We Didn't Start the Fire

We Didn't Start the Fire

Infobox Single
Name = We Didn't Start the Fire

Artist = Billy Joel
from Album = Storm Front
A-side =
B-side =
Released = November 10 1989
Format = 7" single, 12" single, CD
Recorded =
Genre = Rock
Length = 4:49
Label = Columbia Records
Writer = Billy Joel
Producer = Mick Jones, Billy Joel
Certification =
Last single = "This Is the Time" (1987)
This single = "We Didn't Start the Fire" (1989)
Next single = "Leningrad" (1990)
Misc =

"We Didn't Start the Fire" is a song by Billy Joel that makes reference to a catalog of headline events during his lifetime, from March 1949 to 1989, when the song was released on his album "Storm Front". The events are mixed with a refrain asserting "we didn't start the fire". The song was a number-one hit in the U.S.

The song and music video have been interpreted as a rebuttal to criticism of Joel's Baby Boomer generation, from both its preceding and succeeding generations, that they were responsible for much of the world's problems.Fact|date=October 2007 The song's title and refrain imply that the frenzied and troubled state which others were criticizing had been the state of the world since long before his generation's time, but that this was being ignored by their critics. This message contrasts strongly with the song "Allentown", written earlier in his career, which blamed his parents' generation for contemporary problems.


Joel explained that he wrote this song due to his interest in history. He commented that he would have wanted to be a history teacher if he had not become a musician. Unlike most of Joel's songs, the lyrics were written before the melody, owing to the somewhat unusual style of the song. Nevertheless, the song was a huge commercial success and provided Billy Joel with his third Billboard #1 hit.

"We Didn't Start the Fire" was written by Joel after a conversation with John Lennon's son Sean. Sean was complaining that he was growing up in troubled times.

Although the song ranked #1 in the U.S., and #7 in the UK," Blender" magazine ranked "We Didn't Start the Fire" #41 on its list of the "50 Worst Songs Ever". [ [http://www.blender.com/guide/articles.aspx?id=786 Run for Your Life! It's the 50 Worst Songs Ever!] from "Blender.com". Retrieved on May 3, 2008.] "We Didn't Start the Fire" also appeared in the same spot on VH1's "50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever", a collaboration with "Blender" in 2004.

The Hoosiers covered the song as a B-side to their release, "Worried About Ray" and also performed it in their tour.

This song could be classified as a patter song characterized by its moderately fast tempo with rapid succession of rhythmic lyrics.

Music video

A music video for the single was directed by Chris Blum. [http://www.mvdbase.com/video.php?id=14662] It chronicles a middle-class husband and wife and their goal of the American Dream: a home, careers and children. This is juxtaposed with the tumultuous social times of the second half of the 20th century (e.g., bra burning). The singer acts as an omnipotent observer. The chorus shows Joel beating on a table while a backdrop of famous photographs (Lee Harvey Oswald's assassination and Nguyễn Văn Lém's execution, among others) are consumed in flames.

Chart positions

Historical items referred to in the song

Stream of consciousness in style, the song could be considered a natural successor to songs such as "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)" and "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", as it consists of a series of unrelated images in a rapid-fire, half-spoken, half-sung vocal style.

The following events are in chronological order, the order as they appear in the song. In the actual song they are slightly reworded and are occasionally punctuated by the chorus and other lyrical elements. Events from a variety of contexts, such as popular entertainment, foreign affairs, and sports, are intermingled, giving an impression of the culture of the time as a whole. There are 121 items listed in the song

* Harry Truman is inaugurated as U.S. president after being elected in 1948 to his own term; previously he was sworn in following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He authorized the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan during World War II. August 6, 1945 and August 9, 1945 respectively.
* Doris Day enters the public spotlight with the films "My Dream Is Yours" and "It's a Great Feeling" as well as popular songs like "It's Magic"; divorces her second husband.
* Red China as the Communist Party of China wins the Chinese Civil War, establishing the People's Republic of China.
* Johnnie Ray signs his first recording contract with Okeh Records, although he would not become popular for another two years.
* "South Pacific", the prize winning musical, opens on Broadway on April 7.
* Walter Winchell is an aggressive radio and newspaper journalist credited with inventing the gossip column.
* Joe DiMaggio is injured early in the season but makes a comeback in June and leads the New York Yankees to win the World Series.

