What does We Didn't Start the Fire mean?

Billy Joel: We Didn't Start the Fire Meaning

Album cover for We Didn't Start the Fire album cover

Song Released: 1989

We Didn't Start the Fire Lyrics

[References link to Wikipedia—Oh yeah! -ed]

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

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 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, Khrushchev
Princess Grace, "Peyton Place", trouble in the Suez


Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Zhou Enlai, "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

U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, "Psycho", Belgians in the Congo


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!


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!


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


    #1 top rated interpretation:
    click a star to vote
    Feb 6th 2012 !⃝

    The whole song is essentially an analysis of the events that happened between 1949 to 1989. The chorus discusses the fact that nothing we've done in recent years is directly responsible for the problems in the world ("We didn't start the fire"). The problems stem from events in the past ("It's always burning since the world's been turning"). The next lines of the chorus discuss the fact that each generation attempts to fix the issues of the last ("We didn't light it, but we tried to fight it"). And the last line refers to the idea that nothing we do, in an attempt to to fix the world's problems, is really going to have any long term effects ("But when we are gone, will it still burn on")


    #2 top rated interpretation:
    click a star to vote
    Feb 7th 2014 !⃝

    Everyone interprets it differently, as you can see on this page. To me he is alluding to the fact that evil has always existed. That as a society we try to discourage it, however evil simply exist and It can't be abolished. He uses events and experiences from his own life to illustrate the evil nature of the world.


    #3 top rated interpretation:
    click a star to vote
    Apr 10th 2012 !⃝

    I think that this song is about how the people before Billy Joel's time started something and Billy's generation tried to fix it.Also it could also mean people places, or things that happened during war.

  4. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Jul 27th 2021 !⃝

    To sum up all the comments made, all the wars and problems are caused by the leaders of countries that try to be a democratic Republic (the West) vs the dictator - communist ruling party (the East).
    Their actions have fallen on the younger generations to try to fix. However it does not work because people and governments do not learn from past mistakes. Therefore, the FIRE never ever goes out and only gets worst.

  5. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Mar 1st 2021 !⃝

    Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
    Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
    Ayatollah's in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan Evelyn

  6. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    May 16th 2020 !⃝

    it is a nice song to hear now again and learn more about it, since i heard of it when attending college and learning english, and watching it on mtv. its great, thanks potsy, yong zh CHINA

  7. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Nov 14th 2019 !⃝

    The singer Billy Joel is taking the roll of a CNN news reporter thats covering in detail the different years in order 1949 1955 and 1969 in news summary anchor person who might been payed by a place like CNN

  8. anonymous
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    May 1st 2018 !⃝

    This song is all the events that took place between when billy joel was born and when he released this song.

  9. anonymous
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    Jan 1st 2018 !⃝

    Just think if there was an update on this song from 89 till 2018. Smh

  10. anonymous
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    Oct 4th 2017 !⃝

    The song is about people, places and things that have came about in different years.
    The name of the song is basically a statement made saying that they did not start the fire. It basically raises the question then of who did by relating the names only so you can do your history to find out. The Fire being what was accomplished by the persons, places or things he speaks of. This is one of his best songs in my book that really no one knows the answer to except Mr. Billy himself.

  11. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Jun 10th 2017 !⃝

    I think "we didn't start the fire" relates to the arson attack on the bundestag before ww2. One, the culprit remains a mystery and two, widely regarded as the event which Hitler exploited to gain more and more support to eventually become elected.

  12. anonymous
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    Apr 30th 2017 !⃝

    It's about our history and special events that has happened in the past 50 years.

  13. anonymous
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    Aug 1st 2016 !⃝

    A great song by Billy Joel and off course ''we didn't start the fire''. Naturally, that was GOD who started it all, since the world began. And also we didn't start the man made fires that caught up to our generation to inflame the chaos theory even more. This all started a long time ago. Who by the three percent of the top elite power rulers always loved and still loves to ''play with fire'' that have berned many of us and certainly we've been inhaling their smoke left behind for thousand's of years throughout history that always started fires and loved to inflame some of us to become illuminated chosen ones. In order to influence and entertaine for controlling the rest of the majority to become confused by their given fame of ''fire power'' that is still being fought with a lot of Holy Water Righteousness in the present time,

  14. anonymous
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    Jan 2nd 2015 !⃝

    I'm just gonna go into the chorus:

    We didn't start the evolution of humanity which is destroying the earth (like a fire), it has been going on since life was here,
    we are trying to save the earth.

    That might suck, but yea, that's what I think.

  15. anonymous
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    Dec 17th 2011 !⃝

    Each verse is about something that affected the world in a good or bad way and no matter how hard you try, you can't stop things from happening.

  16. anonymous
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    Oct 6th 2011 !⃝

    we have made a lot of problems and we need to fix them but we are not sure how and now we have all this crap to deal with...

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  17. anonymous
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    May 24th 2011 !⃝

    i believe that the fire is a symbol for all the problems our world has seen, and all the people and events listed are things that have happened throughout Billy Joel's life. The chorus, i feel is a comfort blanket after listening to a 30 second rant on all the bad things, it is telling us that we will try our best to stop the fire or problems but it will never stop and that is not one generations fault it is what causes the world to go round.

  18. anonymous
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    May 6th 2011 !⃝

    i heard it was about all the events that happened during Billy Joel's lifetime. I also heard that it was most of the events that werent in Americas control ( that second part i only heard so correct this if im wrong)

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