'We Didn't Start The Fire'

Not according to Billy Joel, we didn’t; we “inherited it”.

Billy Joel (taken Sept 2009 by David Shankbone)

Billy Joel (taken Sept 2009 by David Shankbone)

We Didn’t Start the Fire’ is from his 1989 album, ‘Storm Front’. I loved this song from the moment I heard it; actually, I love the whole album.

Billy Joel's album, 'Storm Front'

To be honest, I haven’t listened to it for a long while until this morning. There’s a girl doing work experience at the stables where Liam works and her name is Alexa, which reminded me of another song from this album, ‘The Downeaster Alexa’. And that’s why I chose the album for our morning drive.

We Didn’t Start the Fire’ has been criticised because it doesn’t delve deep or provide any context other than being a list of celebrities and events from 1949 (the year Joel was born) to 1989, when the album was released. In an interview in ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Nov 1989), Joel explained that the song is “not meant to sound preachy… What I’m trying to get across is that we didn’t start this stuff, we inherited it.” Which is a fair point; the ‘fire’, the problems that are mentioned in the song, started before he and his generation were born.

Obviously, not every historical event or icon or public figure from 1949-1989 is mentioned. Why would they be? Billy Joel is a musician, and his song isn’t a history lesson. But I think it does a good job in piquing interest; it certainly did for me, spurring me to find out more.

Personally, I like the way the lyrics flow, almost like a child’s rhyme, and I like the tune.

I’ve decided to include the lyrics; if you want to know more, you can find references to everything mentioned HERE.

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

Rosenbergs, H-Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, The King and I, and The Catcher in the Rye
Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Maciano, 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 Prokofiev
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, Chou En-Lai, 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
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

Hemingway, Eichmann, Stranger in a Strange Land
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion
Lawrence of Arabia, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson
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

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moon shot, 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…