McLean closed his influential 'American Pie' album with a haunting psalm.
In 1971 Don McLean released his influential album American Pie. The album rocketed to the #1 spot on Billboard thanks to the epic title track and “Vincent,” a touching song inspired by Van Gogh’s masterpiece “Starry Night.” The record is filled with memorable melodic lines, but it is often overlooked that he closed this masterpiece of an album with a psalm.
By the rivers of Babylon
there we sat weeping
when we remembered Zion. – Psalm 137
McLean left the lyrics largely unchanged, but he did add repetitions of some of the words for emphasis and to better fit the melody, which is haunting and perfectly suited to Psalm 137. In order to better illustrate the sorrowful elements of the lyrics, McLean accompanied himself with just a banjo, which trudges through the song with a constant yet simple rhythm.
In the live version, featured above, McLean brings this hymn to life by encouraging the audience to sing along in a round. He splits the crowd up into three parts and by the end of the recording all three lines of the psalm are sung in unison, making it sound almost like a completely different song.
It is interesting that McLean was only accompanied by a single stringed instrument. It is reminiscent of King David, composing his psalms on a four-stringed lyre. It is possible that this Don McLean adaptation is closer to the original sound of David’s lyre-driven song than any other.