What a silly topic. But now that you’ve polluted my mind, I’ll pollute yours.
Why “American Pie”? Because in 1971 McLean was writing a lament for times gone by, before the American teenage world seemed to be falling apart, before Vietnam and assassinations and demonstrations and tear gas replaced in their minds Miss America, apple pie, newspaper deliver boys, going parking in a big-finned Chevy, school football games, dances in the gym, and whatever else he could think of that rhymed and evoked an America that liked Ike.
That what he wrote worked so well–sold so well–demonstrates how easily we succumb to phantom nostalgia, to a sad yearning for the return of something we never had and that we wouldn’t like if we could get.
The next hit off that album was a lament for Van Gogh. McLean had a knack for making people sad for (and buy records about) dead men about whom they otherwise know or care nothing.
McLean himself said:
"So when people ask me what “American Pie’ means, I tell them it means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.”