We Didn't Start the Fire (4:49)

Cover of Piano Man

From Piano Man and 45 other releases

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” is a song by Billy Joel. Its lyrics include brief, rapid-fire allusions to more than 100 headline events between January 1949 (Joel was born on May 9 of that year) and 1989, when the song was released on his album Storm Front. The song was a No. 1 hit in the US. It peaked at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart in the Autumn of 1989.

Joel got the idea for the song when he had just turned 40. He was in a recording studio and met a friend of Sean Lennon who had just turned 21 who said “It’s a terrible time to be 21!” Joel replied to him, “Yeah, I remember when I was 21 — I thought it was an awful time and we had Vietnam, and y’know, drug problems, and civil rights problems and everything seemed to be awful.” The friend replied, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but it’s different for you. You were a kid in the fifties and everybody knows that nothing happened in the fifties”. Joel retorted, “Wait a minute, didn’t you hear of the Korean War or the Suez Canal Crisis?” Joel later said those headlines formed the basic framework for the song.

Joel has said, “I’m a history nut. I devour books. At one time I wanted to be a history teacher”. According to his mother, he was a bookworm by the age of seven. Unlike most of Joel’s songs, the lyrics were written before the melody, owing to the somewhat unusual style of the song. The song was a huge commercial success and was Joel’s third Billboard No. 1 hit. It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

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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.

MetroLyrics Full lyrics at MetroLyrics

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