Madonna's cover (done so only under the pressure from her label) is so horrifyingly awful that it physically hurts to sit through all of it (personal fun fact: hearing this song playing at a 'friends' house when I was nine was the first time I decided that covers sucked ass and the original artists really deserved the recognition for their gorgeous music [this cover is that bad]).
For the purpose of lumping together artists, these lyric lines are scattered around and a bit out of order from their original; to see all of the lyrics before I get to the last "American Pie" post, head here.
The song goes on to reference a lot of The Beatles' influence in America over the decade and the 1960's in general. "While Lennon read a book on Marx, a quartet practiced in the park" alludes to the move from their pop sing-along hits to their more thought provoking lyrics of later albums and "while sergeants played a marching tune" makes a distinct connection to their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album and leads to their dominance of record sales in the music scene with "the players tried to take the field, but the marching band refused to yield" (this line may reference The Beach Boys attempt to break in to the scene with Pet Sounds in 1966, but Sgt. Pepper, released in 1967, far outsold them).
The song starts to move towards it's darker segment with the introduction of "we all got up to dance, but we never got the chance" meaning that you could no longer dance to good rock music because the mid sixties brought on experimental sounds and compositions that were not easy to dance along to. The song delves even further into 'darkening times' with "'Helter Skelter' in a summer swelter" which references Charles Manson, who massacred a family in the summer of 1968 and wrote The Beatles' song title "Helter Skelter" (The Beatles/The White Album) on the wall in blood, as he believed the song to have instructed him to commit those murders.
All the while, the verse is intermittently mentioning that the sixties were a changing of the simpler times to a growing unrest with the lines "the halftime air was sweet perfume" (which ties in to the idea of marijuana use and the drug induced lyrics/composition of The Byrds "Eight Miles High" [referencing lines: "the birds flew off with the fallout shelter, eight miles high and falling fast, it landed on the foul grass"]) and "there we were all in one place, a generation lost in space, with no time left to start again" referencing Woodstock and a generation that had wasted the past decade of their lives on drugs.The song then moves onto a couple of verses that bash The Rolling Stones, leading to an anarchic sound in this segment of the song with lines "come on Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack Flash sat on a candlestick" referencing "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by The Rolling Stones and bringing us to "'cause fire is the devil's only friend" which alludes to the fact that the Stones sold out by writing music with titles like "Sympathy for the Devil" which showed their desperation; they needed to sell records to compete with the public's ongoing love for The Beatles' music so they pandered to the growing tension of those of the counterculture by writing something that sounded angry/anti-authority. Basically, The Beatles preached non-violence while The Stones are quoted as stating "war, children, it's just a shot away" and this move towards The Stones and away from The Beatles shows a growing unrest and the secure presence of the new counterculture (no longer the anti-war flower children of the early days [counterculture, for those who don't remember from history class, was basically the original term for 'hispter'; they wanted change, they wanted it now, and they wanted everyone to know that they were cool enough to have thought of this change before anyone else]).
"American Pie" Madonna