Billy Joel – We Didn’t Start the Fire

First Hit #1: December 9, 1989

Recently, the schlockmeisters behind films such as Date Movie released a trailer for their newest film. Like their previous films, it does not contain jokes really, but references to pop culture, assuming that simply acknowledging their existence is, in itself, a joke.

We Didn’t Start the Fire is the serious version of that. The song is a rapid-fire list of world events and famous names, presented wholly without context on the assumption that if you recognize them, you’ll get his point. The chorus, which punctuates the song, gives a further clue, as the song is about the relentless march of time. Of course, it’s about the march of Joel’s time, starting with his birth and ending with the writing of this song, becoming a highly personal song about things that didn’t happen to him. But, given the complete lack of context, the song relies on the listener’s knowledge to give it significance, which is a trusting move by Joel but it also means it starts to get increasingly irrelevant as it gets older. For instance, the reference to the cola wars, something that isn’t going to hit for audiences over 20 years later. The reference is meaningless, it’s the context that matters.

At least Joel is technically able, which is a lot more than can be said for the “Movie Movie” guys.

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One Response to Billy Joel – We Didn’t Start the Fire

  1. RBerman says:

    Joel is one of those rare triple threats: A great rock singer, talented on the keyboards (though this is one of his guitar based numbers, like “Moment of Trust”), instinctive with catchy melodies. Lyrics, not so much. But he’s at least tolerable and sensical there. When was the last time we saw a “patter song” at the top of the charts before this one? Also, Joel was 40 years into his life and 16 years into his Top Forty career when this song hit the top. Impressive longevity in the increasingly youth-and-novelty obsessed music scene. I like the little touches like the “eee! eee!” string sound when he mentions Psycho. He does come off as a bit of a grumpy old man with the closing “I can’t take it any more!”, as if the cultual moments of the late 80s were any less vapid than those of the late 40s.

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