Vincent- Don McLean by stav hirshenzon -
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Vincent- Don McLean

  • Joined Nov 2021
  • Published Books 1

Vincent” is a song by Don McLean that was published in 1971, written as a tribute to Vincent van Gogh.


Most recognize the song as “Starry, Starry Night“,

which is opening refrain, a reference to Van Gogh’s 1889 painting The Starry Night.

Vincent- Don McLean by stav hirshenzon -

Reasons why the song became popular

No. 1:  Words

Beside rolling the life story of a well know gifted painter,
Don McLean putting into music Vincent’s paintings in astonishing lyrical way, describing colors that matches to feelings !

as McLean said in an interview:

“I saw the painting. I said, Wow, just tell the story using the color, the imagery, the movement, everything that’s in the painting. Because that’s him more than he is him”.


“that’s him, it is him.
my music is me.
i don’t make music,

I am music

He is his art



short interview:


The lyrics and the paintings behind

Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
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 daffodils
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


Reasons why the song became popular

No. 2: Story (beside Van Goh’s life story)


How McLean got to write about van Gogh?

The song was written in the autumn of 1970

McLean worked at schools playing the guitar.

one morning he started reading a biography of Van Gogh, and in his word:

“It was inspired by a book. And it said that it was written by Vincent’s brother, Theo. And Theo also had this illness [schizophrenic disorder], the same one Van Gogh had. So what caused the idea to percolate in my head was,

first of all, what a beautiful idea for a piece of music. Secondly, I could set the record straight, basically, he wasn’t crazy….

So I sat down with a print of Starry Night and wrote the lyrics out on a paper bag.”


Reasons why the song became popular

No. 3: Hook


the song initiate with the singer’s voice- “Starry Starry night”


there’s no hook before of harmonic or instrumental phrase, because the singer’s voice is the hook that attract people to listen and sing along with him.


this also makes the song more personal as the focus on what the singer wants to convey as a personal letter for Van Gogh


Reasons why the song became popular

No. 4: simplicity makes empathy


beside initiating with a short phrase “Starry starry night” as a hook that capture people to listen,

the singer’s voice become the main anchor of the song as it companied by a simple acoustic guitar fingerpicking.


this makes empathy as it paints a picture of the singer playing his guitar and singing to himself with no band around or anyone to interrupt him.



1972 performance



here I wrote about 4 main reasons why the song became so popular in my opinion.


but there could be a lot more reasons such as;

  • the era and the means it published…
  • if it was in TV shows or movies…
  • the popularity of Van Goh and his life story…

and for people who likes the literature way of the song there are a lot ways to interpret the lyric that gives the song hidden layers of different meanings.


example of interpretation from the Internet:

Unlike most of Van Gogh’s works, Starry Night was painted from memory and not outdoors as was Vincent’s preference (“Look out on a summer’s day.”)
When he first entered the asylum, he painted mainly from his room or the courtyard garden, but later he could go farther.

However, he was not allowed to go outside at night, and had to paint night scenes such as this from memory.

“Paint your palette blue and gray”

reflect the colors of the painting- melancholy,

and probably a reference to Vincent’s habit of sucking on or biting his paintbrushes while he worked.



for more interpretations click here


less popular covers for fun


James Blake







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