* Joe McCarthy, the U.S. Senator, gains national attention and begins his anti-communist crusade with his Lincoln Day speech.
* Richard Nixon is first elected to the United States Senate.
* Studebaker, a popular car company, is beginning its financial downfall.
* Television is becoming widespread (in black and white format) and becomes the most popular means of advertising.
* North Korea, South Korea engage in warfare as North Korea attacks on June 25, beginning the Korean War.
* Marilyn Monroe soars in popularity with five new movies including "The Asphalt Jungle" and "All About Eve", and attempts suicide after the death of lover Johnny Hyde. Monroe would later (1954) be married for a brief time to Joe DiMaggio (the rhyme in the previous verse).

* Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were convicted on March 29 for espionage. They maintained that they were innocent even at their executions.
* H-Bomb is in the middle of its development as a nuclear weapon, announced in early 1950 and first tested in late 1952.
* Sugar Ray Robinson, the boxer, obtains the world's middleweight title.
* Panmunjeom, the border village in Korea, is the location of truce talks between the parties of the Korean War.
* Marlon Brando is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in "A Streetcar Named Desire".
* "The King and I", musical, opens on Broadway on March 29.
* "The Catcher in the Rye", a controversial novel by J. D. Salinger, is published.

* Dwight D. Eisenhower is first elected as U.S. president, winning by a landslide margin of 442 to 89 electoral votes.
* Vaccine for polio is privately tested by Jonas Salk.
* Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) succeeds to the throne of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Realms upon the death of George VI of the United Kingdom.
* Rocky Marciano defeats Jersey Joe Walcott, becoming the world Heavyweight champion.
* Liberace has a popular 1950s television show for his musical entertainment.
* George Santayana, philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, dies on September 26.

* Joseph Stalin dies on March 5, yielding his position as leader of the Soviet Union.
* Georgy Maksimilianovich Malenkov succeeds Stalin for six months following his death. Malenkov had presided over Stalin's purges of party "enemies", but would be spared a similar fate by Nikita Khrushchev mentioned later in verse.
* Gamal Abdel Nasser acts as the true power behind the new Egyptian nation as Muhammad Naguib's minister of the interior.
* Sergei Prokofiev, the composer, dies on March 5, the same day as Stalin.
* Winthrop Rockefeller establishes "Winrock Enterprises" and "Winrock Farms" atop Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton, Arkansas.
* Roy Campanella, an African American baseball catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, receives the National League's Most Valuable Player award for the second time.
* Communist bloc is a group of communist nations dominated by the Soviet Union at this time.

* Roy Cohn resigns as Joseph McCarthy's chief counsel and enters private practice with the fall of McCarthy.
* Juan Perón spends his last full year as President of Argentina before a September 1955 coup.
* Arturo Toscanini is at the height of his fame as a conductor, performing regularly with the NBC Symphony Orchestra on national radio.
* Dacron is an early artificial fiber made from the same plastic as polyester.
* Battle of Dien Bien Phu. A village in North Vietnam falls to Viet Minh forces under Vo Nguyen Giap, leading to the creation of North Vietnam and South Vietnam as separate states.
* "Rock Around the Clock" is a hit single released by Bill Haley & His Comets in May, spurring worldwide interest in rock and roll.

