In his 2005 book Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story, Chuck Klosterman writes, "There are only two really long songs that get played on classic-rock radio every single day." Namely, Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and Don McLean's "American Pie."
"I've noticed that nobody changes the station when 'American Pie' comes on," he points out, describing how folks typically endure the nearly nine-minute track just to sing along with the chorus. "However," he adds, "almost no one listens to 'Stairway to Heaven' all the way through," challenging "sociology grad students to look into" the phenomenon.
To date, no scholarly research has been conducted — at least none that New Times could find. Moreover, the trend identified by Klosterman continues and McLean's seminal track, now 40 years old, remains one of popular music's most inescapable songs. Classic-rock stations still milk "American Pie," and everyone — from Madonna to Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder — has covered the song.
Of course, though, McLean himself best tells the story of "the day the music died." And lucky for us, his is still alive.