Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jukebox Friday: Billy Joel - We Didn't Start The Fire

William Martin Joel (b. 1949 in New York City) AKA Billy Joel is an American musician and pianist, singer-songwriter, and classical composer. He is the third best-selling solo artist in the United States and a six-time Grammy Award winner. You know him.

"We Didn't Start The Fire" was released on the album Storm Front in 1989. The lyrics are a string of cultural and political references, starting with the inauguration of American president Harry S. Truman in 1949 (Billy Joel's year of birth) and ending with the cola wars between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which began in the late 1980s.

The disjointed lyrics and fast-paced music are reminiscent of earlier songs such as Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues". A more direct influence could be R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" (1987). Because it's one of my favourite songs in the whole world, and because no-one's going to care, I'm putting it here for comparison.



So what's all this got to do with Belgium? Well, on June 30, 1960, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was declared independent of Belgium, and Mr. Joel thought it was significant enough to include it in his song.

That, or he couldn't come up with anything better to rhyme with "Psycho".

Since the lyrics in the song are completely chronological (although that might not be obvious to everyone, it certainly wasn't to me), the verse including the Congo reference consists entirely of references from 1960. They are, in chronological order:

The American U-2 spy plane that was shot down over Soviet territory; Syngman Rhee, the controversial first president of South Korea; Payola, the illegal payment by record companies for radio broadcasting of songs; John F. Kennedy's victory in the presidential general election; Chubby Checker, the artist who popularized the dance style Twist; and, just before "Belgians and the Congo", Psycho, the Alfred Hitchcock movie, accompanied by a screeching violin.

The music video for the song was directed by Chris Blum. Unfortunately I can't embed the YouTube video, but here's the link. Enjoy!


Lyrics:

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

Josef 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, Zhou Enlai, 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

U2, 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...

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...


Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_didn%27t_start_the_fire

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