It’s been three decades since Billy Joel released his hit song “We didn’t start the fire,” a song that chronicled cultural and historical events from 1949 to 1989. Its swift lyrics transported listeners through a time machine, with references to figures like Harry Truman and Marilyn Monroe and events like the Korean War and Woodstock. Now, Fall Out Boy has picked up where the song left off. Updated cover version.
The cover of the single reads “A Fall Out Boy’s cover of Billy Joel’s song ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ covering newsworthy items from 1989 to 2023”, and the new lyrics refer to Myspace, Mars Rover, Jeff Bezos, and the deaths of Prince and Queen Elizabeth.
“I remember hearing the song as a kid,” guitarist Pete Wentz wrote in an email. “JFK blown away” has always stuck in my mind. I would always start with the verses but I lose some references in them.”
He continued, “This song was so ubiquitous in that era, but in a way that crept through the cracks of popular culture. I remember talking about lyrics in history class.”
According to Mr. Wentz, rather than a live cover of the song, the band wanted to adjust the song’s lyrics to reflect the 34 years that had passed since its release.
“I listen to Billy Joel and a lot of the things in him are either colossal moments or just kind of shrugged shoulders in history now,” he wrote. “It’s interesting to see what he referred to from the ’50s and ’60s and what he didn’t. And in some ways, it’s just the in-cave carvings—documenting that we existed and these things happened, both triumphant and terrible. We made this song for ourselves and then we were We hope our fans will enjoy it.”
Brady Gerber is a rock critic who contributes to New York and Pitchfork. As a fan of the original, he’s very fond of taking Fall Out Boy.
“I think every generation gets the catchphrase, ‘We didn’t start the fire,’” Mr. Gerber said. “I still think the tune is really catchy and fun. And I remember the initial reaction to the original version of Billy Joel wasn’t really great. I think a lot of people hated the song at that time. So it’s funny, because I also see a lot of people criticizing the song thinking it’s ridiculous, but it’s also just a ridiculous song at first.”
While it’s hard to capture every historical moment, the song mimics the original in that its references span so wide, covering climate change as well as the Pokémon and “Twilight” movies.
However, Fall Out Boy did leave out one recent historical event: “I think our biggest omission was a Covid reference, and we discussed it, but we’ll leave that for the next generation update!” said Mr. Wentz.