With his hit song “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Billy Joel managed to cover 40 years of history in roughly four minutes, beginning with Harry Truman’s presidency in the late 1940s and concluding with the “cola wars” that extended into the 1980s.

Although Joel has often criticized the song, at least from a melodic standpoint, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was a massive success, becoming the singer’s third single to hit No. 1 in the U.S., per Billboard.

Now, for better or worse, Fall Out Boy has picked up where Joel left off.

In a new video released on June 28, the rock band takes listeners on a ride from 1989 through 2023, chronicling “newsworthy items.” Music icons like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly have been swapped for Prince and Michael Jackson; sports figures like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle have been replaced with LeBron James and Tiger Woods; and “Catcher in the Rye” has given way to “Harry Potter” and “Twilight.”

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“I thought about (Joel’s) song a lot when I was younger,” Fall Out Boy bassist Peter Wentz said in a statement attached to the official lyric video on YouTube. “All these important people and events — some that disappeared into the sands of time — others that changed the world forever. So much has happened in the span of the last 34 years — we felt like a little system update might be fun.”

While holding off for another six years would’ve provided a nice symmetry to the original, the rock band had a lot to work with — so much so that not even one reference to the pandemic made it into their take on the Joel classic (although one could argue that the reference to “Tiger King” pretty much sums it up).

Fall Out Boy’s version is about 30 seconds shorter than the original and has two fewer verses. It references 80 notable figures and events compared to Joel’s 100+, and unlike the original, it does not move chronologically.

That’s apparent from the opening verse, which begins with “Captain Planet” — an environmentalist superhero show from 1990 — and then references the Arab Spring protests of the early 2010s before going back in time to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

But Fall Out Boy has made a significant — and more optimistic — change to the song.

In the original, Joel sings the following chorus: “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.” Fall Out Boy’s take on the chorus is less resigned and more hopeful: “We didn’t start the fire/No we didn’t light it, but we’re trying to fight it.”

While Fall Out Boy has a different approach to “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” the band has included a few interesting and somewhat subtle connections to the original.

Here’s a look at some of the similarities between the two — plus the full list of people and events Fall Out Boy references in their updated version.


‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’: Billy Joel and Fall Out Boy connections

North Korea

In the first verse of “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Joel mentions North Korea and South Korea, indicating the start of the Korean War in 1950. Fall Out Boy references Kim Jong Un, who has been the leader of North Korea since 2011.

Queen Elizabeth II

In the second verse, Joel sings that “England’s got a new queen,” referencing Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne in 1952. In their update, Fall Out Boy sings that “Prince and the Queen die,” referencing Queen Elizabeth’s death in 2022 and singer-songwriter Prince’s death in 2016 (although the mention of Queen here could also potentially be referencing Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991).

The Suez Canal

Joel sings of “trouble in the Suez,” referencing the Suez Crisis of 1956. Fall Out Boy, meanwhile, gives a shoutout to “Ever Given Suez,” referencing the container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for six days in 2021.

Lebanon and Woodstock

Both versions mention Lebanon — Joel references the 1958 Lebanon crisis while Fall Out Boy sings about the 2020 explosion in Beirut. While Joel sang about Woodstock in 1969, Fall Out Boy sings about “Woodstock ‘99,” which sought to model the success of the festival 30 years prior but was shrouded in catastrophe.

Assassinations

In the climax of “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Joel references the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy when he exclaims, “JFK blown away, what else do I have to say?” Fall Out Boy keeps the first part of this lyric in place, replacing Kennedy with Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan who was shot and killed in 2022. The line does not quite pack the punch that it does in Joel’s version.

Afghanistan

In the second to last verse, Joel sings of “Russians in Afghanistan,” referencing when the then-Soviet Union deployed an army into Afghanistan. More than 30 years later, Fall Out Boy sings of “more war in Afghanistan.”


‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ — Fallout Boy version

There sometimes appears to be a thematic categorization of the lyrics — like placing the Columbine and Sandy Hook school shootings together, or popular Netflix shows “Stranger Things” and “Tiger King.” But a lot of the time — and much like the original, albeit not chronologically — notable figures and events are sung somewhat randomly in rapid-fire succession ... like the quick jump from ISIS to LeBron James.