* Albert Einstein dies on April 18 at the age of 76.
* James Dean achieves success with "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without a Cause", gets nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, and dies in a car accident on September 30.
* 1955 World Series as the Brooklyn Dodgers win the World Series for the only time. (There is cheering in the background of the song during this line.)
* "Davy Crockett" is a Disney television series about the legendary frontiersman of the same name. The show was a huge hit with young boys and inspired a short-lived "coonskin cap" fad.
* "Peter Pan" is broadcast on TV live and in color from the 1954 version of the stage musical starring Mary Martin on March 7.
* Elvis Presley signs with RCA Records on November 21, beginning his pop career.
* Disneyland opens on July 17 as Walt Disney's first theme park.

* Brigitte Bardot appears in her first mainstream film "And God Created Woman" and establishes an international reputation as a French "sex kitten".
* Budapest is the site of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
* Alabama is the site of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which ultimately led to the removal of the last race laws in the USA.
* Nikita Khrushchev makes his famous Secret Speech denouncing Stalin's "cult of personality" on February 23.
* Princess Grace Kelly releases her last film, "High Society", and marries Prince Rainier III of Monaco.
* "Peyton Place", the best-selling novel by Grace Metalious, is published. Though mild compared to today's prime time, it shocked the reserved values of the '50s.
* Suez Crisis The Suez Crisis boils as Egypt nationalizes the Suez Canal on October 29.

* Little Rock, Arkansas is the site of an anti-integration standoff, as Governor Orval Faubus stops the Little Rock Nine from attending Little Rock Central High School and President Dwight D. Eisenhower deploys the 101st Airborne Division to counteract him.
* Boris Pasternak, the Russian author, publishes his famous novel "Doctor Zhivago".
* Mickey Mantle is in the middle of his career as a famous New York Yankees' outfielder and American League All-Star for the sixth year in a row.
* Jack Kerouac publishes his first novel in seven years, "On the Road".
* Sputnik is the first artificial satellite, launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, the start of the space race.
* Zhou Enlai, Premier of the People's Republic of China, survives an assassination attempt on the Charter jet "Kashmir Princess".
* "The Bridge on the River Kwai" is released as a film adaptation of the 1954 novel and receives seven Academy Awards.

* Lebanon is engulfed in a political and religious crisis that eventually involves US Intervention.
* Charles de Gaulle is elected first president of the French Fifth Republic following the Algerian Crisis.
* California baseball begins as the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants move to California and become the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. They are the first major league teams west of Kansas City.
* Charles Starkweather homicides capture the attention of Americans, killing eleven people before he is caught in a massive manhunt in Douglas, Wyoming.
* Thalidomide: Mothers taking the drug Thalidomide had children born with congenital birth defects caused by the sleeping aid and antiemetic, which was also used at times (although not in the USA) to treat morning sickness.

* Buddy Holly dies in a plane crash on February 3 with Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper"), in a day that had a devastating impact on the country and youth culture. The event was immortalized by Don McLean as "The Day the Music Died" in his famous tribute song "American Pie". (As an intro to this stanza, Billy Joel mimics Buddy Holly's trademark "hiccup" style, singing a-UH-uh-oh...).
* "Ben-Hur" wins eleven Academy Awards as a film based around the New Testament starring Charlton Heston.
* Monkeys in space: Able and Miss Baker are the first living beings to successfully return to Earth from space aboard the flight Jupiter AM-18.
* Mafia are the center of attention for the FBI and public attention builds to this organized crime society with a historically Sicilian-American origin.
* Hula hoops reach 100 million in sales as the latest toy fad.
* Fidel Castro comes to power after a revolution in Cuba and visits the United States later that year on an unofficial twelve-day tour.
* Edsel: Production of this car marketing disaster (Ford spent $400 million developing it) ends after only two years.

