Study Guide

We Didn't Start the Fire

We Didn't Start the Fire Introduction

In a Nutshell

This isn't your typical Billy Joel song. There's no uptown girl or piano man—just a rapid-fire list of events and names from 1949 to 1989. Not everyone loved it. 

Blender called it "one of the worst songs ever" and compared it to "a term paper scribbled the night before it's due." (Source) Still, the song managed to sit on top of the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks and was nominated for two Grammys.

So, is this what happens when high school dropouts try to write history? Or did Joel do a pretty good job of summing up the events surrounding the first 40 years of his life? You decide.

About the Song

ArtistJoel, Billy
Year1989
LabelColumbia
Writer(s)Billy Joel
Producer(s)Mick Jones, Billy Joel
Musician(s)Billy Joel (vocals, piano)
Learn to play
AlbumStorm Front

Music Video

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Influences on Joel, Billy

Ray Charles
The Beatles
Ludwig van Beethoven
Dave Brubeck
George Gershwin
Fats Domino

Influenced by Joel, Billy

Ben Folds
Garth Brooks
Bryan Adams
Richard Marx

We Didn't Start the Fire Resources

Images

Young Billy Joel
The Piano Man, ca. 1975

Older Billy Joel
Taken in 1989, the year “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was released

George Santayana
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Websites

Billy Joel Official Site
Joel’s official site is OK. It includes a short timeline but no bio, lots of concert news but no reviews or articles. Several videos are posted, and believe it or not, there’s lots of merchandise to buy. We knew you wouldn’t believe it.

Oz on Joel
This is a handy little site with links for exploring the historical references in “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

Video & Audio

“We Didn’t Start the Fire”
Chris Blum produced the video.

“Leningrad”
A second historical song that accompanied “We Didn’t Start the Fire” on Storm Front