June 21, 2011

Respect for "We Didn't Start the Fire."

"[Billy] Joel is the perfect vehicle for Baby Boomer self-possession and his choice of 20th century landmarks has led to more history essays than Millard Fillmore's presidency.... Joel does a fantastic job recreating a modern Gilbert & Sullivan patter song. These are not easy to make, with their every-word-that-we-can-think-of lyrics. Joel's succeed because he keeps the words crisp and the ideas relevant to (at least some of) his audience. Sure it is just a list, but what a list!"

Ha. I didn't know you were allowed to like that much-hated song, but it's #108 on the Top 200 #1 songs of all time.

I still prefer this version:

36 comments:

Russ said...

Its #108 on a list of the top 200 #1 hits put together by a couple of people who have a wild pension for 80s and 90s hip hop and R&B.

Seriously whack choices like Roxette and at least 3 of Boyz2Men.

reader_iam said...

Me, I always segue from that song right into "Life is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)." On occasion, I even sing the latter right over the former.

Try it sometimes. It really does work.

AllenS said...

Then he got to go home and bang Christie Brinkley. That has to count for a couple of points on the best songs of all time list.

reader_iam said...

AllenS: Eh, but you could tell right away back in the day from watching that lame-o "Uptown Girl" video that THAT chemistry--such as it was, IMO--was never gonna last. To this day, I still think that was one of the weirdest celeb pairings evah, and from the git-go.

Fred4Pres said...

I did enjoy the Blogging Heads song/video!

Scott M said...

Seriously whack choices like Roxette and at least 3 of Boyz2Men.

How many Radiohead songs? Around the same number as Beatles songs? I never have understood the critics/list-maker's penchant for Radiohead. Sure, they're good, but Beatles-good? Beatles-influential? I just don't get it. There are other 90's bands just as influential and just as good.

I heard Prince's "Let's Get Crazy" which, frankly, has held up pretty damned well over the near 30 years its been out. Do you remember Boomers, so sure of their generation's musical superiority, making snide comments about artists like Prince and Nirvana, asking things along the lines of, "yeah, but who's going to know about them in 20 years?"

Sobering, that.

bagoh20 said...

I notice that the women of blogging heads are generally younger and much more attractive than the men. The new generation of educated women are gonna be lonely.

Call me.

wannie said...

Ann, I thought perhaps BhTV had stereotyped you in this video, always on the right. On replay, however, I spotted you on the left at 1:19. Wonder what the subject was that day ...

Curious George said...

This is the really epic version of Joel's original http://tinyurl.com/cowm6l

Chip S. said...

Millard Fillmore is our most paradoxical president. He's well-known for being obscure.

Phil 3:14 said...

I thought this was going to be about Sen. McCain's statements re: illegal immigrants and wildfires in AZ

The Crack Emcee said...

ScottM,

I never have understood the critics/list-maker's penchant for Radiohead. Sure, they're good, but Beatles-good? Beatles-influential? I just don't get it.

It's not you. But it's a scream in the dark for something - anything - creative. So, while it's bogus and unforgivable, have a little sympathy:

They're mostly graphic artists faking having lives anyway.

Also, the phrase "We didn't start the fire" has always bothered me. It's the worst kind of a straw man. Nobody's accused the Boomers of starting the fire. We've accused the Boomers of gleefully pouring gasoline on it, and then, once caught with a molotov cocktail in hand, saying "Who me?"

It's just not the same thing.

Scott M said...

It's not you. But it's a scream in the dark for something - anything - creative.

I've always read things like Rolling Stone as a comedic periodical rather than a serious music mag, so I get that. Seriously, some of the phrasing and conclusions they draw are Onion-worthy. Still, if it's creativity they want, one wonders why someone like David Byrne doesn't have three or four in the top 100.

clint said...

The brilliant thing about the list is that he doesn't comment on the issues, just mentions them.

He leaves it to the listener to figure out what the importance of each bullet point is.

jamboree said...

Yeech. Whatever.

jamboree said...

On second thought, I think it was the fact that fat, dumpy, not-especially-bright-or-articulate *Billy Joel* was waving the generational flag that made this hapless song so annoying.

If it'd been Dylan or Lennon or someone who actually had been a real influence, then it might have been tolerable. It's when these pompous fuckheads adopt the mantle of Other People's Work and Charisma just because they were born in the same basic time period that galls.

WV: meadlife

E.M. Davis said...

Where's "We Built This City"?



Watch out for that question mark. It's wild and free.

edutcher said...

I really hate these lists and this song is a big reason why.

Nowhere near his best work.

Scott M said...

Nowhere near his best work.

Hell, I thought "Pressure" was better.

jamboree said...

I'm wondering if the epigones of Christ took great vicarious pride in being born around the same time period.

Probably.

Lost My Cookies said...

Ugh. It was a transparent, cynical and successful attempt to follow up on "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" off of REM's monster "Document" album. INXS had a similar song, out the same year as "Document" with "Mediate" off of "Kick", another huge album. Both of those albums charted well into 1988, and got major airplay into '89. Those two were emulating Dylan, INXS even so far as copying the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" card flipping video. Joel tried everything on that record, from dentist office power ballads and U2ish "concern rock" to aping the Dead's I'm-old-and-gray-but-still-rockin'! "Touch of Gray".