* Lockheed U-2: An American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, causing the U-2 Crisis of 1960.
* Syngman Rhee was rescued by the CIA after being forced to resign as leader of South Korea for allegedly fixing an election and embezzling more than twenty million U.S. dollars.
* Payola was publicized due to Dick Clark's testimony before Congress and Alan Freed's public disgrace.
* John F. Kennedy beats Richard Nixon in the November 8 general election amongst allegations of vote fraud.
* Chubby Checker popularizes the dance The Twist with his song of the same name (see "The Twist").
* "Psycho": An Alfred Hitchcock thriller, based on a pulp novel by Robert Bloch and adapted by Joseph Stefano, which becomes a landmark in graphic violence and cinema sensationalism. The screeching violins heard briefly in the background are a trademark of the film's soundtrack.
* Congo Crisis: The Democratic Republic of the Congo was declared independent of Belgium on June 30, with Joseph Kasavubu as President and Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister. The Belgians, however, had other plans (see Secession of Katanga).

* Ernest Hemingway commits suicide on July 2 after a long battle with depression.
* Adolf Eichmann, a "most wanted" Nazi war criminal, is traced to Argentina and captured by Mossad agents. He is covertly taken to Israel where he is put on trial for crimes against humanity in Germany during World War II, convicted, and hanged.
* "Stranger in a Strange Land": Written by Robert A. Heinlein, is a breakthrough best-seller with themes of sexual freedom and liberation.
* Bob Dylan: After a "New York Times" review by critic Robert Shelton, Bob Dylan is signed to Columbia Records.
* Berlin: The Berlin Wall, which forcibly separated West Berlin from East Berlin and the rest of East Germany, was erected on August 13th to prevent citizens escaping to the West.
* Bay of Pigs Invasion: Failed attempt by United States-trained Cuban exiles to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro.

* "Lawrence of Arabia": The Academy Award-winning film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence starring Peter O'Toole premiers in America on December 16.
* Beatlemania: The Beatles, a British pop/rock group, gain Ringo Starr as drummer and Brian Epstein as manager, and join the EMI's Parlophone label. They soon become the world's most famous group, with the word "Beatlemania" adopted by the press for their fans' unprecedented enthusiasm.
* University of Mississippi: James Meredith integrates the University of Mississippi (known as Ole Miss).
* John Glenn: Flew the first American manned orbital mission termed "Friendship 7" on February 20.
* Sonny Liston beats Floyd Patterson: Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson fight for the world heavyweight championship on September 25, ending in a round-one knockout. This match marked the first time Patterson had ever been knocked out and one of only eight losses in his entire career.

* Pope Paul VI: Pope Paul VI is elected to the papacy.
* Malcolm X makes infamous statement "The chickens have come home to roost" about the Kennedy assassination, thus causing the Nation of Islam to censure him.
* Profumo Affair: The British Secretary of State for War has a relationship with a showgirl, and then lies when questioned about it before the House of Commons. When the truth came out, it led to his own resignation and undermined the credibility of the Prime Minister.
* John F. Kennedy assassination: President John F. Kennedy is assassinated on November 22 while riding in an open convertible through Dallas.

* Birth control: In the early 1960s, oral contraceptives, popularly known as "the pill", first go on the market and are extremely popular. Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 challenged a Connecticut law prohibiting contraceptives. In 1968, Pope Paul VI released a papal encyclical entitled "Humanae Vitae" which declared artificial birth control a sin.
* Ho Chi Minh: A Vietnamese Communist, who served as President of Vietnam from 1954–1969. March 2nd Operation Rolling Thunder begins bombing of the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" supply line from North Viet Nam to the Viet Cong rebels in the south. March 8th first US combat troops, 3,500 marines, land in South Viet Nam.

* Richard Nixon: Former Vice President Nixon is elected in the 1968 presidential election of the United States.

* Space Race: Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing, successfully lands on the moon.
* Woodstock Festival: Famous rock and roll festival of 1969 that came to be the epitome of the counterculture movement.

* Watergate scandal: Political scandal involving a hotel break-in, eventually leading to President Nixon's resignation.
* Punk rock: The Ramones form, with the Sex Pistols following in 1975, bringing in the punk era. The movement went beyond the music to a cultural attitude of rebellion against authority as a way of life, the reverberations of which are still being felt today.

