On Nov. 27, 1971, Don McLean’s eight-minute, 27-second anthem about the day the music died first broke through the top 100 Billboard chart.
Six weeks later, “American Pie” ascended to the top spot in the nation, spending the next month at the No. 1 position, and carving out a place in pop music history and Saratoga Springs legacy.
McLean was one of Caffe Lena’s own prodigies, performing regularly at the little second-floor coffeehouse on Phila Street.
“Lena was my good friend and she was wonderful to me in the ’60s when I had no money. She was always out to help me and everybody else for that matter,” McLean said earlier this week.
Shortly after graduating from Iona College in 1968, the singer-songwriter turned down a scholarship to Columbia University Graduate School in favor of becoming resident singer at Caffe Lena.
“He was known around the coffeehouses at the time, but that was pretty much all,” recalled Jim Staley, who worked as a doorman at the Tin & Lint in 1970 and is the bar’s current owner.
Inside the Caroline Street bar, the wood booths are inscribed with the initials of one-time patrons who have passed through its doors during the past 40 years. Its most notable feature is a gold-faced plaque, fading with age, which resides over one of the middle tables and reads: “American Pie, written by Don McLean, summer 1970.” …
“Was the song written in Saratoga Springs? The answer is no. The song was written in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” McLean said.
He also clarified that the first time the song was performed on stage was not at Caffe Lena, but at Temple University, where he was billed to perform with Laura Nyro. … “Unfortunately Caffe Lena or Saratoga Springs – neither of those places can lay claim to anything with regard to 'American Pie.’ ” … the Don McLean story has yet to be completed. The singer-songwriter continues to tour the stages of the world and issue recordings of his work. He very much still has his voice.
“It makes you wonder about history,” McLean said, regarding the tales of the origins of “American Pie” that have circulated for the past 40 years.
“If I can’t stop little things about a song I wrote that are incorrect, how can anyone believe history in general?”