"We Didn't Start the Fire" - what is he singing about?

We didn't start the fire
Billy Joel North Korea Marilyn Monroe H Bomb

Things seem to come in waves.  I read something the other day about Billy Joel flubbing the lyrics to his very own "We Didn't Start the Fire" and then slamming it for being the worst thing he's ever written.  It's definitely one of those tunes you can't get out of your head but who could possibly memorize all of it!  

Then I heard it on the radio or somewhere like that... who knows, could have been Spotify, a car driving by, Pandora, elevator music.  

To hear some... well... interesting covers of the song, check out our Music Online database (library card required).  

Anyway, I got to thinking about how the song lyrics are basically just a litany of contemporary and, now that the song is 25 years old, historical events and people.  And I thought about how you could learn about any or all of the things mentioned in the song at the library.  

So I gave the first two verses a shot - DPL definitely has the goods!  Check it out:  

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie 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
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

Chorus:

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

The headlines in Billy Joel's song can be explored in the online databases provided to customers of the Denver Public Library. Most of the databases are available remotely to customers with a Denver Public Library card.

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Comments

Oh man, this is great!

Thanks for the musical stroll down memory lane! I had no idea there was such a song, now I'm going to have to switch to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", too!

I've heard that people used to call the library when that song was popular to find out about the different events listed in the lyrics.

I had to switch my brain over to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to get rid of "We Didn't Start the Fire."

This is amazing!

Should I work on the next verse? :-)

Or just post the rest of the lyrics...

Here are the rest - give it a shot!

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

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

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
J.F.K. blown away, what else do I have to say

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

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