About the Songwriter

 

About the Songwriter, continued

Emerging from this dark period, McLean broke loose with his next album, 1973's Playing Favorites—a buoyant collection of rock 'n' roll, traditional folk, cowboy and blues tunes by other writers. In top voice and exuberant spirit, McLean seems to be genuinely enjoying himself, as if freed from whatever demons American Pie had held him captive. A fine collection too, ably supported once again by the talents of producer Ed Freeman.

1974's Homeless Brother was a collection of new original compositions, and contains some memorable moments: "Wonderful Baby" evokes the style of the old tin pan alley songwriters, to wonderful effect; "Homeless Brother" is reminiscent of the social conscience he displayed on the "Tapestry" album a few years earlier, and seems carefully written; and "The Legend of Andrew McCrew"—the true story of a legless hobo whose mummified remains made the carnival circuit in the early 20th century—is both wry and thoughtful. But overalll the album is something of a disappointment, overproduced and lacking much of the understated power and poignancy of his previous work.

1975 saw the release of Solo, an album of live performances recorded in England, where McLean enjoys a more stable fan base. Solo captures the golden years of his career and the magic of his early live performances, where his wit and irreverence were most in evidence. His guitar skills were at their peak here too, as can be heard in his cover of Josh White's "Where Were You, Baby." His skills as a performer are best displayed in his cover of the old spiritual "Babylon," drawing his audience in to participate in a three-part round of the song—to moving effect. Solo showcases McLean as the gifted live performer that he is, and is well worth the price of admission.

The years since have found McLean in and out of the spotlight, quietly producing cover albums interspersed with original work every few years. The occasional hit would also emerge: his 1980 cover of Roy Orbison's Crying made it to the top 10 in America, followed by chart successes with Since I Don't Have You and Castles in the Air (a re-recording of the opening cut from the Tapestry album) that same year; and on the country charts, with He's Got You and You Can't Blame the Train in 1987. But his later work has seldom achieved the lyrical artistry and originality of his early United Artists days (a catalogue which he euphemistically refers to as "The Treasury"), due, perhaps, to the expectations placed upon him by his early successes. Superman's Ghost—a song written by McLean and released as a single in 1987—attempts to shed some light on the burdens that American Pie laid on his shoulders:

I flew to the coast
Where Superman's ghost
Lay shot on the bedroom floor
He said "Watch out for TV,
It crucified me,
But it can't crucify me no more."


And I don't want to be
Like old George Reeves
Stuck in a Superman role
I've got a long way to go in my career
Someday my fame will make it clear
That I had to be a Superman*

 
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*Copyright ©1985 the Benny Bird Company, Inc.
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