If that song was a movie it'd be a "hilarious" Penny Marshall romp starring Judge Rheinhold and Whoopie Goldberg with a synthesizer soundtrack, and a top ten theme song, a duet by Huey Lewis and Grace Slick, with a horrible too sharp guitar hook and a nauseating saxophone solo.

What I mean to say is, it was a hack song off of a hack album by a guy who was well on his way to hack status.

I may have said too much...

elcrain said...

"Joel does a fantastic job recreating a modern Gilbert & Sullivan patter song. These are not easy to make, with their every-word-that-we-can-think-of lyrics."

No. The writer errs in comparing (and confusing) contemporary lyricists and rappers -- products of a dumbed-down 20th-century education -- with Gilbert, a 19th-century genius with a full command of the English language.

The former can string together a bunch of polysyllabic words that more or less rhyme.

The latter actually understood the words he was using and integrated them in complex multi-verse narratives that actually said something. What they said may have been funny, satirical, or deliberately silly, but there was none of this "every word we can think of" stuff.

Our puny age has entirely too high an opinion of itself. And THAT, IMVHO, is truly silly. ;-D

Beep said...

We held the day in the palm of our hands
They ruled the nights, and the nights
Seemed to last as long as six weeks...

...On Parris Island

CJinPA said...

And he did it pre-Google.

The "Belgians in the Congo!" lament always makes me chuckle. Don't know why. It was a development with regional consequences. I imagine him in live versions of the song going off on an extended riff that really exlores Belgians in the Congo. The crowd would go wild, maybe.

TMink said...

I really like Billy Joel's pop work, a lot. OK, I am an old fart, so I like the early work best, but dude could write great songs, play some happening piano, and was an enthusiastic, evocative, and at times emotionaly tender singer. Billy rocks.

Trey

drew said...

I grew up in the '60s on the north shore of Long Island, and can remember seeing a "kid" playing piano and singing on a stage in the Syosset Ice Rink during the summers. Only years later did I realize that I was watching a very young Billy Joel in his earliest work. In fact, his first album (remember those?) was entitled "Cold Spring Harbor" and featured one of the locally-classic scenes (strangely enough, from Cold Spring Harbor) on the cover.

In the 60s, and early 70s, most of his stuff was both unusual and (I think) somewhat autobiographical. If you listen to the lyrics of many of his songs from the 70s and very early 80s, and if you know the locations he was singing about, you can actually visualize what the lyrics described. Syosset, Cold Spring Harbor, and Huntington Village were all through his early work, and (in my opinion) this was the best of his catalogue.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm on the left in the pic at 1:19 because it's a book interview, and the positioning isn't about politics. I'm interviewing Bella De Paulo, and, btw, this diavlog, about being single, is causally related to my getting married about a year later.

But I've been on the left at other times, such as with Jim Pinkerton and with Glenn Reynolds and Jonah Goldberg.

michaele said...

Well, whoever put together the Bloggingheads version did a lot of work. I enjoyed the effort.

Cedarford said...

I thought it was one of Joel's better songs. "Hey, wake up folks! The world and the events that shaped you didn't start in the 60s. Things have always been burning since the world started turnin'".

Joel's had crap and well as superb product. "Uptown Girl" is emblematic of his crap product..while the whole "Stranger" album made with Ramone is superb.

William said...

Billy Joel used to be ugly in an attractive, cool way. Now he's ugly in a bloated, ugly way. Brinkly is still gorgeous. He's Dorian; she's the portrait....I think their marriage inspired any number of young men to continue with their piano and guitar lessons.....Billy Joel had a grand talent, but it is sobering to reflect that all his best work can fit into one CD.

Wilson said...

"a wild pension for 80s and 90s hip hop". Lol. There's a word for that type of error: eggcorn.

Craig said...

Joel is the perfect vehicle for Baby Boomer self-possession

Oh,I.am.so.tired.of.baby.boomer.stories.

Are we really so self-possessed, or has the rest of the world -- first older and now younger been obsessed with us? Born in '53, I have never once thought of myself as a member of a generation (one with a name, no less!). It only occurs to me when I read statements like that.

Now, surely, there's a big gang of us with shared experiences, but I think it's the collectivist-minded press that's tried, lo, these six decades, to herd us into the supposedly, self-possessed monsters they portray.

Is one allowed to quit his generation?

Revenant said...

I didn't know you were allowed to like that much-hated song, but it's #108 on the Top 200 #1 songs of all time.

Now I hate #107 and #109 just for their proximity to this song.

Mitch H. said...

I dunno, I prefer Joel when he's being hackish. It's when he thinks he's being profound and topical that he's often so utterly embarrassing. "Goodbye, Saigon" and "Allentown" are particularly awful. I grew up in rust-belt-apocalypse Pittsburgh, and *lord* did I grow weary of "Allentown". They played it more often than "Copperhead Road" on the local rock stations.

One exception: I have a sad fondness for "Two Thousand Years", mostly because there's a brilliant anime music video set to that tune.

JohnBoy said...

I made one of those "mix" playlists for a party my wife threw. Included a random mish-mash of stuff from the 1950s to 2010 - about 50 songs in all.

My 20 year-old son and I were on a long drive, and we were sorta analyzing and critiquing the songs, many of which he had not heard before.

McCartney's "1985" came on, and he looked at me and said, "What is that?," amazed at good that song is. He musta replayed it 5 times.

I had to agree - the best of the 1970s was pretty strong, indeed.

But Billy Joel, IMO, doesn't make the cut.

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