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BANKIE'S HOT TAKE #38 - My Take on Fall Out Boy's "We Didn't Start the Fire"

Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was a thing of beauty.

Released on September 18, 1989, the song details important headlines in world history, listing moments from 1948 to early 1989, including referencing the dawning of a new Queen in England, Stalin, Rocky Marciano, the Brooklyn Dodgers, Sally Ride, Cola Wars, and over 100 more headlines. It was impressive, especially on how on point he was to each date to the topic he referenced.

I was also very influenced during my days in South River Middle School, thanks to my seventh grade history teacher Ms. Bitow, who played the track and gave a history lesson on each topic mentioned. Thanks to this class, I felt more inclined to research the topics, thanks to Ms. Bitow’s influence. In particular, the line “JFK – blown away, what else do I have to say?” helped me learn about the entire saga of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

On researching this song, I learned that Billy had criticisms of the song, solely for the musical portion. According to Wikipedia, in 1993, when discussing it with documentary filmmaker David Horn, Joel compared its melodic content unfavorably to his song "The Longest Time": "Take a song like 'We Didn't Start the Fire.' It's really not much of a song ... If you take the melody by itself, terrible. Like a dentist drill."

I like the melody. But I’m just a basic nerd. And I’m not the only one.

The song has also remained strong within various friend circles over the years, including an acquaintance, Donnie, being able to do the song on karaoke without looking at the lyrics. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is a timeless classic to multiple generations of Billy Joel and music fans worldwide.

Last week, I learned that Fall Out Boy, a band that’s been around since the mid 2000s and made classics like “Sugar, We’re Going Down Swinging” and “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s an Arms Race”, made an updated version of the song from years 1989 to 2023.

I was very apprehensive on giving it a listen, as, with my nature, I tend not to give too many remakes or reboots too much of an opportunity. It was weird: I actually went back-and-forth on it. Would I give the guitar riffs of Pete Wentz and the vocals of the one and only Patrick Stump a chance, or would this be a pass?

This morning, I just went for it on YouTube Music and pressed play.

For prosperity purposes, here are the lyrics to Fall Out Boy’s updated version.

Captain Planet, Arab Spring, L.A. riots, Rodney King

Deep fakes, earthquakes, Iceland volcano

Oklahoma City bomb, Kurt Cobain, Pokémon

Tiger Woods, MySpace, Monsanto, GMOs

Harry Potter, Twilight, Michael Jackson dies

Nuclear accident, Fukushima, Japan

Crimean Peninsula, Cambridge Analytica

Kim Jong Un, Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man

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're trying to fight it

More war in Afghanistan, Cubs go all the way again

Obama, Spielberg, explosion, Lebanon

Unabomber, Bobbitt, John, bombing Boston Marathon

Balloon Boy, War on Terror, QAnon

Trump gets impeached twice, Polar bears got no ice

Fyre Fest, Black Parade, Michael Phelps, Y2K

Boris Johnson, Brexit, Kanye West and Taylor Swift

Stranger Things, Tiger King, Ever Given, Suez

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're trying to fight it

Sandy Hook, Columbine, Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice

ISIS, LeBron James, Shinzo Abe blown away

Meghan Markle, George Floyd, Burj Khalifa, Metroid

Fermi paradox, Venus and Serena

Oh-oh-oh, Michael Jordan, 23, YouTube killed MTV

SpongeBob, Golden State Killer got caught

Michael Jordan, 45, Woodstock '99

Keaton, Batman, Bush v. Gore, I can't take it anymore

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're trying to fight it

Elon Musk, Kaepernick, Texas failed electric grid

Jeff Bezos, climate change, white rhino goes extinct

Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Tom DeLonge and aliens

Mars rover, Avatar, self-driving electric cars

SSRI's, Prince and The Queen die

World trade, second plane, what else do I have to say?

We didn't start the fire (we didn't start it)

It was always burning since the world's been turning (oh)

We didn't start the fire (we didn't start it)

But when we are gone, it will still go on (oh-yeah)

And on, and on, and on, an on

And on, and on, and on

We didn't start the fire (fire)

It was always burning since the world's been turning

Now, here is my take.

I didn’t like it.

Now, I will not lie when I say I popped for the reference “YouTube killed MTV”. It was a killer diss. Nothing uttered in this song was ever more true than that line. Spot on, Mr. Stump.

HOWEVER, the rest of the song was disappointing. Overall, it felt disjointed. In fact, as a fan of the original, it was frustrating to see that it wasn’t in mostly chronological order. There were points where I thought that there were lines placed, just to fit a rhyme scheme. It was scattered all over the place.

Also, there were so many topics missed. For those that say they referenced “Trump was impeached twice”, there should have been reference to President Bill Clinton’s. Also, I was shocked there were no lines towards Chandra Levy, the London Bombing, the iPhone, Harvey Weinstein, the Spice Girls, Beanie Babies or the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of countless others I might have missed. If you’re planning on going all in for a track of this magnitude, you have to hit on EVERYTHING. Stories and phenomena that transcended this country should have been referenced, bottom line.

In fact, there were some headlines that didn’t feel worthy enough to be in this song. For every solid point like Colin Kaepernick, there was a mention to Jeff Bezos. Amazon should’ve been touched upon instead of the man. Also, instead of saying Elon Musk, go with Tesla instead. Personally, I think Billy Joel would’ve done that. Fall Out Boy should have went with the brand, not the owner. Furthermore, topics like the Texas electric grid, Kanye West and Taylor Swift, and Tiger King just didn’t feel that strong enough to be listed. As listed above, there were other revolutionary concepts or worldwide news stories that would’ve been stronger points to list.

Now, if you’ll indulge me for one moment. Captain Planet. CAPTAIN F’N PLANET. Of all ways to kick off a song, you go with Captain Planet? I can easily say that, as a pop culture junkie, Captain Planet was a blip on the radar. Why not go James Bond, Jr, or Arthur, or Denver the Last Dinosaur? COME ON NOW. It actually bothered me that much to see the opening hit with such a non-entity of a headline. Do better.

Captain Planet. Please.

Self-indulgent rant over.

I’m happy that I decided to listen to this song. It made me realize that I won’t listen to it again.

At the very least, Fall Out Boy tried. They did their best, but sometimes, you should leave things alone. They are great musicians, but this fell way short of the mark. Go all in, or not at all.

With what we got, it should’ve been not at all.

That being said, don’t mind me. I’m going to hold any versions of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” to Billy Joel exclusively. And once I hear “Harry Truman, Doris Day” instead of Captain Planet, I will be OK.

Avoid the song. #BANKONIT


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