Billy Joel Teaches History

I have always believed I would have retained a lot more of what I was taught in school if everything had been set to music. My ability to memorize song lyrics is baffling and, in most cases, useless. But if physics theories had been sung by New Kids On The Block... well, I might be a genius today.

Of course some songs do teach you things. One of the most thorough pop examples in relatively recent history is Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' which walks you through the major events of the 20th century up until the point Joel wrote the song. It doesn't explain the events or give any context but memorizing those lyrics gives you an intense rundown on a fairly active little segment of history. And while listening to the song in a fit of nostalgia in 2010 I came up with the idea of expanding my mind by way of historical readings via Billy Joel. Basically I decided to research every single thing mentioned in 'We Didn't Start The Fire' and blog about my findings. It would tidily combine pop culture, music, and learning in one handy package. Which - as apparently only Sesame Street, Maria Von Trapp, and Billy Joel understand - is really the key to knowledge retention.

It was derailed by personal life events.  But it's a solid idea so I'm picking it back up, dusting it off, and making it my fall/winter 2012 project.  Billy Joel Teaches History, ladies and gentleman.

The first step: Writing out the song in it's entirety.  (You may read the lyrics at the end of this post or, if you have any respect for popular culture at all, sing them from memory now.)

During this phase I realized two very important things. Firstly, the trouble wasn't in the sewers. The trouble was in the Suez. So it's not a reference to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It's the Suez Canal. Secondly, there aren't Belgians in the condo. The Belgians were in the Congo. I suppose either way constitutes some sort of invasion but Belgians in the condo strongly suggests waffles and I suspect the reference is slightly more pressing than breakfast.

Having thus cleared up minor confusion, I am armed with accurate lyrics and the power of the internet. Let the history lesson commence!

 
WE DIDNT START THE FIRE
BILLY JOEL

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

CHORUS:
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, Krushchev
Princess Grace, "Peyton Place", trouble in the Suez

CHORUS:
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

CHORUS:
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
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say

CHORUS:
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

CHORUS:
We didn't start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on...