We Didn't Start the Fire

We Didn't Start the Fire

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About

"We Didn't Start The Fire" is a 1989 pop rock song written and performed by American singer-songwriter Billy Joel. Since its release, the song has spawned several dozens of parodies and tributes due to the unique structure of its lyrics, which chronicles major historical events of the latter half of the 20th century in rapid-fire succession.

Origin

The song was featured as a track on his eleventh studio album Storm Front, which was released on September 27th, 1989. Upon its release, "We Didn't Start the Fire" instantly became a hit and rose to the number-one single on Billboard Hot 100 in December 1989.



Lyrics

The song is most well-known for its lyrical allusions to more than 100 historical events and cultural milestones that made the headlines between 1949, the year of Joel's birth, and 1989, the year when the song was released, with "the fire" mentioned in the chorus referring to the ever-changing struggle of human progress over the span of half a century.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
But when we are gone
It will still burn on and on and on and on
And on and on and on and on…

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

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

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


Spread

Due to the unique structure of the song that easily lends itself to modification, "We Didn't Start The Fire" has spawned many dozens of parodies and modern adaptations with original lyrics reflecting different eras and themes.

Parodies in Pop Culture

In 2002, The Simpsons featured a parody song titled "They'll Never Stop the Simpsons" at the end of "Gump Roast" (Season 13, Episode 17). In 2005, the American version of The Office featured a parody song titled "Ryan Started The Fire" in "The Fire" (Episode 4, Season 2) wherein the temporary employee Ryan Howard gets roasted by Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute for starting a fire in the office (shown below, right).



In 2013, Family Guy parodied the song in the episode "Bigfat" (Episode 17, Season 11) in which Peter Griffin attempts to sing the song but mumbles through the most part of it because he has forgotten the lyrics (shown below, left). In 2015, Parks and Recreation ran the episode "Leslie and Ron" (Season 7, Episode 4) in which the protagonist Leslie Knope makes a botched attempt at singing the song to get Ron Swanson to confess why he left his job (shown below, right).



Online Parodies

In 2003, Cornell University's oldest acappella group Cayuga's Waiters released a parody song titled "We Didn't Go to Harvard" with lyrics altered to reflect the ever-changing student life at Cornell and highlight various landmarks around the campus (shown below, left). In April 2007, Mikey Squirrel uploaded a Star Wars themed parody video titled "We Didn't Start the Star Wars" (shown below, right)



In October 2007, San Francisco-based acapella group The Richter Scales released a parody song titled "Here Comes Another Bubble," which earned the group the 2008 Webby Award for Online Film & Video in Viral category (shown below, left). In December 2007, web entertainment studio JibJab released their year-in-review set to the tune of "We Didn't Start the Fire" (shown below, right).



In April 2009, CollegeHumor released a parody song titled "We Didn't Start the Flame War," which explores a long list of popular flame baits that are often used by Internet trolls (shown below, left). In November 2010, YouTube comedy group PopeFriction released "The Wii Didn't Start the Fire," which chronicles the history of video games to the tune of the original song (shown below, right).



In April 2010, YouTube musician Adam Drucker released a parody song titled "We've Got a Strong Desire" in homage to 5,000 years of Jewish history (shown below, left). In July 2012, fans of the cult hit webcomic series Homestuck uploaded a parody song titled "You Can't Fight the Homestuck" featuring an abridged summary of its long-winded storyline (shown below, right).



In June 2013, Los Angeles-based indie pop band Milo Greene performed a cover of the song for The Onion's A.V. Club series A.V. Undercover. In May 2013, Dane Boedigheimer, the creator of the popular web series Annoying Orange, released a parody song titled "We Didn't Start the Viral" as part of YouTube's Comedy Week (shown below).


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On February 16th, 2014, Redditor Wacrover submitted a post titled "If you had to update Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" to include the past 20 years, what would your new verses be?" to /r/AskReddit[11], where it garnered over 1,731 points and 530 comments prior to being archived.

Twitter Parodies

On Twitter, parodies of the song's lyrics began appearing more frequently after Twitter increased its character limit from 140 to 280. Many of the parody tweets center on current events. For example, on November 17th, 2017, Twitter user @juliareinstein[12] tweeted a summary of recent news in a tweet that gained over 870 retweets and 4,400 likes (shown below, left). A popular strand of jokes parody the song with recent events in the Trump Administration. These jokes started growing popular in late February of 2018. On the 28th, Twitter user @themaxburns tweeted a parody that gained 10,000 retweets and 33,000 likes, and also inspired Twitter users to tweet their own variations.


A. julia reinstein Following ajuliareinstein fox tights dril dox navy fills the sky with cocks all our asses taking knees bill o'neill f---- frequently we didn't start the fire 6:31 PM -17 Nov 2017 Max Burns @themaxburns Followv Hope Hicks white lies Jared's clearance compromised Trump is taking all the guns Sessions' time is almost done Kush lands sweet loanS NRA standing alone Maybe God lets Oprah run Mueller watching all the fun WE DIDN'T START THE FIRE 10:19 PM-28 Feb 2018

Additionally, on the 27th, Vox released a musical parody of recent events in the Trump Administration (shown below). The surge in Twitter "We Didn't Start the Fire" jokes was covered by Twitter Moments[13] on March 2nd, 2018.




Fall Out Boy Cover

On June 28th, 2023, Fall Out Boy released a cover of the song that updated the verses to cover major news events from 1989 to 2023.



The cover received mixed reactions, as some of the news stories juxtaposed together for the sake of a rhyme (for example, "Oklahoma City bomb" and "Pokémon") struck some listeners as humorously tasteless. Others criticized how the verses weren't in chronological order, giving the song a "list of things" feel.

Search Interest

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