Media Genre- We Didn’t Start the Fire by Billy Joel

Photo by Artem Podrez on

In the third and final installment in a series paying Tribute to Billy Joel we look at what many have considered one of the best songs in his 50+ year career as a pop singer and musician. We Didn’t Start the Fire was released in May 1989 right before the events that started unfolding that led to the Fall of Communism and the End of the Cold War. The song looks at life in the aftermath of World War II and how society developed afterwards. It’s a song where one could really create some topics in the classroom and produce some lively discussion, regardless of which language and in which subject you teach it to. From my point of view, it’s good for not only foreign language but also history and anything with American culture as Billy Joel touches on all the events in these areas.

For exercises in class, I created something for you to do in class. It features a video -only exercise where you can do the following:

1. Watch the music video and make note of the lifestyles presented- in particular, identify the trends in the areas of:


Living Quarters

Household Appliances

Family Life

2. Categorize them in the following time periods:






3. Then listen to the song and the events mentioned by Billy Joel and categorize them in the decades as shown in Nr. 2. This may have to be done in small groups with each one assigned to a decade where they should listen and categorize. The song will need to be played at least two times.

4. Describe the lifestyle and the events of the 1990s plus another decade of choice as well as the present decade. Categorize them just like in Nr. 1-3. For those in music class, make it sound like the lyrics sung by Joel, meaning pay attention to rhythm and tone.

5. Compare the lifestyles between the present and one in the past. Which one is better and why? List your reasons why and keep in mind they can come from different aspects of study, such as history, culture, politics, sociology, etc. You may want to choose two different decades in the past to identify some trends.