Billy Joel has a number of timeless classics that make him one of the best selling artists of all time. You don’t win six Grammy Awards without excellent music. Is “We Didn’t Start the Fire” one of his best though?
Its one of his most easily recognizable songs, but it gets criticized constantly. The song is a social commentary on how the baby boomer generation isn’t responsible for the world’s problems, but even some of Joel’s biggest fans and the Piano Man himself don’t care for it.
“I only wrote stuff I wanted to hear. If it turned out to be a hit, it was pure dumb luck. I didn’t even pick the singles. The record company picks what’s going to be a single. I hand them an album of a bunch of songs,” Joel said in 2021 on a podcast about the song’s history.
He admitted that he hates the music because it doesn’t mesh well in a song with such catchy and creative lyrics like “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” He’s also downplayed his own mastery in big hits “Piano Man” and “Captain Jack” in the past.
Countless adaptations of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” have been produced, especially since generational conflicts have raged once again with a polarizing political landscape in the United States and a worldwide pandemic. Most of them mock the original song.
“We Didn’t Start the Fire” provides some thought-provoking nuggets about historical events of the 20th century, but the lyrics don’t have great depth. Joel more so just lists the events without any further explanation.
The real reason this catchy earworm became so widespread is because Billy Joel rattled off the lyrics in such a unique way (for better or worse) that made 10 memorable lines pop out and stick with listeners forever.
Most of them are just dramatically screamed before the chorus.