rock stars Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens, listeners debated who and what else the song was about. has been around since the 70s. For starters: no, Janis Joplin wasn’t “the girl who sang the blues” and Elvis wasn’t the “king” that MacLean was talking about. According to Spencer Proffer, producer of the documentary: “Every time you listen, you think of something else.”
Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah
Ironically, the subject of another new documentary in the form of Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song, what has become Leonard Cohen’s trademark track has captivated listeners with a seemingly sacred quality that gives the song a deep resonance. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that Cohen first studied poetry and literature before his towering music career, with the song’s lyrics reading like a rich romance, complete with references to biblical characters ( David and the Lord) and modern allusions (including tying himself to a kitchen chair).
This is another highly controversial musical Rorschach test. Christians who adopted the song as their own might be surprised to learn that Cohen was actually deeply passionate about his Jewish faith. “The word Hallelujah appears across religions and faiths,” explained author Alan Light, who wrote a book about the song. “People get out of it what they need and want it to be. I think that’s why it’s played everywhere, from weddings to funerals and births.
Beyoncé – Lemonade
As the world patiently awaits the release of Beyonce’s seventh studio album Renaissance this Friday, one can’t help but recall the conversation and speculation surrounding her fifth. Part faith-based therapy session, part rumination on modern culture, politics and racism, the artistry of 2016’s Lemonade shook the world who combed through each of its 12 acclaimed songs, lyric by lyric.
Conceived as both an audio and a visual album, listeners and critics have unpacked everything: personal allusions (like the mysterious identity of “Becky with the beautiful hair” in Sorry, the woman who would have been the mistress of Jay Z), to its political and social character (the anthem blowing the minds of countless political pundits and the song thus becoming an instant protest anthem). No wonder Lemonade’s entire layers are still considered the singer’s best.
John Lennon – Imagine
One of the most acclaimed and most performed songs in music history is also the most misunderstood. The most successful single of John Lennon’s solo career, Imagine is played during times of tragedy and triumph and has been discussed and dissected as a patriotic ode and a spiritual testament since its release in 1971. Even President Jimmy Carter is once went so far as to note, “You hear John Lennon’s song Imagine used almost on par with the national anthems.
Carter himself might be surprised to learn that Lennon once described the track in no uncertain terms as being downright communist: “‘Imagine there was no more religion, no more country, no more politics’ , it’s practically the Communist Manifesto, even though I’m not particularly Communist and don’t belong to any movement,” he once said. to take potential meanings under the microscope, or worse, to insert their own. According to Lennon: “The world church called me once and said, ‘Can we use the lyrics of Imagine and just change to “Imagine a religion”?” This showed me that they had understood nothing at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.