The Jonas Brothers' cover of the song makes me feel like I'm throwing up unicorns and happiness and everything sparkly and it's completely cringe-worthy; you need to watch this utter massacre of an American classic to better appreciate the fact that Don McLean is the only man who has ever, and will ever, pull off this song with as much aplomb, gratitude for the music from artists lost over the years, and general acceptance of the continual changing of times.
The song begins with the line "a long, long time ago", meaning that the song, released in 1971, is heading back to 1959. Though people only seem to discuss this song in terms of Buddy Holly, the only part of the song dedicated to his legacy (aside from a chorus throughout which states "this will be the day that I die", taken from his popular "That'll Be The Day") are the opening stanzas which state "but February made me shiver" (as McLean was a paper boy and first heard of the news while reading the headline on his morning route), "I can't remember if I cried, when I read about his widowed bride" (mentioning Holly's wife), and "something touched me deep inside, the day the music died" (which, as a fan of Holly's music, references McLean's intense grief over the death of Buddy Holly).
The song quickly moves on to the beginning of the 1960's with the line "now do you believe in rock 'n roll? Can music save your mortal soul? And, can you teach me how to dance real slow?", taken from The Lovin's Spoonful's "Do You Believe In Magic?" (from the opening verse: "do you believe in magic...how the music can free her...and it'll free your soul, but it's like trying to tell a stranger 'bout rock and roll") and referencing the move from music which placed an importance on slow dancing with a single partner to the guitar solos, psychedelic influences, and the non-importance of specific partners which came about with the introduction of the sixties music scene. The line "man, I dig those rhythm 'n' blues" simply refers to McLean's appreciation for the sounds of early rock and roll that were brought about by artists like Buddy Holly.
The song moves on to the mid-sixties through references to Bob Dylan. "Moss grows fat on a rolling stone, but that's not how it used to be" alludes to Bob Dylan's earlier, angrier sound and the change to his more recent and subdued sound which received poor reviews from critics and which only came about later, after Bob Dylan had returned from the break he took after his motorcycle accident (referenced with "the jester in the sidelines in a cast"). "While the king was looking down, the jester stole his thorny crown" refers to the young Dylan having taken Elvis Presley's spot as beloved artist of the masses. It's symbolic because it shows the masses shifting away from the simplicity of the 1950's music/lifestyle and moving towards the radical and politically charged song lyrics of the sixties. He throws in other references to Dylan like "in a coat he borrowed from James Dean" (cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan) and "a voice that came from you and me" (Dylan's roots were folk and his voice was the voice of a generation [or at least the voice of his fans]) that move the song forward until he begins to make references to The Beatles.
"American Pie" The Jonas Brothers