I've been going through a Billy Joel phase, and subjecting my family to many of his greatest hits.

While I seem to still be the only person who enjoys "I Go to Extremes," my daughter was taken by "We Didn't Start the Fire." She is a bit of a history nerd, like her dad, and she loves lists, like her dad. So that song is right up her alley.

"We Didn't Start The Fire" is a song from his 1989 album Storm Front. That's also the album where Garth Brooks found the original version of "Shameless."

READ MORE: Remember When Garth Brooks Honored Billy Joel at the Kennedy Center Honors?

The song is a long poem that lists important moments in history from the end of WW2 through the 1980s. And there are a lot of references. It's taken me years to catch them all. But, trying to explain them all has been a pain.

annotated list of the events and people mentioned in the lyrics of "We Didn't Start the Fire."
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What do "We Didn't Start The Fire" Lyrics Mean?

Explaining the lyrics of "We Didn't Start The Fire" is difficult because it turns out I don't even know a lot of them. Part of the problem is that I first learned the words when I was 13 years old. I thought I was pretty smart, but the holes in my historical knowledge were exposed.

For example, Billy Joel sings, "Trouble in the Suez." Reffering to the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis. But for years I thought the line was "Trouble in the sewers," about something that happened in storm drains in the '50s. Like loose alligators or something.

"We Didn't Start The Fire" is a list song. The singer crafted a song out of 119 cultural references. The references are all events or people who were prominent between the end of World War 2 and the end of the 1980s.

annotated list of the events and people mentioned in the lyrics of "We Didn't Start the Fire."
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The song covers the big events and people who influenced the world while the Baby Boom generation came of age and entered adulthood. The lyrics name-check events of the Cold War as well as pop-culture figures like Elvis and Marlin Brando.

Joel says that the idea for the song came to him just after he'd turned 40. He was in the studio talking to a young adult who was talking about how tough the late '80s were for people his age. Telling Joel, "You were a kid in the fifties and everybody knows that nothing happened in the fifties."

Billy was there, he remembered what the '50s and '60s were really like.

annotated list of the events and people mentioned in the lyrics of "We Didn't Start the Fire."
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"We Didn't Start The Fire" is the Forrest Gump of Music Videos

The video for the song was a mainstay on MTV through the end of 1989. The video is a sort of stylized play with Billy Joel in the background singing the song.

The video shows the life of a typical post-war nuclear family; mom, dad, and a couple of kids. The family starts in an early 1950s aesthetic with one kid playing 'cowboy' while dad reads Life Magazine and mom cooks and cleans.

We then see the family grow and change, adopting '60s and '70s styles. One of the kids grows up to be a hippie, another burns their draft card. Eventually, this leads to a cold, modern 1980s look and a room full of aging Yuppies.

The song peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart and landed in the top 10 the world over. The song was also nominated for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male at the 1990 Grammys. It lost to Bette Midler's massive hit "Wind Beneath My Wings."

The Album Storm Front came out in October 1989. It rose to number one on the Billboard Album Chart and sold over four million copies.

Over the years "We Didn't Start The Fire" has been parodied and used in productions. In 2023 the band  Fall Out Boy tried their hand at updating the song for the 21st century.

So, if you don't know who LiberaceRoy Cohn, or Kerouac were, I did the research and found out for you. Now you'll really be able to impress no one with your deep knowledge of the Baby Boom.

I turned to our friend The Internet to help me create an annotated list of the events and people mentioned in the lyrics of "We Didn't Start the Fire."

From Harry Truman to Cola Wars, here are what all the lyrics of "We Didn't Start the Fire" mean:

Gallery Credit: Ben Kuhns

Source: Wikipedia, Lyric GeniusWe Didn't Start The Fire" -  from the Columbia LP: Storm Front, words and music by Billy Joel Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

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