1977 (Note that these two items, while later chronologically than the two 1976 items, come immediately before them in the song.)
* Menachem Begin becomes Prime Minister of Israel in 1977 and negotiates the Camp David Accords with Egypt's president in 1978.
* Ronald Reagan: President of the United States from 1981 to 1989; first attempted in 1976 to run for president.

1976 (Note that these two items, while earlier chronologically than the two 1977 items, come immediately after them in the song)
* Palestine: The Palestine Liberation Organization is admitted as a member of Arab League; see history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
* Aircraft hijacking: Numerous aircraft hijackings took place, specifically, the Palestinian hijack of Air France Flight 139 and the subsequent Operation Entebbe in Uganda

* Ayatollahs in Iran: During the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the West-backed and U.S.-installed Shah is overthrown as the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini gains power after years in exile.
* Soviet invasion of Afghanistan: Following their move into Afghanistan, Soviet forces fight a ten-year war, from 1979 to 1989.

* "Wheel of Fortune": A hit television game show which has been TV's highest-rated syndicated program since 1983.
* Sally Ride: In 1983 she becomes the first American woman in space. Dr. Ride's quip from space "Better than an E-ticket," harkens back to the opening of Disneyland mentioned earlier, with the E-ticket purchase needed for the best rides.
* Heavy metal, suicide: In the 1980s Ozzy Osbourne and the bands Metallica and Judas Priest were brought to court by parents who accused the musicians of hiding subliminal pro-suicide messages in their music. (Billy Joel himself has stated on his website that even though the two terms are separated by a comma they are collectively one item, similar to "North Korea, South Korea" above.)Fact|date=December 2007
* Trade deficit: Persistent US trade deficits.
* Homeless Vietnam veterans: Veterans of the Vietnam war, including many disabled ex-military, are reported to be left homeless and impoverished, the country unable to yet handle its failure to succeed.
* AIDS: A collection of symptoms and infections in humans resulting from the specific damage to the immune system caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It is first detected and recognized in the 1980s, on its way to becoming a pandemic.
* Crack cocaine: Refers to crack cocaine, a popular drug in the mid-to-late 1980s.

* Bernhard Goetz: On December 22, Goetz shot four young men who he said were threatening him on a New York City subway. Goetz was charged with attempted murder but was acquitted of the charges, though convicted of carrying an unlicensed gun.

* Syringe Tide: Medical waste was found washed up on beaches in New Jersey after being illegally dumped at sea. Before this event, waste dumped in the oceans was an "out of sight, out of mind" affair. This has been cited as one of the crucial turning points in popular opinion on environmentalism.

* China's Martial law: On May 20, China declares martial law, enabling them to use force of arms against protesting students to end the Tiananmen Square protests.
* Rock and Roller, Cola wars: Soft drink giants Coke and Pepsi each run marketing campaigns using popular music stars to reach the young adult demographic. Of the 56 individuals mentioned by name in the song, the following nine are still alive as of September 2008: Doris Day, Queen Elizabeth II, Brigitte Bardot, Fidel Castro, Chubby Checker, Bob Dylan, John Glenn, Sally Ride, and Bernhard Goetz. Johnnie Ray was the first person mentioned in the song, still alive when it was released, to die (on 24 February 1990). The most recent to die was Floyd Patterson, on 11 May 2006.

Only two individuals, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, are mentioned by name twice in the song.

Parodies and other cultural references

*"They'll Never Stop The Simpsons": In the episode "Gump Roast", "The Simpsons" plays this parody while showing various stills from the series up to that point. It relived popular moments from "Mr. Plow" to Burns being "blown away".

