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
Harry Truman is inaugurated as U.S. president after being elected in 1948 to his own term; previously he was sworn in following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He authorized the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan during World War II. August 6, 1945 and August 9, 1945 respectively.
Doris Day enters the public spotlight with the films My Dream Is Yours and It's a Great Feeling as well as popular songs like "It's Magic"; divorces her second husband.
Red China as the Communist Party of China wins the Chinese Civil War, establishing the People's Republic of China.
Johnnie Ray signs his first recording contract with Okeh Records, although he would not become popular for another two years.
South Pacific, the prize winning musical, opens on Broadway on April 7.
Walter Winchell is an aggressive radio and newspaper journalist credited with inventing the gossip column.
Joe DiMaggio is injured early in the season but makes a comeback in June and leads the New York Yankees to win the World Series.
Joe McCarthy, the U.S. Senator, gains national attention and begins his anti-communist crusade with his Lincoln Day speech.
Richard Nixon is first elected to the United States Senate.
Studebaker, a popular car company, is beginning its financial downfall.
Television is becoming widespread (in black and white format) and becomes the most popular means of advertising.
North Korea, South Korea engage in warfare as North Korea attacks on June 25, beginning the Korean War.
Marilyn Monroe soars in popularity with five new movies including The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve, and attempts suicide after the death of lover Johnny Hyde. Monroe would later (1954) be married for a brief time to Joe DiMaggio (the person mentioned in the previous verse).
Rosenbergs (Julius and Ethel)were convicted on March 29 for espionage. They maintained that they were innocent even at their executions.
H-Bomb is in the middle of its development as a nuclear weapon, announced in early 1950 and first tested in late 1952.
Sugar Ray Robinson, the boxer, obtains the world's middleweight title.
Panmunjeom, the border village in Korea, is the location of truce talks between the parties of the Korean War.
Brando (Marlon) is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in A Streetcar Named Desire.
The King and I, musical, opens on Broadway on March 29.
The Catcher in the Rye, a controversial novel by J. D. Salinger, is published.
Eisenhower( Dwight David) is first elected as U.S. president, winning by a landslide margin of 442 to 89 electoral votes.
Vaccine for polio is privately tested by Jonas Salk.
Englands got a new Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) succeeds to the throne of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Realms upon the death of George VI of the United Kingdom.
Marciano( Rocky) defeats Jersey Joe Walcott, becoming the world Heavyweight champion.
Liberace has a popular 1950s television show for his musical entertainment.
Santayana goodbye , (Georges) ,philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, dies on September 26.
Joseph Stalin dies on March 5, yielding his position as leader of the Soviet Union.
Malenkov (Georgy Maximilianovich) succeeds Stalin for six months following his death. Malenkov had presided over Stalin's purges of party "enemies", but would be spared a similar fate by Nikita Khrushchev mentioned later in verse.
Nasser( Gamal Abdel) acts as the true power behind the new Egyptian nation as Muhammad Naguib's minister of the interior.
Prokofiev( Sergei), the composer, dies on March 5, the same day as Stalin.
Rockefeller( Winthrop) establishes Winrock Enterprises and Winrock Farms atop Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton, Arkansas.
Campanella ( Roy), an African American baseball catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, receives the National League's Most Valuable Player award for the second time.
Communist bloc is a group of communist nations dominated by the Soviet Union at this time.
Roy Cohn resigns as Joseph McCarthy's chief counsel and enters private practice with the fall of McCarthy.
Juan Perón spends his last full year as President of Argentina before a September 1955 coup.
Toscanini ( Arturo)is at the height of his fame as a conductor, performing regularly with the NBC Symphony Orchestra on national radio.
Dacron is an early artificial fiber made from the same plastic as polyester.
Dien Bien Phu falls. A village in North Vietnam falls to Viet Minh forces under Vo Nguyen Giap, leading to the creation of North Vietnam and South Vietnam as separate states.
"Rock Around the Clock" is a hit single released by Bill Haley & His Comets in May, spurring worldwide interest in rock and roll.
Einstein (Albert) dies on April 18 at the age of 76.
James Dean achieves success with East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, gets nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, and dies in a car accident on September 30.
Brooklyn's got a winning team-1955 World Series as the Brooklyn Dodgers win the World Series for the only time. (There is cheering in the background of the song during this line.)
Davy Crockett is a Disney television series about the legendary frontiersman of the same name. The show was a huge hit with young boys and inspired a short-lived "coonskin cap" fad. Davy Crockett is also the name of a contemporary tactical nuclear recoilless rifle.
Peter Pan is broadcast on TV live and in color from the 1954 version of the stage musical starring Mary Martin on March 7.
Elvis Presley signs with RCA Records on November 21, beginning his pop career.
Disneyland opens on July 17 as Walt Disney's first theme park.
Bardot ( Brigitte)appears in her first mainstream film And God Created Woman and establishes an international reputation as a French "sex kitten".
Budapest is the site of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
Alabama is the site of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which ultimately led to the removal of the last race laws in the USA.
