Sunday, May 24, 2020

Don McLean - Chain Lightning (1978) + Bonus Tracks

(U.A 1965 - Present)
Born Oct 2, 1945 in New Rochelle, New York, where he grew up, Don McLean soon developed an interest in all forms of native American music, and when he left school in 1963 started playing in clubs as a folksinger - he has never held down a regular job.

From 1968 he made the Cafe Lena his home base, as it was through his connections with Lena Spender who ran the club, that he became the Hudson River Troubadour, playing to 50 communities along the river. Pete Seeger got to hear of these activities and invited McLean to sail with him on the sloop "Clear- water", which sailed down the river from South Bristol, Maine to New York City, carrying the message of ecological salvation to the river community about to be infected by industrial pollution.

McLean put together a book about this voyage, called "Songs And Sketches Of The First Clearwater Crew". By the time the book was published, McLean was working regularly, building a reputation for himself, and writing songs. He recorded a tape of his songs and spent over two years trying to negotiate record contract; eventually 'Tapestry' was released by a small company. It made a slight, though discernible impact, so that when the company folded his contract was bought-up by United Artists.

A young McLean singing "American Pie" 
The album 'American Pie' was issued in America towards end of 1971, and the title-song catapulted him to international fame. An elaborate allegory, it told the social and political history of a generation in terms of the rise and fall of its music, rock 'n' roll; it lasted over eight minutes, and has proved one of most outstanding singles of '70s so far.

Unfortunately for McLean the overwhelming success of that composition had tended to over shadow the rest of his career. Although his follow-up, also from the album, was a complete departure in that it was about the painter Van Gogh, and the song "American Pie".  "Vincent"  had some success of its own (reaching No. 12 in U.S., No. I in U.K., where it went one better than American Pie) nevertheless it is for Pie which he is best known in America.

The album, 'Don McLean', released late 1972 was all but ignored; it was a sombre and somewhat pained album as McLean, through songs like "The Pride Parade" and "Dreidel", tried to resolve the traumatic effects of his sudden elevation to stardom - certainly it showed him to be a genuine creative talent.

1973 was a great year for composer Don McLean and Don McLean the singer as Como Perry recorded "And I Love You So" from the "Tapestry" album and took it to the UK top-5 and American Top-30. As a Grammy nominated version, he was beaten by "Killing Me Softly with his song", sung by Roberta Flack and written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox apparently after Lori Leiberman had attended a McLean concert at Troubadour in Los Angeles.
[extract from The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia Of Rock, compiled by Nick Logan & Bob Woffinden. Salamander Books. 1977 p155]

The fourth album, 'Playin Favorites' became a top-40 hit in the UK in 1973 and included Buddy Holly's classic "Morne Mountains" and "Everyday", a live version of what Don returned to the singles chart from UK. McLean said: "The last album ('Don McLean') was a study in depression while the new one (" Favorites "Playin) is almost the quintessence of optimism, with a feeling of Wow, I just woke up from a bad dream ".

Throughout the 1970s, Don McLean remained a concertist in demand. In 1975, approx. 85,000 fans attended his London Hyde Park concert. 1977 saw a brief connection with the record label Arista, which yielded the 'Prime Time' album before, in 1978, Don's career started again in Nashville, where he would work with Elvis Presley's support singers, "The Jordanaires" and many of old Elvis musicians. The result was the LP 'Chain Lightning and the UK's No 1, "Crying". The 1980s saw further chart successes with more "Since I don't have you", a new recording of "Castes In The Ar" and "It's Just The Sun".

Don McLean performs onstage, Chicago, Illinois, November 10, 1978

In 1987, the release of the "Love Tracks" country-based album gave rise to the "Love in My Heart" hit singles (top-10 in Australia), "Cannot blame the destruction on the Train" (country USA # 49) and "Eventually" written by Terri Sharp.

Four years later, Don reached the UK top-10 with "American Pie", leading to many radio and TV appearances, including an hour and a special with Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio 1, and from the recording of the Manchester concert to the video release in 1993. The favorite memory for many fans is Don performing "American Pie" live on "Top of the Pops" in 1991.

