Billy Joel Explains Why 'We Didn't Start The Fire' Is So Polarizing


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One of Billy Joel's most famous songs is also by far his most polarizing, and Joel himself doesn't begrudge its detractors.

While the idea that he dislikes "We Didn't Start the Fire" himself is largely an exaggeration, the Piano Man suggests that he has indeed waffled over the years with his appreciation for the 1989 megahit.

Speaking with Q104.3 New York's Jim Kerr and Shelli Sonstein a day ahead of his highly-anticipating return to Madison Square Garden, Joel addressed the strange power his music has to make audiences sing along.

"They seem to enjoy [singing along], they know the words," he said. "A lot of times I'll read the audiences' lips to see, 'Oh, they do know the words!' Except on 'We Didn't Start the Fire' — I don't expect anyone to know the words [laughs], but they do! It's a great feeling. It's a great sense of community."

Joel was then asked why he thinks "We Didn't Start the Fire" has become such an outlier in a catalog with almost universal approval otherwise.

"I know people love it and some people hate it," Joel noted. "Melodically, it's not the best tune I ever wrote. It's kind of like a drone. [Imitates melody] Nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah, nahnahnahnahnahnahnah, drone, drone, drone, drone, droney-droney-droney-drone. And then, thankfully, there's a little change [for the chorus]...

"I wrote the words first, which is why the music is not all that melodic. I thought the words were clever. You know I did it in chronological order. It starts in 1949, it goes to '89. Of course since 1989 there's been enough news to write a couple of these things. But you know, once I did it once, that was enough."

Listen to more from the conversation on the Jim Kerr Anytime podcast via iHeartRadio!

Joel will be back at The Garden for the first time in almost two years on Friday, November 5. Get all the dates of his his New York residency here and the rest of his tour dates here.


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