Khrushchev ( Nikita) makes his famous Secret Speech denouncing Stalin's "cult of personality" on February 23.
Princess Grace Kelly releases her last film, High Society, and marries Prince Rainier III of Monaco.
Peyton Place, the best-selling novel by Grace Metalious, is published. Though mild compared to today's prime time, it shocked the reserved values of the '50s.
Trouble in the Suez -The Suez Crisis boils as Egypt nationalizes the Suez Canal on October 29.
Little Rock, Arkansas is the site of an anti-integration standoff, as Governor Orval Faubus stops the Little Rock Nine from attending Little Rock Central High School and President Dwight D. Eisenhower deploys the 101st Airborne Division to counteract him.
Pasternak ( Boris), the Russian author, publishes his famous novel Doctor Zhivago.
Mickey Mantle is in the middle of his career as a famous New York Yankees' outfielder and American League All-Star for the sixth year in a row.
Kerouac ( Jack)publishes his first novel in seven years, On the Road.
Sputnik is the first artificial satellite, launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, the start of the space race.
Zhou Enlai, Premier of the People's Republic of China, survives an assassination attempt on the Charter jet Kashmir Princess.
Bridge on the River Kwai is released as a film adaptation of the 1954 novel and receives seven Academy Awards.
Lebanon is engulfed in a political and religious crisis that eventually involves US Intervention.
Charles de Gaulle is elected first president of the French Fifth Republic following the Algerian Crisis.
California baseball begins as the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants move to California and become the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. They are the first major league teams west of Kansas City.
Starkweather homicides ( Charles) capture the attention of Americans, killing eleven people before he is caught in a massive manhunt in Douglas, Wyoming.
Children of Thalidomide: Mothers taking the drug Thalidomide had children born with congenital birth defects caused by the sleeping aid and antiemetic, which was also used at times (although not in the USA) to treat morning sickness.
Buddy Holly dies in a plane crash on February 3 with Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper"), in a day that had a devastating impact on the country and youth culture. The event was immortalized by Don McLean as "The Day the Music Died" in his famous tribute song American Pie. (As an intro to this stanza, Billy Joel mimics Buddy Holly's trademark "hiccup" style, singing a-UH-uh-oh...).
Ben-Hur wins eleven Academy Awards as a film based around the New Testament starring Charlton Heston.
Space Monkey: Able and Miss Baker are the first living beings to successfully return to Earth from space aboard the flight Jupiter AM-18.
Mafia are the center of attention for the FBI and public attention builds to this organized crime society with a historically Sicilian-American origin.
Hula hoops reach 100 million in sales as the latest toy fad.
Castro (Fidel) comes to power after a revolution in Cuba and visits the United States later that year on an unofficial twelve-day tour.
Edsel is a no-go: Production of this car marketing disaster (Ford spent $400 million developing it) ends after only two years.
U-2: An American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, causing the U-2 Crisis of 1960.
Syngman Rhee was rescued by the CIA after being forced to resign as leader of South Korea for allegedly fixing an election and embezzling more than twenty million U.S. dollars.
Payola was publicized due to Dick Clark's testimony before Congress and Alan Freed's public disgrace.
Kennedy ( John Fitzgerald) beats Richard Nixon in the November 8 general election amongst allegations of vote fraud.
Chubby Checker popularizes the dance The Twist with his song of the same name (see "The Twist").
Psycho: An Alfred Hitchcock thriller, based on a pulp novel by Robert Bloch and adapted by Joseph Stefano, which becomes a landmark in graphic violence and cinema sensationalism. The screeching violins heard briefly in the background are a trademark of the film's soundtrack.
Belgians in the Congo - The Democratic Republic of the Congo was declared independent of Belgium on June 30, with Joseph Kasavubu as President and Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister. The Belgians, however, had other plans (see Secession of Katanga).
Hemingway ( Ernest) commits suicide on July 2 after a long battle with depression.
Eichmann ( Adolf), a "most wanted" Nazi war criminal, is traced to Argentina and captured by Mossad agents. He is covertly taken to Israel where he is put on trial for crimes against humanity in Germany during World War II, convicted, and hanged.
Stranger in a Strange Land: Written by Robert A. Heinlein, is a breakthrough best-seller with themes of sexual freedom and liberation.
Dylan ( Bob): After a New York Times review by critic Robert Shelton, Bob Dylan is signed to Columbia Records.
Berlin: The Berlin Wall, which forcibly separated West Berlin from East Berlin and the rest of East Germany, was erected on August 13th to prevent citizens escaping to the West.
Bay of Pigs Invasion: Failed attempt by United States-trained Cuban exiles to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro.
Lawrence of Arabia: The Academy Award-winning film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence starring Peter O'Toole premiers in America on December 16.
British Beatlemania: The Beatles, a British pop/rock group, gain Ringo Starr as drummer and Brian Epstein as manager, and join the EMI's Parlophone label. They soon become the world's most famous group, with the word "Beatlemania" adopted by the press for their fans' unprecedented enthusiasm. It also began the British Invasion in the United States.
