We Didn't Start the Fire
is a song by Billy Joel
which appeared on his 1989 Storm Front
album. In the song, Joel lists 120 events, people, places, and things which had significant impact during his lifetime (from 1949
to the song's release in 1989
). Joel has stated if he hadn't become a successful recording artist, he would have become a history teacher
. Joel has a teaching certificate to teach high school history.
Taking to account the lyrics of the song, the listener can deduce which events Joel feels was significant enough to mention. The listener could also determine Joel's political leanings, sports interest, and favorite movies. Of course some of these items mentioned could have been written in just because they have a good rhyming scheme to it. Some examples:
- Five American presidents (Truman, Nixon, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan) are mentioned, with Nixon and Kennedy mentioned twice each. One could deduce Joel is a fan of Kennedy, although he did mention the Bay of Pigs invasion, the biggest political blunder of Kennedy's administration.
On the flip side one could just as easily determine that Joel has Republican leanings based on the fact that more Republican presidents are mentioned. Although the opposite could be true as Nixon's Watergate scandal is mentioned.
- Sports: Billy must be a boxing fan as Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson are mentioned in the lyrics. Before becoming big as a musician, Joel himself was a successful New York boxer, having won 22 of his 24 fights.
Joel also must be a baseball fan, having mentioned Joe DiMaggio, Roy Campanella, Mickey Mantle, and California Baseball in the course of the song. In 2002 Joel released a DVD titled "Live at Yankee Stadium." The cover of which features Billy in a Yankee's uniform.
Notably absent are any mention of football and basketball. The reasoning behind this is these pro sports didn't become popular until the 70s and 80s. Joel tends to concentrate on events of the 50s and 60s.
- Not surprisingly the Piano Man mentions several musicians which must have influenced his songs. These include Johnnie Ray, Liberace, Sergei Prokofiev, Bill Haley and the Comets("Rock around the Clock"), Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chubby Checker, Bob Dylan, The Beatles ("British Beatle Mania"). Other significant musical elements are mentioned including Woodstock, Punk Rock, and Heavy Metal, although one could argue that the latter two are merely cultural references and have very little influence on Joel's music.
The Cold War and communism seems to be another general theme of the song with the lyrics mentioning Red China, the Korean War, Josef Stalin, the Communist Bloc, Nikita Khrushchev, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution ("Budapest"), Chou En-lai, Fidel Castro, and the Tiananmen Square protests ("China's under martial law").
In lieu of mentioning Vietnam specifically, Billy chooses to mention Dien Bien Phu falling, which created North and South Vietnam. Similarly Panmunjeom is mentioned, the town where the Korean War cease fire was signed. It isn't clear why Joel chooses to mention difficult to pronounce place names of Asian countries. Maybe it's because they are easy to rhyme words with.
The civil rights movement is mentioned a handful of times with Little Rock's Central High integration, Montgomery Bus Boycott ("Alabama"), and Malcom X. Notably absent is any specific mention of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The song ends in an anti-climatic note: "Cola Wars - I can't take it anymore." Seems that Joel could have found a better event that affected the world, rather than something as fickle as Pepsi and Coke's marketing campaigns.
Misheard and misinterpreted Lyrics:
- "Starkweather Homicide" is sometimes interpreted as "Start with a Homicide."
- "Space Monkey, Mafia" could be misinterpreted as a crime syndicate made up entirely of monkeys who had journeyed into space.
- "Chubby Checker, Psycho" - could be misinterpreted as Chubby Checker being crazy.
There are a handful of similar songs using rapid-fire seemingly random lyrics with pop culture references. These include:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Didn%27t_Start_the_Fire - "We Didn't Start the Fire" - Wikipedia
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005055/ - Billy Joel - Internet Movie Database