Wednesday, September 9, 2015

TMFW 105 - Madonna's "Mystical and Sensual" Slice of American Pie

Don McLean's magnum opus "American Pie" is about as good as it gets.  As this Atlantic piece suggests, the song inspires a "ridiculous reverence" among listeners of a certain age (though my kids love it equally), and it has more than one website entirely devoted to deciphering the 8+ minute tune.  Going further, Google results for "American Pie meaning" are rife with content, including entries on and, a detailed writeup by the Southern Wisconsin Railcar Group (?!?) and even a video essay by the once-ubiquitous blowhard commentator Glenn Beck.
On its initial release in 1972, the song reached #1 in the US and stayed there for four weeks.  But it only hit #2 in the UK.  That brings us to today's TMFW: 28 years after Don McLean failed to achieve a UK #1 with "American Pie," Madonna covered the song and got there herself.
(NOTE: maybe you will say "a cover song is not a sufficient subject for TMFW."  But (1) screw you man, it's my blog, and (2) did you honestly know that Madonna covered this song, much less had a #1 hit with it?  I had no idea!)

Madonna's dance-club version of the song comes in at only 4:30, and cuts out three and a half of the six original verses.  Though TMFW typically refrains from saying mean things about its subjects, I will make an exception to offer the opinion that the cover is terrible, horrible garbage.  Ms. Ciccone - who has no shortage of good music in her catalog - sounds like she is bored out of her mind, and the lyrics just rumble right on by, in one ear and out the other.  Given the source material, it's actually quite remarkable how bland it is.

Notably, Don McLean disagreed with that assessment: a contemporaneous article reports that Mr. McLean considered her version to be both "mystical and sensual" and "a gift from a goddess."  And as noted above, though the song hit only 29 on the US Hot 100, it was #1 in the UK for a week in March 2000 and hit #1 in an additional 7 countries.

There's no accounting for taste, it seems.  This week's TMFW is proof.


BONUS FACT:  Today's fact was inspired by TMFW 103's "third time's a charm" story of "Take on Me."  That's because Madonna wasn't the only artist to hit #1 in the UK in 2000 with a watery cover of a classic song.  The Norwegian-British boy band A1 did a cover of "Take on Me" that reached #1 in September of that year.  (Though it was #1 in 12 countries, the original by A-ha only made it to #2 in the UK.)  As we saw in TMFW 46's story of the girl group Vanilla, the late '90s/early '00s was a weird time for British pop music. 

BONUS FACT 2:  One more data point for what a strange year 2000 was for British music: the #1 selling single of the whole year was a blown-up version of the cartoon character Bob the Builder's theme song "Can We Fix It?"


BONUS FACT 2.75:  After their big chart success, the Bob the Builder people put out a whole record of music.  The follow-up single to "Can We Fix It?" was a re-written version of (TMFW 43 subject) Lou Bega's "Mambo #5."  I almost literally cannot believe this, but that song also hit #1.  Bob the Builder had two #1 songs in the UK.

BONUS FACT 2.875:  Bob the Builder was not the only cartoon character to make an adapted cover of "Mambo #5."  Lou Bega himself did a version of (and video for) the song built around Disney characters.  (The song changes the "liquor store" around the corner to the "candy store," swaps out "gin and juice" in favor of "ice cream," starts the refrain with "a little bit of Minnie in my life, a little bit of Mickey by her side," and features the not-forced-at-all line "Huey, Dewey, Louie, can't go wrong.")

BONUS FACT 3:  My kids have recently, to my great delight, discovered the music of "Weird Al" Yankovic.  Here's Mr. Yankovic's parody of "American Pie:" a 5+ minute retelling of the Star Wars: Episode I story called "The Saga Begins."

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