Lyrics for the Don McLean Cantata Songs

The lyrics for the songs performed in the Don McLean cantata are on this page. Scroll down the page to read through the lyrics. If you’d like to view or download a PDF version of a song’s lyrics, click its title in the list below.

List of Songs (in performance order)


Vincent
by Don McLean, released in 1971 on the album American Pie

Starry, starry night,
Paint your palette blue and grey;
Look out on a summer’s day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul;
Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees and the daffodills,
Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land.

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me,
And how you suffered for your sanity,
And how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen,
They did not know how;
Perhaps they’ll listen now.

Starry, starry night,
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze,
Swirling clouds in violet haze
reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue,
Colors changing hue,
Morning fields of amber grain,
Weathered faces lined in pain,
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand.

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me,
and how you suffered for your sanity,
and how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen,
They did not know how;
Perhaps they’ll listen now.

For they could not love you,
But still your love was true;
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life as lovers often do.
But I could’ve told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

Starry, starry night,
Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless heads on nameless walls,
With eyes that watch the world and can’t forget,
Like the strangers that you’ve met,
The ragged men in ragged clothes,
The silver thorn of bloody rose
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.

Now I think I know
What you tried to say to me,
And how you suffered for your sanity,
And how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen,
They’re not listening still;
Perhaps they never will.


Wonderful Baby
by Don McLean, released in 1974 on the album Homeless Brother

Wonderful baby, living on love,
the sandman says maybe he’ll take you above,
up where the girls fly on ribbons and bows,
where babies float by just counting their toes.

Wonderful baby, nothin’ but new,
the world has gone crazy, I’m glad I’m not you.
At the beginning, or is it the end,
goes in and comes out and starts over again.

Wonderful baby, living on love,
the sandman says maybe he’ll take you above,
up where the girls fly on ribbons and bows,
where babies float by just counting their toes.

Wonderful baby, I’ll watch while you grow.
If I knew the future, you’d be first to know.
but I don’t know nothin’ of what life’s about;
just as long as you live, you never find out.

Wonderful baby, nothin’ to fear;
love whom you will, but doubt what you hear.
They’ll whisper sweet things and make you untrue,
so be good to yourself, that’s all you can do.

Wonderful baby, living on love,
the sandman says maybe he’ll take you above,
up where the girls fly on ribbons and bows,
where babies float by just counting their toes.
where babies float by just counting their toes.


Prime Time (cantata version)
by Don McLean, released in 1977 on the album Prime Time
NOTE: the lyrics were adapted for the cantata by Rick Schwarz; the original version follows this version

This is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.

I was ridin’ on the subway in the afternoon;
I saw some kids ‘a beatin’ out a funky tune.
The lady right in front of me was old and brown;
The kids began to push her, they knocked her down.
I tried to help her out but there was just no way;
Life ain’t worth a damn on the street today.
I passed the ambulance and the camera crews;
I saw the instant replay on the evenin’ news.

Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.

Will you take the car, or will you take the trip?
Remove annoying hair from your upper lip.
What’s it really worth? Does she really care?
What’s the best shampoo that I can use on my hair?
Hey what’s the real future of democracy?
How we gonna streamline the bureaucracy?
Hey, hey, the cost of life has gone sky-high.
Does the deodorant I’m usin’ really keep me dry?

Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.

Spin the magic wheel, try to break the bank.
Think about your life when you fill in the blank.
Here’s a game that’s real if you wanna try:
One spot on the wheel that says you must die.
American roulette is the game we play,
But no one wants to have to be the one to pay.
You get to pass GO, you get to pass away,
But before we start our show, here’s our sponsor to say:

“Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.”

Over there in Flint, the water’s not so fine;
There’s where you can go if you land on the nine.
Antartica is nice but it’s losing all its ice;
If you land on the two then we’ll send you there twice.
We interrupt this game for a news release:
A man has gone insane and he’s shot some police!
Now back to the game, that’s a dangerous play
‘Cause if your skin ain’t white then you just might get hauled away.

Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.

Livin’ without health care, the parks are gettin’ sold,
All Congress seems to care about is power and gold.
Drones up in the air, hackers ‘cross the sea,
Chemicals in everything, including me.
They don’t keep their promise in the promised land,
It’s gettin’ mighty hard to find an honest man;
But coming very soon, a show you’ll die to see:
It’s called “The End Of The World”, on channel “Z.”

Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.

Prime Time (original version)
by Don McLean, released in 1977 on the album Prime Time

This is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.

I was ridin’ on the subway in the afternoon;
I saw some kids ‘a beatin’ out a funky tune.
The lady right in front of me was old and brown;
The kids began to push her, they knocked her down.
I tried to help her out but there was just no way;
Life ain’t worth a damn on the street today.
I passed the ambulance and the camera crews;
I saw the instant replay on the evenin’ news.

Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.

Will you take the car, or will you take the trip?
Remove annoying hair from your upper lip.
What’s it really worth? Does she really care?
What’s the best shampoo that I can use on my hair?
Hey what’s the real future of democracy?
How we gonna streamline the bureaucracy?
Hey, hey, the cost of life has gone sky-high.
Does the deodorant I’m usin’ really keep me dry?

Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.

Spin the magic wheel, try to break the bank.
Think about your life when you fill in the blank.
Here’s a game that’s real if you wanna try:
One spot on the wheel that says you must die.
American roulette is the game we play,
But no one wants to have to be the one to pay.
You get to pass GO, you get to pass away,
But before we start our show, here’s our sponsor to say:

“Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.”

Down in Mexico, the laundry’s on the line;
There’s where you can go if you land on the nine.
Canada is nice if you’re fond of ice;
If you land on the two then we’ll send you there twice.
We interrupt this game for a news release:
A man has gone insane and been killed by police!
Now back to the game, that’s a dangerous play
‘Cause if they see you in C-U-B-A you must pass away.

Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.

My supper’s on the stove, the war is on the screen;
Pass the bread and butter while I watch the Marine.
They shot him in the chest; pass the chicken breast;
The general is saying that he’s still unimpressed.
“We had to burn the city ’cause they wouldn’t agree
That things go better with democracy!”
The weather will be fair, forget the ozone layer,
But strontium showers will be here and there.

Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.

Well, livin’ in the country, watchin’ shadows fall;
My reception ain’t too good in a power stall.
Bombers in the air, missiles in the sea,
Chemicals in everything, including me.
They don’t keep their promise in the promised land,
It’s gettin’ mighty hard to find an honest man;
But coming very soon, a show you’ll die to see:
It’s called “The End Of The World”, on channel “Z.”

Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ in the U. S. A.
Well this is life, this is Prime Time,
This is livin’ the American way.


Homeless Brother
by Don McLean, released in 1974 on the album Homeless Brother

I was walking by the graveyard, late last Friday night,
I heard somebody yelling, it sounded like a fight.
It was just a drunken hobo dancing circles in the night,
Pouring whiskey on the headstones in the blue moonlight.

So often have I wondered where these homeless brothers go,
Down in some hidden valley were their sorrows cannot show,
Where the police cannot find them, where the wanted man can go.
There’s freedom when your walkin’, even though you’re walkin’ slow.

Smash your bottle on a gravestone and live while you can,
That homeless brother is my friend.

It’s hard to be a pack rat, it’s hard to be a ‘bo,
But livin’s so much harder where the heartless people go.
Somewhere the dogs are barking and the children seem to know
That Jesus on the highway was a lost hobo.

And they hear the holy silence of the temples in the hill,
And they see the ragged tatters as another kind of thrill.
And they envy him the sunshine and they pity him the chill,
And they’re sad to do their livin’ for some other kind of thrill.

Smash your bottle on a gravestone and live while you can,
That homeless brother is my friend.

Somewhere there was a woman, somewhere there was a child,
Somewhere there was a cottage where the marigolds grew wild.
But some where’s just like nowhere when you leave it for a while,
You’ll find the broken-hearted when you’re travellin’ jungle-style.

Down the bowels of a broken land where numbers live like men,
Where those who keep their senses have them taken back again,
Where the night stick cracks with crazy rage, where madmen don’t pretend,
Where wealth has no beginning and poverty no end.

Smash your bottle on the gravestone and live while you can,
That homeless brother is my friend.

The ghosts of highway royalty have vanished in the night.
The Whitman wanderer walking toward a glowing inner light.
The children have grown older and the cops have gripped us tight.
There’s no spot ’round the melting pot for free men in their flight.

And you who live on promises and prosper as you please,
The victim of your riches often dies of your disease.
He can’t hear the factory whistle, just the lonesome freight train’s wheeze.
He’s livin’ on good fortune, he ain’t dyin’ on his knees.

Smash your bottle on the gravestone and live while you can,
That homeless brother is my friend.
That homeless brother is my friend.


You Can’t Blame The Train
by Terri Sharp, recorded by Don McLean in 1993 on the album Favorites & Rarities

Well, I got crazy yesterday and I called her to say
Please, baby, won’t you come home tonight?
I can’t even trust my brain
To get my heart in from the rain;
I know that girl’s a hurricane in her own right.

Then, early this mornin’ after she was goin’,
I sat down in my chair all alone.
Well, I called my best friend cryin’ and askin’ him why
That girl was always doin’ me so wrong.

He said,
When the gates are all down
And the signals are flashin’,
The whistle is screamin’ in vain,
And you stay on the tracks,
Ignoring the facts,
Well, you can’t blame the wreck on the train.
No, you can’t blame the wreck on the train.

Well, how many times have I promised myself
Not to do the same thing as before?
I’ll swear I’ll leave it alone and believe it,
Then I’ll turn around and do it some more.

Fool me one time,
And it’s shame on you;
Fool me twice, and it’s shame on me.
That’s what my best friend warned me
When I called him this mornin’,
And then he reminded me:

He said,
When the gates are all down
And the signals are flashin’,
The whistle is screamin’ in vain,
And you stay on the tracks,
Ignoring the facts,
Well, you can’t blame the wreck on the train.
No, you can’t blame the wreck on the train.

