Billy Joel – We Didn’t Start The Fire

Ah, Billy Joel, the singer behind the original “Uptown Girl”, later covered by Westlife. Why am I mentioning that? Because I can’t think of how else to mention Billy Joel, without using the words “Piano Man” or “River Of Dreams”…

Where can I begin, with We Didn’t Start The Fire? Well, it was released in 1989, and was inspired and written about various events and people over a 40 year period between 1949 and 1989. It’s short and snappy lyrics help to remind me of history and the order it all goes. Heck, I even try to guess the year for some of it, based on lyrics like “England’s got a new Queen” and “JFK, Blown Away”.

Billy Joel caught me out with this song. What is it, really, other than one short history lesson, packed with everything and everyone worth knowing, between the years stated. I listen to it, and think, why was this not used in my Cold-War History Lessons?

Most importantly, though, as well as being the ultimate Cold War History Lesson, it’s also a song with a subtle message. You listen to the chorus and you think, “what fire?”. War. War is the fire. Listen to it and you’ll see. It’s subtle, and it’s not mentioned on Wikipedia as a meaning behind it, so, you know, you heard it from me.

Lyrically, I quite like the song. The way the various moments in history, moments which seem incapable of being lyrically great, work well together. The way they’ve been shuffled around, but kept in order, to make this historical menagerie, is just spectacular.

The music is a bit, what’s the word… Tacky. I don’t know what it is. I think maybe the way that the drums are pretty much the same throughout, save a few short pieces where it speeds up, annoys me. Sure, it’s a pace setter, so that the lyrics are all said at the right speed, at the right time, with the right emphasis in the right place. Lyrically, it’s very reliant on the drums, but I think it’d work with just the piano.

So, what are my favourite lyrics? Well, I think the WHOLE of the last verse, is the best part of the song. Let me find it for you. I could type it out of course. This was the first song I wrote the lyrics out to, from listening to them. Got a few wrong, but heck, who cares? Onto the final verse!

“Birth control, Ho Chi Minh,
Richard Nixon back again,
Moonshot, Woodstock,
Watergate, Punk Rock,
Begin, Reagan,
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”

I learnt that. I listen to this song and EVERY SINGLE TIME I DO, I sing that section. Why? Because it’s, like, 15 years of history crammed into 40 seconds of singing. Big things too. Watergate wasn’t small. Watergate was massive. We Didn’t Start The Fire massive. Oh, wait, it’s coming up. Bear with me.

Okay, that’s done. Love that bit.

I know I don’t rate it, but the video’s messed up JUST ENOUGH to be good. Just thought I’d let you know.

Final verdict? Well, lyrics are good, music’s mediocre and that’s the song summed up.


That Guy

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