Writer: Billy Joel
Producers: Mick Jones and Billy Joel
Recorded: Winter 1988/spring 1989 at the Hit Factory Times Square Studio in New York City
Released: Fall 1989
|Billy Joel — vocals, clavinet, percussion
Liberty DeVitto — drums
David Brown — guitar
Joey Hunting — guitar
Schuyler Deale — bass
Jeff Jacobs — synthesizer
John Mahoney — keyboards
Crystal Taliefero — percussion, vocals
Sammy Merendino — electronic percussion
Kevin Jones — keyboard programming
Doug Krieger — sound effects
|Storm Front (Columbia)
"We Didn't Start The Fire," an oddball "history lesson" of a song by Billy Joel, hit Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 in the fall of 1989 — his first chart-topper since 1983.
In the song, Joel delivers a meticulously rhymed machine-gun listing of world events and personalities from 1949 to 1989, from Harry Truman and Doris Day to "rock 'n' roller cola wars."
Joel said that the song was inspired by his own love of history and his concern that it wasn't being properly appreciated by young people: "I was talking to some guy in his 20s, and he was telling me how tough it is to be in your 20s. I (empathized)…He looked at me and said, 'At least you were a child in the '50s, and everybody knows nothing happened in the '50s.' So I said, 'Wait a minute,' and just started listing things that happened since I was born. It was originally a mental exercise. I didn't think it was that big a deal."
Joel said the song's message is its chorus — "We didn't start the fire/No we didn't light it/But we tried to fight it." "What I'm saying is that the world's always been (messed up), it still is, and it'll always be crazy," he explained. "You try to fight it, that's all."
Joel also downplayed the achievement of putting together the assorted events and personalities that populate the song: "It's sound bites and buzz words. It's just a matter of getting the chronology straight. If you can't find a rhyme out of a year, you've gotta be a dip."
Joel collaborated with the publishers of Junior Scholastic and Update magazines to distribute the song to their 40,000 student readers, along with a 10-minute talk by Joel about his love for history.
Joel's Storm Front was his third Number One album on the Billboard 200. It has been certified quadruple-platinum.
To coproduce Storm Front, Joel tapped Foreigner's Mick Jones after working on several albums with Phil Ramone.