I like Billy Joel, I know he’s not the coolest of artists, but I like a fair few of his songs, and this one in particular is a personal favourite.
Its a song that Joel hasn’t always been that positive about and its featured on a couple of “worst songs ever” lists, and lyrically its very simple, essentially a list of prominent figures and major events charting the first 40 years of Joel’s life from 1949 to ’89.
But I do think its quite a well made song, it has this urgent, frantic beat and Joel manages to craft the list into something that actually works as a song, and has a relentless rhythm that worms itself into your head and lodges there like a Ceti Eel. I thought about the song because I did a quiz on Sporcle where you had to list the song’s subjects. This meant I had the tune in my head and listened to it a couple of times, trying to work out what some of the names were.
Cue 48 hours of having it looping in my head, only without being able to memorize it all, meaning my version went:
Harry Truman, Doris Day, something something, Johnnie Ray, South Pacific, blah blah blah, Joe DiMaggio
So be warned, if you watch the video below you may be stuck with it in your head for a while.
I really like the thought that’s gone into it and Joel’s intense, almost manic, delivery. Its also one of only a handful of songs I’d describe as educational because I’ve actually looked up a few of the names and references I didn’t get.
The story is that Joel wrote the song in defence of his generation, the Baby Boomers, outlining all they’ve had to live through and the “we didn’t start the fire, it was always burning” explaining that his generation can’t be blamed for the current problems as the social unrest and upheaval has been a constant throughout history and every generation inherits from the previous and causes problems for the next.
Of course, being such a distinctive song its been mined heavily for parodies, my favourite being Russell Howard’s song about what the Daily Mail reckons causes cancer.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.