The box from Mobile Fidelity arrived just as I was leaving. I pulled out my Leatherman and hacked it open when I got in the car. Having never actually heard the full American Pie album before, just portions of it, I decided to play that first. As I'm crossing Manhattan on my way to work, I get diverted from my usual route because there's a street closed. So I was driving down 42nd Street the first time I ever heard "Sister Fatima," where the lyrics state "and on 42nd Street, a shop that sells flowers is her palace." Freaky, huh? It was a slow trip, so I was still stuck in traffic when the disc ended. I started it over and slipped into reviewer mode while listening to the title track. Having heard that song dozens of times on my car stereo, both via regular radio play and from CDs, it was easy to start drawing premature conclusions about the remastering quality. After making a mental list of recording flaws, I mulled the results over while starting a third play of "American Pie." Wait a minute -- my list seemed suspiciously familiar. Oops. I had re-compiled the problem areas of my car stereo!
I never thought I'd hear American Pie presented so well that I could use it to pick out equipment problems. The CDs I have containing the title song are so bad that I usually prefer a compressed version on the radio. The CEMA American Pie and Other Hits release was the first McLean purchase I ever made. What a rip off! It includes the 4:09 long single version of "American Pie," not the full 8:38 long one. I couldn't believe it. Searching for CDs containing all of the music eventually led me to the soundtrack for the Oliver Stone movie Born on the Fourth of July. That's got some other good tunes on it as well: "Brown Eyed Girl," "My Girl," and "Soldier Boy" for starters. Don't get too excited if you see additional songs you like on that soundtrack, though; "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall" and "Born on the Bayou" are both mediocre covers, not the much better originals. On to the sound-quality comparisons.
The liner notes for the MoFi release are very complete. Full lyrics are included, and there's a Hopalong Cassidy poem and picture in the middle. Three pictures of McLean playing can be found, along with a five-page discussion of his career written by Bruce Eder.
Easy call this month -- if you want to hear any of the songs from American Pie on CD and you don't want them to sound awful, you must buy the Mobile Fidelity version of the album. While it's still somewhat limited by the quality of the master tape, it's considerably better than I ever would have believed this recording could sound.
P.S. If you want to ruin your enjoyment of the song, I recommend becoming obsessed and trying to figure out just exactly what "American Pie" is about.
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