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We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel

In case you haven’t heard this great song by Billy Joel, I recommend listening to it before reading the rest of this post…you can listen here:

Just today, while listening to some Billy Joel, I was reintroduced to this great great song. In high school, our Outdoor Pursuits teacher, Mr. Fletcher, gave us an assignment to look up every historical reference in this song and find out what it meant. The assignment was worth something like 112 points – which equaled the number of historical references in the song. He was a huge history buff, and thought it would be an interested assignment. Which it was. However, whether he knew it or not, there are websites devoted to this song, and each historical reference is linked to a corresponding page with some information about that reference. So the assignment, while informative, was quite easy.

Here are the lyrics to the song, with the references linked (I’m sure some of the links don’t work as this is an old site):

Harry TrumanDoris DayRed ChinaJohnnie Ray
South PacificWalter WinchellJoe DiMaggio

Joe McCarthyRichard NixonStudebakertelevision
North Korea, South KoreaMarilyn Monroe

RosenbergsH-BombSugar RayPanmunjom
Brando“The King and I”, and “The Catcher in the Rye”

EisenhowervaccineEngland’s got a new queen
MarcianoLiberaceSantayana 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 StalinMalenkovNasser and Prokofiev
RockefellerCampanellaCommunist Bloc

Roy CohnJuan PeronToscaninidacron
Dien Bien Phu and “Rock Around the Clock”

EinsteinJames DeanBrooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett“Peter Pan”Elvis PresleyDisneyland

Princess Grace“Peyton Place”, trouble in the Suez


Little RockPasternakMickey MantleKerouac
SputnikZhou En-Lai“Bridge on the River Kwai”

LebanonCharles de GaulleCalifornia baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide

Buddy Holly“Ben-Hur”space monkeyMafia
hula hoopsCastroEdsel is a no go

U2Syngman Rheepayola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker“Psycho”Belgians in the Congo


HemingwayEichmann“Stranger in a Strange Land”
DylanBerlinBay of Pigs Invasion

“Lawrence of Arabia”British Beatlemania
Ole MissJohn GlennListon beats Patterson

Pope PaulMalcolm XBritish politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say


Birth controlHo Chi MinhRichard Nixon, back again
MoonshotWoodstockWatergatepunk rock
BeginReaganPalestineterror on the airline
Ayatollolah’s in IranRussians in Afghanistan

“Wheel of Fortune”Sally Rideheavy metalsuicide
Foreign debtshomeless vetsAIDSCrackBernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shoreChina’s under martial law
Rock and Roller Cola Wars, I can’t take it anymore


We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on…

A super video of the song: Billy Joel – “We Didn’t Start the Fire”

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