By Mack Samples|
Back in 1971 a guy by the name of Don McLean released an album entitled American Pie. The signature cut from that album was “The Day the Music Died.” That song has
been recognized as one of the best five of the century by a band of critics, all of whom are much brighter than I. Their rationale for choosing the song for such an august position was that it captured what was going on in America during the 1950’s and 1960’s on the political and social scene better than any other.
The critics surmised that McLean captured the moments when America morphed from the happy, prosperous, feel good decade of the 1950s into the cynical, anti-American, protesting years of the 1960s. I would not, for a moment, argue with that because the song does indeed capture that transition. But if you go back and revisit the title to the song (The Day the Music Died), I think McLean captured much more than that. You might love it or hate it, but what the previous generations called music did indeed die during the 1960s.
For several centuries music consisted of melody, rhythm, and time. In order for something to be called music you had to have a melody. And, the melody was set to a particular pattern of rhythm and time. It was either two-quarter, three-quarter(waltz), four-quarter, or a few more exotic count patterns, most of which were ushered in by the Latins.
When the Rock ‘n Roll revolution hit in the mid-1950s, music went through a change to be sure. But it still had a melody and, even though the beat was different, there was a definite pattern to it. Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, The Platters, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley definitely brought us a new brand of music. But it still had a consistent beat and it still had a melody. Also, people could still couple dance to it, like people had danced for untold centuries. The step was different but the guys still hung onto the girls. Even the Beatles, who took Rock ‘n Roll to a new level during the mid-1960s, still maintained a melody. In fact, they produced some beautiful melodies in tunes such as “Norwegian Wood.”
But during the late 1960s, when America pretty much went crazy, what started to pass for music had none of the basic essentials of what was once defined as music. Bob Dylan could not carry a tune, but he became a living legend on the music scene. More and more, the melody began to disappear. It got even worse after McLean wrote the tune.
If you listen closely to most modern music, whether it be country or pop, there is usually no melody. There are just uttered phrases with background music. There is never an instrumental break that plays the melody between verses of the song….because there is no melody to play. Worse, the uttered phrases are lame to say the least, sometimes laced with vulgar words. (I know, I know, Little Richard was also guilty of some bad lyrics and screaming instead of singing, but he was an aberration during the 1950s).
I think Don McLean not only recognized what was going on in society, but he also recognized what was going on with music during the tumultuous decade of the 1960s. He recognized that music was changing and would never be the same. In other words, it died.
I also think McLean recognized that religion would never be the same when he wrote those closing lines to the song: “The three men I admire the most, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, have caught the last train for the coast, the day the music died.”