Vincent (song)

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"Vincent"
Single by Don McLean
from the album American Pie
B-sideCastles In The Air
ReleasedJune 17, 1971
RecordedMay 1971
GenreFolk
Length4:03
LabelUnited Artists Records, BGO Records
Writer(s)Don McLean
Producer(s)Ed Freeman
Don McLean singles chronology
"American Pie"
(1971)
"Vincent"
(1972)
"Dreidel" (1973)
 
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"Vincent"
Single by Don McLean
from the album American Pie
B-sideCastles In The Air
ReleasedJune 17, 1971
RecordedMay 1971
GenreFolk
Length4:03
LabelUnited Artists Records, BGO Records
Writer(s)Don McLean
Producer(s)Ed Freeman
Don McLean singles chronology
"American Pie"
(1971)
"Vincent"
(1972)
"Dreidel" (1973)

"Vincent" is a song by Don McLean written as a tribute to Vincent van Gogh. It is also known by its opening line, "Starry Starry Night", a reference to Van Gogh's painting The Starry Night. The song also describes different paintings done by the artist.

McLean wrote the lyrics in 1971 after reading a book about the life of the artist.[1] The following year, the song became the number one hit in the UK Singles Chart[2] and No. 12 in the US.[3] In the US, "Vincent" also peaked at number two on the Easy Listening chart.[4]

The song makes use of the accordion, vibraphone, strings, and guitar.

In 2000, PBS aired Don McLean: Starry, Starry Night, a concert special that was filmed in Austin, Texas.

Song interpretation[edit]

Van Gogh's painting "Starry Night"

The song clearly demonstrates a deep-seated admiration for not only the work of Van Gogh, but also for the man himself. The song includes references to his landscape works, in lines such as "sketch the trees and the daffodils" and "morning fields of amber grain" which describe the amber wheat that features in several paintings. There are also several lines that may allude to Van Gogh's self-portraits: perhaps in "weathered faces lined in pain / are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand", McLean is suggesting that Van Gogh may have found some sort of consolation in creating portraits of himself. However, this line may also refer to Van Gogh's painting "The Potato Eaters", which depicts a hard-working Dutch farming family sitting in semi-darkness and eating their meagre meal. There is, too, a single line describing Van Gogh's most famous set of works, Sunflowers. "flaming flowers that brightly blaze" not only draws on the luminous orange and yellow colours of the painting, but also creates powerful images of the sun itself, flaming and blazing, being contained within the flowers and the painting.

In the first two choruses, McLean pays tribute to Van Gogh by reflecting on his lack of recognition: "They would not listen / they did not know how / perhaps they'll listen now." In the final chorus, McLean says "They would not listen / they're not listening still / perhaps they never will." This is the story of Van Gogh: unrecognised as an artist until after his death. The lyrics suggest that Van Gogh was trying to "set [people] free" with the message in his work. McLean feels that this message was made clear to him: "And now I understand what you tried to say to me," he sings. Perhaps it is this eventual understanding that inspired McLean to write the song.

There are also references to Van Gogh's sanity and his suicide. Throughout his life, Van Gogh was plagued with mental disorders, particularly depression. He "suffered for [his] sanity" and eventually "took [his] life as lovers often do."

Covers[edit]

Use in popular culture[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Brown, Helen (24 Feb 2010). "Don McLean interview: why I had to write 'Vincent’". The UK Telegraph. Retrieved 3 August 2011. 
  2. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 274. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  3. ^ Jason Ankeny (1945-10-02). "Don McLean | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  4. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 166. 
  5. ^ Booklet from Ramalama Music Spain CD RO 53802 "Karina Vol. 3 Sus cuatro primeros albumes en Hispavox (1970-1974)" 2007
  6. ^ "In a Heartbeat overview". Allmusic. 
  7. ^ "Magic Fingers overview". Allmusic. 
  8. ^ "Contempo July 2001". SmoothVibes.com. Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  9. ^ "Chet Atkins & Don McLean - Vincent". YouTube.com. Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  10. ^ David Van Vuuren (2011-12-01). "Free The Animals, CDs, Musica A World awaits". Musica.co.za. Retrieved 2014-03-27. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Metal Guru" by T Rex
UK Singles Chart number one single
June 17, 1972 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Take Me Bak 'Ome" by Slade