Ole Miss-University of Mississippi: James Meredith integrates the University of Mississippi (known as Ole Miss).
John Glenn: Flew the first American manned orbital mission termed "Friendship 7" on February 20.
Liston beats Patterson: Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson fight for the world heavyweight championship on September 25, ending in a round-one knockout. This match marked the first time Patterson had ever been knocked out and one of only eight losses in his entire career.
Pope Paul VI: Pope Paul VI is elected to the papacy.
Malcolm X makes infamous statement "The chickens have come home to roost" about the Kennedy assassination, thus causing the Nation of Islam to censure him.
British politician sex-Profumo Affair: The British Secretary of State for War has a relationship with a showgirl, and then lies when questioned about it before the House of Commons. When the truth came out, it led to his own resignation and undermined the credibility of the Prime Minister.
JFK blown away: President John F. Kennedy is assassinated on November 22 while riding in an open convertible through Dallas.
What else do I have to say?
Birth control: In the early 1960s, oral contraceptives, popularly known as "the pill", first go on the market and are extremely popular. Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 challenged a Connecticut law prohibiting contraceptives. In 1968, Pope Paul VI released a papal encyclical entitled Humanae Vitae which declared artificial birth control a sin.
Ho Chi Minh: A Vietnamese Communist, who served as President of Vietnam from 1954–1969. March 2nd Operation Rolling Thunder begins bombing of the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" supply line from North Viet Nam to the Viet Cong rebels in the south. March 8th first US combat troops, 3,500 marines, land in South Vietnam.
Richard Nixon back again: Former Vice President Nixon is elected in the 1968 presidential election of the United States.
Moonshot-Space Race: Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing, successfully lands on the moon.
Woodstock Festival: Famous rock and roll festival of 1969 that came to be the epitome of the counterculture movement.
Watergate scandal: Political scandal involving a hotel break-in, eventually leading to President Nixon's resignation.
Punk rock: The Ramones form, with the Sex Pistols following in 1975, bringing in the punk era. The movement went beyond the music to a cultural attitude of rebellion against authority as a way of life, the reverberations of which are still being felt today.
1977 (Note that these two items, while later chronologically than the two 1976 items, come immediately before them in the song.)
Begin ( Menachim) becomes Prime Minister of Israel in 1977 and negotiates the Camp David Accords with Egypt's president in 1978.
Reagan ( Ronald): President of the United States from 1981 to 1989; first attempted in 1976 to run for president.
1976 (Note that these two items, while earlier chronologically than the two 1977 items, come immediately after them in the song)
Palestine: The Palestine Liberation Organization is admitted as a member of Arab League; see history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Terror on the airline-Aircraft hijacking: Numerous aircraft hijackings took place, specifically, the Palestinian hijack of Air France Flight 139 and the subsequent Operation Entebbe in Uganda
Ayatollahs in Iran: During the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the West-backed and U.S.-installed Shah is overthrown as the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini gains power after years in exile.
Russians in Afghanistan-Soviet invasion of Afghanistan: Following their move into Afghanistan, Soviet forces fight a ten-year war, from 1979 to 1989.
Wheel of Fortune: A hit television game show which has been TV's highest-rated syndicated program since 1983.
Sally Ride: In 1983 she becomes the first American woman in space. Dr. Ride's quip from space "Better than an E-ticket," harkens back to the opening of Disneyland mentioned earlier, with the E-ticket purchase needed for the best rides.
Heavy metal, suicide: In the 1980s Ozzy Osbourne and the bands Metallica and Judas Priest were brought to court by parents who accused the musicians of hiding subliminal pro-suicide messages in their music. (Billy Joel himself has stated on his website that even though the two terms are separated by a comma they are collectively one item, similar to "North Korea, South Korea" above.)
Foreign debts-Trade deficit: Persistent US trade deficits.
Homeless Vets - Veterans of the Vietnam war, including many disabled ex-military, are reported to be left homeless and impoverished, the country unable to yet handle its failure to succeed.
AIDS: A collection of symptoms and infections in humans resulting from the specific damage to the immune system caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It is first detected and recognized in the 1980s, on its way to becoming a pandemic.
Crack cocaine: Refers to crack cocaine, a popular drug in the mid-to-late 1980s.
Bernie Goetz (Bernhard) -On December 22, Goetz shot four young men who he said were threatening him on a New York City subway. Goetz was charged with attempted murder but was acquitted of the charges, though convicted of carrying an unlicensed gun.
Hypodermics on the shores-Syringe Tide: Medical waste was found washed up on beaches in New Jersey after being illegally dumped at sea. Before this event, waste dumped in the oceans was an "out of sight, out of mind" affair. This has been cited as one of the crucial turning points in popular opinion on environmentalism.
China's under Martial law: On May 20, China declares martial law, enabling them to use force of arms against protesting students to end the Tiananmen Square protests.
Rock and Roller, Cola wars: Soft drink giants Coke and Pepsi each run marketing campaigns using popular music stars to reach the young adult demographic
I can't take it anymore!!!!