Don McLean began in folk music, performing free on behalf of Pete Seegers efforts to clean up the Hudson River.
His first album had been turned down by several labels because of his insistence on retaining his own publishing, but Tapestry '70 was issued on Media Arts, soon token over by UA; of the songs, "And I Love Her So" was covered by Perry Como for a top 30 hit in '73, while his performance of "Empty Chairs," inspired "Killing Me Softly With His Song" (written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox) a Grammy winner and a huge hit for Roberta Flack in '73.
His second album American Pie in '71 included the irresistibly catchy title track, said to have been inspired by the death of Buddy Holly, but also a sentimental song about America that could be embraced by everybody as the USA reeled from Vietnam and Watergate. The 8.5 minute track as a two-sided single was # 1 for four weeks and kept the album # 1 for seven weeks - even pulling McLean’s first LP into the charts. "Vincent/Castles In the Air" from the same LP was a # 12 hit and played daily in the entrance to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
His third album, Don McLean in '72 was a number 23 LP and included a top 30 song, "Dreidel"; Playin' Favorites in '73 got back to his folk/country roots and included a top-40 UK single "Everyday." Homeless Brother in '74 included "The Legend of Andrew McCrew,” a true story about a black hobo who died in 1913 and was exhibited in carnivals as a 'petrified man' and not buried until 1973. The two-disc Solo issued in '76 included all the hits and was followed by a switch to Artista for Prime Time in '77. He had hits again on the Millenium label-Chain Lightning in '81 included a # 5 cover of Roy Orbison's hit "Crying" and the top 30 hit "Since I Don't Have You." Believers in '82 included a new top 30 version of "Castles in the Air." Dominion in '83 on EMI/UK was a two-disc set made in concert at London's Dominion Theatre. Love Tracks in '87 was on Capitol and Classics, Headroom and The River of Love were on Curb CDs.
McLean was asked by President Clinton to sing at the Lincoln Memorial or New Year's Eve 1999 and attended the Founders Dinner at the White House honoring artists and industrialists. And in 2002, "American Pie" was named the fifth greatest song of the 20th century by the NEARIAA (after "Over the Rainbow," "White Christmas," "This Land is My Land," and "Respect.")