Track of the Day: ‘Vincent’ by Don McLean

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

“Speaking of shedding new light on an artist,” reader Diane recommends a song by Don McLean:

“Vincent” is often known by its first line, “Starry starry night,” after Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous painting. While the lyrics contain references to many of the artist’s other works—“morning fields of amber grain,” “flaming flowers that brightly blaze,” and more—I think it’s safe to say The Starry Night is the one work of art that the song best sums up. The unfurling swirls of color in the painting are mirrored by the movements of a wistful melody that seems to ask a question in each line, and the notes of McLean’s acoustic guitar capture the rippling texture of Van Gogh’s brushstrokes.

Update: I set out in writing this note to recommend a musical take on a visual artist, but reader Dave does me one better, with a song that “‘sheds new light’ on that under-appreciated folk singer and songwriter, Don McLean”:

“Vincent” was actually one of his only two songs that broke through into the pop charts.  (The other was “American Pie.”) If you’d like a much more obscure track that highlights McLean’s writing talents even more effectively than “Vincent,” try listening to a poignant little ditty that will remind you of the “Mr. Cellophane” song from the musical Chicago.  It’s called “Circus Song.”

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)