Below is the full list of references as sung by Fall Out Boy in “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” with years provided when the lyrics refer to something specific rather than ongoing events (lyrics were pulled from the official lyric video).

  • “Captain Planet” (1990).
  • Arab Spring (early 2010s).
  • L.A. Riots, Rodney King (1992).
  • Deep fakes.
  • Earthquakes.
  • Iceland volcano (2010).
  • Oklahoma City bomb (1995).
  • Kurt Cobain (1994 death).
  • Pokemon (came out in 1996).
  • Tiger Woods.
  • Myspace (2003).
  • Monsanto GMOs.
  • “Harry Potter” (first book, 1997).
  • “Twilight” (first book, 2005).
  • Michael Jackson dies (2009).
  • Nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan (2011).
  • Crimean Peninsula (2014).
  • Cambridge Analytica (shut down in 2018 following a data scandal).
  • Kim Jung Un (took power in 2011).
  • Robert Downey Jr. “Iron Man” (debuted in 2008).
  • More war in Afghanistan.
  • Cubs go all the way again (2016).
  • Obama (elected in 2008).
  • Spielberg.
  • Explosion Lebanon (2020).
  • Unabomber (1996).
  • John Bobbitt (1993).
  • Boston marathon bombing (2013).
  • Balloon Boy (2009).
  • War on Terror (began in 2001).
  • QAnon.
  • Trump impeached twice (2019 and 2021).
  • Polar bears got no ice.
  • Fyre Fest (2017).
  • “Black Parade” (“My Chemical Romance” album came out in 2006).
  • Michael Phelps.
  • Y2K (2000).
  • Boris Johnson.
  • Brexit (2020).
  • Kanye West (West interrupts Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs).
  • Taylor Swift.
  • “Stranger Things” (premiered in 2016).
  • “Tiger King” (2020).
  • Ever Given Suez (2021).
  • Sandy Hook (2012).
  • Columbine (1999).
  • Sandra Bland (2015).
  • Tamir Rice (2014).
  • ISIS.
  • LeBron James (first overall pick of the NBA draft in 2003).
  • Shinzo Abe (assassinated in 2022).
  • Meghan Markle.
  • George Floyd (2020).
  • Burj Khalifa (Dubai skyscraper that officially opened in 2010).
  • Metroid.
  • Fermi paradox.
  • Venus and Serena.
  • Michael Jordan 23.
  • YouTube killed MTV (launched in 2005).
  • “Spongebob” (released in 1999).
  • Golden State Killer caught (2018).
  • Michael Jordan 45.
  • Woodstock ‘99 (1999).
  • Keaton Batman (1989).
  • Bush v. Gore (2000).
  • Elon Musk.
  • Colin Kaepernick (2016).
  • Texas failed electric grid (2021).
  • Jeff Bezos.
  • Climate change.
  • White rhino goes extinct.
  • Great Pacific garbage patch.
  • Tom DeLonge and aliens.
  • Mars rover.
  • “Avatar” (2009).
  • Self-driving electric cars.
  • S-S-S-R-Is.
  • Prince and the queen die (2016 and 2022, respectively).
  • World trade, second plane (2001).

What Billy Joel thinks about ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’

Nearly two weeks after Fall Out Boy released the new version, Joel has opened up about the band’s take on his song.

“Everybody’s been wanting to know when there’s going to be an updated version of it, because my song started in ’49 and ended in ’89 — it was a 40-year span,” he told BBC Radio2, per Billboard. “Everybody said, ‘Well, aren’t you going to do a part two?’ I said, ‘Nah, I’ve already done part one.’ So, Fall Out Boy, go ahead. Great, take it away.”

Joel has been vocal over the years about his distaste for his own hit.

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“It’s really not much of a song,” he once said. “If you take the melody by itself, terrible, it’s like a dentist drill.”

Fall Out Boy is currently on tour in support of its latest album, “So Much (for) Stardust,” which made a stop at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City on July 7. And if you’re not a fan of the band’s take on “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” just wait another 30 years or so for the next iteration.