Billy Joel Shares How John Lennon’s Son Sean Inspired ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’

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During a new appearance on 60 Minutes Australia, Billy Joel talked about how a conversation with John Lennon’s son Sean inspired him to write ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.’

Billy Joel released ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire‘ as a single on September 27, 1989. The song was later featured on the singer’s eleventh studio album, ‘Storm Front,’ released on October 17, 1989. In the lyrics, Joel wrote down a list of historical people and events, starting from his birth year 1949 and continuing through 1989 in chronological order.

The track reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. The song has become an essential part of popular culture and appeared on various television shows and advertisements. Despite the song’s popularity, it also received some bad reviews for having poor musical quality and being superficial.

In a recent appearance, Billy Joel revealed that he started writing the song following a conversation with the late Beatles icon John Lennon’s son, Sean. When Sean began talking about how hard it was to be a young person in the ’80s, Joel told him they also felt the same around his age. Then, Lennon said he was lucky to grow up in the ’50s since nothing happened in that period. Billy Joel listed some historical events and people from his youth, so it set the basic framework for ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.’

Joel speaking on the inspiration behind the famous track:

“You’ve got AIDS, there is crack, and there is this war and that one. I said, ‘Yeah, but we all felt the same when we were your age too.’ Sean said, ‘At least you grew up in the ’50s, and everybody knows nothing happened in the ’50s.’ I said, ‘What you mean nothing happened. Harry Truman was the president, and Doris Day was a famous singer. Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China went communist.’ Some people think it’s a bunch of names and words spewed out, but it’s written chronologically. These were the headlines of my life.”

You can watch the rest of the conversation and listen to the song below.