Billy Joel: “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (1989)




Billy Joel (1949-) is an American pianist, singer and songwriter who rose to prominence in the late 1970s. In 1987 Joel became one of the first high-profile Western musicians to tour the Soviet Union. Underwriting the tour with his own money, Joel played three concerts apiece in Moscow and Leningrad and was enthusiastically received. We Didn’t Start the Fire was the first single from Joel’s 1989 album Storm Front. Its lyrics are a chronological list of people, events and issues from the first 40 years of Billy Joel’s life, beginning in 1949. Many of these lyrics refer to political leaders, events and issues from the Cold War, such as Joseph Stalin and Joseph McCarthy through to the 1983 Korean Air disaster. Other lyrics cite figures from film, music, sport and pop culture. We Didn’t Start the Fire became a top 10 hit in most Western countries. Its popularity sparked a resurgent interest in history among American college students in the early 1990s.



(1949) Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray,
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio,
(1950) Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe.

(1951) Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, The King and I, and The Catcher in the Rye
(1952) 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

(1953) Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc
(1954) Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, Rock Around the Clock

(1955) Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland
(1956) 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

(1957) Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, Bridge on the River Kwai
(1958) Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather homicide, children of Thalidomide

(1959) Buddy Holly, Ben Hur, space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go
(1960) U-2, 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

(1961) Hemingway, Eichmann, Stranger in a Strange Land
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion
(1962) Lawrence of Arabia, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson
(1963) Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, 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

(1964-1989) 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 shore, China’s under martial law
Rock and roll 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
No we didn’t light it but we tried to fight it
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone it will still burn on, and on, and on, and on


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