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We Didn't Start the Fire - Billy Joel

We Didn't Start the Fire

Storm Front
80s rock classic rock pop billy joel


"We Didn't Start the Fire" is a song by Billy Joel. Its lyrics include brief, rapid-fire allusions to more than 100 headline events between January 1949 (Joel was born on May 9 of that year) and 1989, when the song was released on his album Storm Front. The song was a No. 1 hit in the US. It peaked at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart in the Autumn of 1989. Joel got the idea for the song when he had just turned 40. He was in a recording studio and met a friend of Sean Lennon who had just turned 21 who said "It's a terrible time to be 21!" Joel replied to him, "Yeah, I remember when I was 21 -- I thought it was an awful time and we had Vietnam, and y'know, drug problems, and civil rights problems and everything seemed to be awful." The friend replied, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but it's different for you. You were a kid in the fifties and everybody knows that nothing happened in the fifties". Joel retorted, "Wait a minute, didn't you hear of the Korean War or the Suez Canal Crisis?" Joel later said those headlines formed the basic framework for the song. Joel has said, "I'm a history nut. I devour books. At one time I wanted to be a history teacher". According to his mother, he was a bookworm by the age of seven. Unlike most of Joel's songs, the lyrics were written before the melody, owing to the somewhat unusual style of the song. The song was a huge commercial success and was Joel's third Billboard No. 1 hit. It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. I had turned forty. It was 1989 and I said "Okay, what's happened in my life?" I wrote down the year 1949. Okay, Harry Truman was president. Popular singer of the day, Doris Day. China went Communist. Another popular singer, Johnnie Ray. Big Broadway show, South Pacific. Journalist, Walter Winchell. Athlete, Joe DiMaggio. Then I went on to 1950 [...]. It's one of the worst melodies I've ever written. I kind of like the lyric though. Joel has said, "There's an element of malevolence in the song"; it's like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Joel has mixed feelings about the song. "It's a nightmare to perform live, because if I miss one word, it's a train wreck." He has also called it a "novelty song" that does not "really define me as well as album songs that probably don't get played". On being asked if he could do a follow-up about the next couple of years after the events that transpired in the original song, he commented "No, I wrote one song already and I don't think it was really that good to begin with, melodically." Blender magazine ranked "We Didn't Start the Fire" No. 41 on its list of the "50 Worst Songs Ever", a list that also includes songs from Paul McCartney and Simon & Garfunkel. They considered the production bombastic and stated that the song "resembles a term paper scribbled the night before it’s due."


Billy Joel (born William Martin Joel on May 9, 1949 in Bronx, New York, USA) is an American pianist, singer-songwriter, and composer. Since releasing his first hit song, "Piano Man," in 1973, Joel has become a multi-million-selling recording artist. Joel recorded many popular hit songs and albums from 1971 until he stopped recording pop/rock music in 1993. He is one of the very few rock (or even pop) artists to have Top 10 hits in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Show more ...

We Didn't Start the Fire - Billy Joel

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnny Ray,
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe Dimaggio

Joe Mccarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, Television,
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenberg, H-Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye,

Eisenhower, Vaccine, England's got a new queen,
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No, we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it


Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiov,
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron,
Dien Bien Phu Falls, Rock Around the Clock

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn's got a winning team,
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland

Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Khrushchev,
Princess Grace, Peyton Place, Trouble in the Suez

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No, we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac,
Sputnik, Zhou Enlai, Bridge On The River Kwai

Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball,
Starkweather Homicide, Children of Thalidomide

Buddy Holly, Ben Hur, Space Monkey, Mafia,
Hula Hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go

U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy,
Chubby Checker, Psycho, Belgians in the Congo

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No, we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Hemingway, Eichmann, Stranger in a Strange Land,
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

Lawrence of Arabia, British Beatle mania,
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British Politician s**,
J. F. K. Blown away, what else do I have to say

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No, we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again,
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock

Begin, Reagan, Palestine, Terror on the airline,
Ayatollah's in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

Wheel of Fortune, Sally Ride, heavy metal suicide,
Foreign debts, homeless Vets, aids, Crack, Bernie Goetz

Hypodermics on the shores, China's under martial law,
Rock and Roller cola wars, I can't take it anymore

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning since the world's been turning.
We didn't start the fire
But when we are gone
It will still burn on, and on, and on, and on...

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No, we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No, we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire...



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