First Hit #1: January 15, 1972
Don McLean intended to write a tribute to Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, and the day they died in a plane crash. I fully believe this was the purpose of the song, and it lasts for an entire chorus before the song goes off in a completely bizarre direction. The famous chorus is utter nonsense – what does driving a Chevy to a levy have to do with anything? – and there’s this bizarre melding of nostalgia and allegory that goes completely off the rails relatively quickly. You can sort of get what he’s doing, and it’s possible to pick out bits and pieces of music and world history that inform the lyrics, as McLean breezes through it not overly concerned with whether or not the lyrics make sense as a whole. It’s clever, but it’s the exact opposite of a timeless song, since each year that goes past 1972 it makes a bit less sense, as McLean’s references and allusions retreat further into the rear view and it becomes increasingly difficult to get a handle on what he’s talking about. Clearly, back then, it made a lot more sense – inspiring Killing Me Softly, a much better song, which also indicates there is some personal significance to what is being sung if you’re living in the ’70s. However, like the love of chartreuse, mustaches and custom vans, things that made sense in the ’70s don’t always make sense decades later.