He said,
When the gates are all down
And the signals are flashin’,
The whistle is screamin’ in vain,
And you stay on the tracks,
Ignoring the facts,
Well, you can’t blame the wreck on the train.
No, you can’t blame the wreck on the train.
Man, ya gotta quit blamin’ that train.


Crossroads
by Don McLean, released in 1971 on the album American Pie

I’ve got nothing on my mind,
Nothing to remember,
Nothing to forget.
And I’ve got nothing to regret.

But I’m all tied up on the inside,
No one knows quite what I’ve got,
And I know that on the outside
What I used to be, I’m not … anymore.

You know I’ve heard about people like me
But I never made the connection.
They walk one road to set them free
And find they’ve gone the wrong direction.

But there’s no need for turning back
‘Cause all roads lead to where I stand
And I believe I’ll walk them all
No matter what I may have planned.

Can you remember who I was?
Can you still feel it?
Can you find my pain?
Can you heal it?

Then lay your hands upon me now
And cast this darkness from my soul.
You alone can light my way.
You alone can make me whole … once again.

We’ve walked both sides of every street
Through all kinds of windy weather;
But that was never our defeat
As long as we could walk together.

So there’s no need for turning back
‘Cause all roads lead to where we stand;
And I believe we’ll walk them all
No matter what we may have planned.


Killing Me Softly With His Song
by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, based on a poem by Lori Lieberman, first recorded in 1971

Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song,
Killing me softly with his song,
Telling my whole life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song.

I heard he sang a good song,
I heard he had a style,
And so I came to see him,
To listen for a while;
And there he was this young boy,
A stranger to my eyes …

Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song,
Killing me softly with his song,
Telling my whole life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song.

I felt all flushed with fever,
Embarassed by the crowd;
I felt he found my letters
And read each one out loud.
I prayed that he would finish,
But he just kept right on …

Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song,
Killing me softly with his song,
Telling my whole life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song.

He sang as if he knew me
In all my dark despair,
And then he looked right through me
As if I wasn’t there;
And he just kept on singing,
Singing clear and strong …

Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song,
Killing me softly with his song,
Telling my whole life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song.

He was strumming my pain,
Yeah, he was singing my life,
Killing me softly with his song,
Killing me softly with his song,
Telling my whole life with his words,
Killing me softly
With his song.


Babylon
by Don McLean, released in 1971 on the album American Pie

By the waters
The waters of Babylon
We lay down and wept
And wept for thee, Zion.
We remember thee,
remember thee,
remember thee, Zion.

By the waters
The waters of Babylon
We lay down and wept
And wept for thee, Zion.
We remember thee,
remember thee,
remember thee, Zion.

By the waters
The waters of Babylon
We lay down and wept
And wept for thee, Zion.
We remember thee,
remember thee,
remember thee, Zion.


American Pie
by Don McLean, released in 1971 on the album American Pie

A long, long time ago…
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

But February made me shiver.
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

So bye-bye, Miss American Pie.
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.
“This’ll be the day that I die.”

Did you write the book of love,
And do you have faith in God above,
If the Bible tells you so?
Do you believe in rock ‘n roll,
Can music save your mortal soul,
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

Well, I know that you’re in love with him
’cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym.
You both kicked off your shoes.
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues.

I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck,
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died.

I started singin’,
“Bye-bye, Miss American Pie.”
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.
“This’ll be the day that I die.”

Now for ten years we’ve been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone,
But that’s not how it used to be.
When the jester sang for the king and queen,
In a coat he borrowed from james dean
In a voice that came from you and me,

Oh, and while the king was looking down,
The jester stole his thorny crown.
The courtroom was adjourned;
No verdict was returned.
And while Lenin read a book on Marx,
The quartet practiced in the park,
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died.

We were singing,
“Bye-bye, Miss American Pie.”
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.
“This’ll be the day that I die.”

Helter skelter in a summer swelter.
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter,
Eight miles high and falling fast.
It landed foul on the grass.
The players tried for a forward pass,
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast.

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While sergeants played a marching tune.
We all got up to dance,
Oh, but we never got the chance!

‘Cause the players tried to take the field;
The marching band refused to yield.
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?

We started singing,
“Bye-bye, Miss American Pie.”
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.
“This’ll be the day that I die.”

Oh, and there we were all in one place,
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again.
So come on: Jack be nimble, Jack be quick!
Jack flash sat on a candlestick
‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend.

Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage.
No angel born in hell
Could break that Satan’s spell.
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite,
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died.

He was singing,
“Bye-bye, Miss American Pie.”
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.
“This’ll be the day that I die.”

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news,
But she just smiled and turned away.
I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before,
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play.

And in the streets: the children screamed,
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed,
But not a word was spoken;
The church bells all were broken.

And the three men I admire most —
The father, son, and the holy ghost —
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died.

And they were singing,
“Bye-bye, Miss American Pie.”
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.
“This’ll be the day that I die.”

They were singing,
“Bye-bye, Miss American Pie.”
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.”