All of the references in Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" explained

It was always burning, since the world's been turning

Billy Joel
Billy Joel / Luciano Viti/GettyImages
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Mary Martin as Peter Pan
Mary Martin as Peter Pan / Library of Congress/GettyImages

Verse 4 (Late 50s)


This is another reference that signifies someone's death. Albert Einstein passed away in 1955. Einstein is arguably the most famous scientist of the 20th century, but all of his most influential work was published before the early thirties. However, the practical applications of that work can still be seen today in modern technologies such as GPS navigation.

James Dean

James Dean was an actor with a tragically short career, passing away in 1955 at the age of just 24. Perhaps the best illustration of Dean's influence is the fact that, despite still being a household name, he has only three credited film roles, including the iconic Rebel Without A Cause. All three roles earned him Academy Award nominations, two of which were posthumous.

Brooklyn's got a winning team

In between 1947 and 1956, the Major League Baseball World Series came down to the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees five times. The Yankees won four of those matches, but in 1955, Brooklyn won. At that point, the Yankees were unbeaten since 1942. The aforementioned Roy Campanella was Brooklyn's MVP.

Davy Crockett

Davy Crockett was a folk hero who served in the United States Congress, and also fought in the Texas Revolution. This is referring to a hit 1955 movie Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, and probably its 1956 prequel Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. King of the Wild Frontier was cut down from a TV miniseries. The two films remain Disney's most successful TV films.

Peter Pan

In 1953, Disney released its Peter Pan movie, based on J.M. Barrie's 1904 play and 1911 novel. Going by the timeline of the song, however, this line probably refers to the 1954 Broadway musical production starring Mary Martin, as telecasts of the show were a fixture on television throughout the decade. This production set the template for Peter Pan stage productions, including the 2014 broadcast starring Alison Williams.

Elvis Presley

In much the same way that "Rock Around The Clock" was the first mega-successful rock song, Elvis was the first mega-successful rock star. The history of rock may be too complex to say who began or invented rock, but Elvis inarguably brought rock to the mainstream, starting a revolution. Before Elvis, rock 'n' roll was distrusted for being seen as black music, but Elvis was successful despite publically citing his black influences such as Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, B.B. King, and Fats Domino.


Disneyland was the first Disney theme park, built in Anaheim, California in 1955. It's also the only Disney theme park built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney. Disneyland was originally envisioned as an attraction to entertain visitors to Disney's Burbank studios but soon outgrew those ambitions.

In order to fund the park, Walt Disney made a deal with ABC to start a television show, which was also called Disneyland. The series debuted in 1954 and was one of the most popular television programs of the time. Despite being little more than commercials for the park and movies much of the time, the show was a major part of how the ABC Network became so successful.


Brigitte Bardot was an actress and singer who came to symbolise the sexual revolution due to her activism and provocative public persona. The feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir called her the "most liberated woman in post-war France" in her influential essay The Lolita Syndrome, which also called her a "locomotive of women's history." In 1973, she retired from show biz to become a full-time animal rights activist, work she continues to this day, at the age of 89.


Budapest is the capital of Hungary and was the site of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, in which the people, aided by the Hungarian military, revolted against a government that was subordinate to the Soviet Union. The uprising lasted 12 days before it was crushed by the Soviet army. Thousands were killed, and around a quarter of a million people fled the country.


The Alabama reference is the first great mystery in "We Didn't Start The Fire." Because so much happened in the state, we can only guess what this reference is about. The Civil Rights Movement would be a good guess, as The Yellowhammer State was the site of several important events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was a thirteen-month mass protest that began in 1955. It was sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks, for challenging the segregation of Montgomery’s buses. It ended with the Supreme Court ruling segregation in public transport to be unconstitutional.


Nikita Khrushchev was the first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, succeeding Joseph Stalin until he was forced from the role and replaced Leonid Brezhnev in 1964. Krushchev stunned the world by embarking on a program of "de-Stalinisation" and enacting moderate reforms. He also sponsored the Soviet Space Race.

Princess Grace

Grace Kelly was was an Academy Award-winning actress who quit showbiz in 1956 when she married Prince Ranier III of Monaco. Her films included the classics High Noon, Rear Window, and High Society. She remained a patron of the arts in Monaco, as well as the United States, before her death in a car accident in 1982.

Peyton Place

Peyton Place was a 1957 movie based on Grace Metalious's novel of the same name. It was a box office success, despite addressing some very controversial topics for the time, such as social inequality and sexual liberation. The film spawned two TV series and three sequel movies, including 1985's Peyton Place: The Next Generation, which kicked off the eternal nerd debate: Lana Turner vs. Captain Picard.

Trouble in the Suez

The Suez Canal is an artificial waterway that connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea through Egypt, facilitating trade between Europe and Asia. When Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal, Egypt was invaded by a coalition consisting of the UK, France, and Israel. The invasion lasted just over a week, as the coalition came under pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union to withdraw. Thus the Suez Crisis is seen as the beginning of the Cold War in earnest, as the UK and France lost their global superpower status to the US and the Soviet Union.