Don McLean Details 2024 Album ‘American Boys’ and Why He Wrote “The Ballad of George Floyd”

“People are always asking me ‘Isn’t this like the 1960s?'” Don McLean tells American Songwriter. “I don’t think it’s anything like the 1960s, because people are afraid to express their opinions [now] for fear of being blacklisted.” Having lived through the ’60s, McLean says many of the same issues keep resurfacing throughout history, something he explores on one of his new songs “The Ballad of George Floyd,” from his forthcoming album, American Boys, out February 2024.

“The Ballad of George Floyd” centers around the murder of Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2020. “Nobody wants to write a song about an event like the George Floyd murder, because it was immediately captured by the far left and made into a racial thing,” says McLean.

“And months later, when Tyre Nichols was murdered—a young, beautiful black boy, 29 years old—by five black police officers, that theory went out the window,” adds McLean. “This is about bad actors in power, and it can happen to any American. It’s an American tragedy, and that’s why I wrote it.”

Much like McLean’s American Pie and its nostalgic shift of music from the ’50s through the ’60s, along with his subsequent releases confronting other socio-political flaws within America, American Boys also examines the severedness within the country, its injustices, inequality, and more.

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[RELATED: 13 ‘American Pie’ Song References Revealed by Don McLean: the ‘King,’ ‘Girl Who Sang the Blues’ and More]

“In America, we need to do something about our homeless population,” says McLean, “and clean up these cities.” In 1974, McLean already went there on his fifth album Homeless Brother. Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s 1960 novel The Vanishing American Hobo, the album was a collection of stories fixed on the harsh realities of life of the homeless and disenfranchised.

Don McLean (Photo: Courtesy of Don McLean / 2911 Enterprises)

“I sing that song frequently,” says McLean of the title track, which features Pete Seeger on banjo and follows the life of a homeless man. “And I it really comes from the heart. I’ve traveled all over this country. I don’t just stay in one place, and I’ve seen some very, very sad stories of a middle-aged guy walking with a little boy … and we’re not doing anything about this. But we’re giving $100 billion to Ukraine [to fight the war]. That’s just wrong.”

He acknowledges that some cities in the U.S. have started to place people in homes, yet the country is still far behind in getting more individuals off the street. Approximately, 653,104 people in the U.S. experienced homelessness in 2023, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“Another thing that’s very different from the 1960s is we are absolutely drowning in drugs, whereas before people were trying things out and bragging about smoking weed,” says McLean. “Now, forget about it. It’s a way of life, and that’s another thing that impacts the homeless in some of these streets.”

Shifting from inequalities to homelessness and the drug epidemic, McLean has never shied away from the social or political slant of a song when it meant something to him. “I’m a songwriter, and I don’t just write about love,” he says. “I write about poverty, ‘Orphans of Wealth.’ I write songs about cities, ‘Magdalene Lane,’ and people like George Reeves [‘Superman’s Ghost]’ and war in ‘1967.’ I like to write about important things that are happening to people rather than just be an entertainer, which I also am, but I want to mix it all up.”

McLean adds “I don’t want to be some pain in the ass with a million opinions who gets on stage and philosophizes, but I will say a little something then sing a tune or two. Part of what I like to do is add to that dimension.”

[RELATED: Don McLean Finds True Holiday Spirit on Newly Released ‘Christmas Memories’]

Nearly 6o years into his career, McLean, who just released his third holiday album, Christmas Memories: Remixed and Remastered, a collection of 12 previously recorded songs with new arrangements, still has more to accomplish with his new album, along with another holiday album set for late 2024.

“I have done albums far afield from my normal,” he says. I’ve done a children’s album [‘You’ve Got to Share: Songs for Children,’ 2003], a Western album of songs [‘The Western Album,’ 2003]—I love that music. I’ve done a Marty Robbins [‘Sings Marty Robbins,’ 2001] album.” Coincidentally, McLean’s children’s, Western and Marty Robbins tribute albums will all be available on vinyl for the first time in 2024.

“There were a lot of things that I needed to do,” says McLean, “and I think I did them all.”

Photo: Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

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