*"We Like Barney Fife": a parody song by novelty group "Guns 'N' Moses" (one of many names used by IceMark, composed of Mark Jonathan Davis and Rob "Iceman" Izenberg [cite web |url=http://mich.ideatown.com/mdemento.html |title=Dr. Demento Hits |accessdate=2008-04-09 |accessmonthday= |accessdaymonth= |accessyear= |author= |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |date= |year= |month= |format= |work=MJD's Intergalactic Comedy Hacienda |publisher= |pages= |language= |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= ] ), centered around the characters and landmarks of "The Andy Griffith Show", primarily around Deputy Barney Fife of Mayberry. This then segues into an audio trailer for "Barney on the Fourth of July", a spoof of the movie "Born on the Fourth of July". (One notable clever point is the interesting counterpoint between the melody of the refrain of "We Didn't Start the Fire" and the Andy Griffith Show theme music, "The Fishin' Hole".)

*"Pet Names for Genitalia": a song listing increasingly absurd euphemisms for "penis" and circulated on the Internet. Though commonly misattributed to "Weird Al" Yankovic, Tom Green, Dane Cook, or South Park, it is generally unknown who wrote it.

*Coca Cola (Coke) in Latin America launched a TV campaign about the 2006 FIFA World Cup, in which they use the score of this song like a chant. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TT5jo_d6NtM]

*On "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" Conan has occasionally suggested that the show will turn over a new leaf in terms of its comedic direction and stop doing comedy bits that don't make any sense. He then consults with the Cactus Chef playing "We Didn't Start the Fire" on the flute for confirmation. The Cactus Chef promptly plays "We Didn't Start the Fire" on his flute.

*In Ricky Gervais's stand-up show "Politics", he references the song, saying "It's basically a list", then quoting the first verse and commenting, "That's not a song. That is a conversation with "Rain Man"."

*"Ryan Started the Fire": In "The Office" episode "The Fire", Dunder-Mifflin Scranton catches fire. After the smoke clears, Michael and Dwight discover that it was Ryan who started the fire, after leaving a cheese pita in the toaster-oven. They then tease Ryan by singing "Ryan Started the Fire".

*Recently, JibJab released a video parody of the song called [http://www.jibjab.com/sendables/274/in_2007 In 2007] , which is about the year 2007 in review.

*On Comedy Central's "Night of Too Many Stars" benefit concert they sang a rendition of it titled "We Didn't Start Autism" in which they said the name of every person who had donated that night.

*On the April 17, 2008 episode of "30 Rock", character Tracy Jordan dances to the song in his dressing room. Eventually, his CD begins to repeat Richard Nixon and Jordan pokes his stereo with a screwdriver, triggering a dream sequence where he meets Nixon who tries to persuade him to join the Republican Party.

*A version created by the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) based on over forty years of television news footage is available on YouTube. [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2b-oGXbzXko YouTube - tv IS history (We Didn't Start The Fire) ] ] In this version, however, Stranger in a Strange Land seems to refer to Jane Fonda in Vietnam as well as "suicide" referring to the televised suicide of Budd Dwyer during a press conference.

*Cornell University also boasts its own parody of the song entitled "We Didn't Go To Harvard" sung by Cornell's original A Cappella group, Cayuga's Waiters. This version references a number of well-known campus occurrences and places of note and is popular enough with the student body to warrant its own t-shirt.

*In light of the popular YouTube parody series ""'s second anniversary, a fan of the series put together a mock of this song featuring characters in the series and key highlights in the storyline from the beginning to more recent episodes. The song title is "You'll Never Stop the Abridged" [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4F7oIejPmTE] ] .

*Popular YouTube singer TomsterMusic wrote a parody "Tom's Bushes Are On Fire," describing the events of Tom's neighbors lighting his bushes on fire with fireworks.


External links

* [http://yeli.us/Flash/Fire.html Flash Version with lyrics, years and images]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/A2700488 An in depth history from the BBC's h2g2 site]
* [http://www.school-for-champions.com/history/start_fire_facts.htm History Summary from 1949-1989 by Ron Kurtus]
* [http://www.flashplayer.com/music/fire.html The song with flash animation accompaniment]

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