In 1992, many new songs became available in 'Favorites and Rarities', while 'Classics Don McLean', presented new studio recordings of "Vincent" and "American Pie" (included here as bonus tracks). In 1994, Don appeared in the tributes to Buddy Holly in the US and London, and "Guns and Roses" was a replica of Don's version of "Since I don't have you" (Don's US top-20 hit in April 1981) for the UK top-10. 1995 and "American Pie 'back to the top-40, this time in" techno music format "performed by European artist, Just Luis.

In 1996,"Killing Me Softly With His Song", performed by The Fugees, was one of best selling singles of the year.

Don McLean credits his 1997 performance of the "American Pie" at the Central Garth Brooks' Concerto (attended by more than 500,000 people) as the start of his third career comeback. According to Don, his first "comeback" had been the release of "Vincent", and the second, the North American version and hugely successful "Crying".

"Brooks was accompanied on stage by two surprise guest stars, Billy Joel and Don McLean, who toppled the house with an acoustic version of "American Pie". (CNN, 1997)

Two years later, Garth Brooks repaid the favor, appearing as a guest special (with Nancy Griffith) on Don’s first ever American special, broadcast on PBS and now available as “

A month later, Don McLean ended the 20th century by singing "American Pie" for President Clinton at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC Gala.

In 2000, Madonna recorded a cover version of "American Pie", which at launch in the UK entered the singles list at number 1 and made the US top-30 on game points from the air alone. This prompted EMI to release a new "Best of Don McLean" CD that gave its first top Don-30 album stop in almost 20 years.

Even more surprising than Madonna's success with a McLean Don song, it was George Michael's decision in 2003 to record "The Grave" from the album's "American Pie" as a protest against the Iraq war. He recorded the song for MTV and performed live on Top of the Pops.

Don McLean continues to tour the world and release new material. In 2009 his latest studio album, "Addicted to Black", was released and in 2010 he returned to Europe for a seven national tour, including the Royal Albert Hall, London, on 7th May.   2011 saw another tour of the UK and Ireland, including a sensational appearance at Europe's largest festival, Glastonbury music.
2013 was a busy year touring North America and Australia and in 2015 Don broke his European tour record for number of concerts in one year.

Don McLean currently lives in Maine, on a 300-acre estate with his wife Patrisha and their two  children.  [extract from]

This post consists of FLACs ripped from my well played but clean vinyl and includes full LP artwork and label scans.   Chain Lightning is a fantastic album and with the exception of the last track (spoken lyrics) which I never could appreciate, every track could have been a single. The title track is definitely up there with American Pie and clocking in at just 7 and half minutes, it is just another indication that McLean is the master of  lengthy ballads.
As a bonus, I have also decided to include those 3 re-recorded versions  of "American Pie", "Vincent" and "And I Love You So" from 1992.
Track Listing
01. Words and Music
02. Crying
03. It’s Just the Sun
04. Lotta Lovin’
05. Chain Lightning
06. Your Cheatin’ Heart
07. Wonderful Night
08. It Doesn’t Matter Anymore
09. Since I Don’t Have You
10. Genesis (In the Beginning)
11. It’s a Beautiful Life
Bonus Tracks
12. American Pie (New Version 1992)*
13. Vincent (New Version 1992)*
14. And I Love You So (New Version 1992)*

* Sourced from the 1994 release Killing Us Softly: 25th Anniversary Album

Don McLean – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
James D. Capps, Ray Edenton – Acoustic Guitar
Tommy D. Alsup, Billy R. Sanford – Electric Guitar
Pete Drake – Pedal Steel Guitar
Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Chuck Cochran – Piano
Bobby R. Woods – Electric Piano
Bob “King” Moore – Bass
Jerry K. Carrigan – Drums, Percussion
Joseph E. Chrisman, Eddy Anderson – Drums
The Jordanaires – Background Vocals
The Nashville Strings.

Don McLean Link (344Mb)


  1. Thank you for this. I saw Don in a club a few years ago, and it was a bit lounge-y. He liked to do Elvis impressions, and the band wasn't tight. But as soon as he starts that great melody to "Vincent", you have to melt.