Do You Remember All of the Events in “We Didn't Start the Fire?”


By: Gavin Thagard

6 Min Quiz

Image: Corpus Christi Caller-Times / Associated Press via WikiCommons

About This Quiz

If one thing about history is true, it's that momentous events are always happening, no matter the era. Billy Joel proves that in his hit song "We Didn't Start the Fire," which details 117 events that played out between Joel's birth year in 1949 and the song's release in 1989. Have you heard the song, and do you know all of the events mentioned in it?

"We Didn't Start the Fire" received a lot of praise when it was released as part of the album "Storm Front," making its way to No. 1 in the charts and earning a nomination for the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. But the song's impact went well beyond the praise laid upon it. The song became a symbol for a generation who lived under the pressure of the Cold War while roaming the country as part of the counterculture movement. 

Here's your chance to see how well you identify with this generation and the historical experiences they went through. From the after-effects of WWII through the end of the Reagan years, you'll have to remember a variety of topics. 

Get started and see how long you can hold your feet next to the fire. 

Do you remember what Wladziu Liberace was famous for?

The musical talents of Liberace started at a young age when he was considered a child prodigy on the piano. He would go on to become a well-rounded performer, earning the nickname "Mr. Showmanship."


Which James Dean movie was released the same year that the young star died?

James Dean starred in "Rebel Without a Cause" beside actor Sal Mineo, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as John "Plato" Crawford. Like Dean, Mineo would also die an early death when he was stabbed in West Hollywood.


1959 saw the tragic death of Buddy Holly. How did it happen?

Before dying during a plane crash in 1959, Buddy Holly was an instrumental part of rock 'n' roll's development. Some of Holly's major hits included songs like "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue."


The space race started in 1957 when which artificial satellite was launched by the Soviet Union?

Launched on October 4, 1957, Sputnik orbited the earth several times a day during its venture into outer space. It wasn't until January of the next year that the satellite returned to earth, deteriorating in the atmosphere.


Are you familiar with the popular rock and roll song mentioned from 1954?

Songwriters Max Freedman and James Myers wrote the song "Rock Around the Clock" in 1952. However, the song didn't become a cultural phenomenon until it was performed in 1954 by Bill Haley & His Comets.


Major League Baseball found its way to California when which team moved there in 1958?

Before the move to California, the Dodgers won a single World Series while they were located in Brooklyn. That 1955 championship team had Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball.


The counterculture movement reached its height in 1969 when which concert took place?

Drawing over 400,000 young Americans, Woodstock promoted itself as an event filled with peace and music. While there were no acts of violence, two people did die: one from a drug overdose and one when he was run over by a tractor while asleep.


Do you know which controversy surrounded the medical field in 1965?

The 1965 Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut provided married couples with the right to use birth control in private. Even with the ruling, 26 states refused to allow unmarried women access to it.


The Bay of Pigs saw the United States plan a failed invasion of what country?

By 1961, the United States realized Fidel Castro, the dictator in Cuba, was a threat to U.S. security. In an effort to remove him from power, the CIA trained Cubans who had fled the country and sent them on an invasion that turned into a complete failure.


Richard Nixon had to resign from the presidency after which political scandal?

Richard Nixon remains the only U.S. president to ever resign from office when he left in 1974. He was replaced by Gerald Ford, who finished out Nixon's term before losing the next election to Jimmy Carter.


"We Didn't Start the Fire" discusses the assassination of which important figure in 1963?

Prior to becoming president, John F. Kennedy published a book titled "Profiles in Courage," which details eight short biographies from senators who went across party lines to do what was right for the country. The book earned a Pulitzer Prize for Biography.


How did the United States gain the upper hand in the space race in 1969?

On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the moon. Armstrong was followed onto the moon soon after by Buzz Aldrin. The two men completed President John F. Kennedy's 1961 proclamation that the U.S. would land a person on the moon by the end of the '60s.


Which disease almost became a pandemic in the 1980s despite being largely ignored by politicians?

Though the disease wasn't known by the name AIDS at the time, cases of the disease were first reported in 1981 in the United States. The disease primarily affected minority and gay communities, which was a major reason it was ignored by politicians.


Who was hired to host "Wheel of Fortune" in 1981?

Pat Sajak's career began as a news host on a radio station in Chicago, where he worked the night shift. He continued to work in radio for years until he was hired onto "Wheel of Fortune" in 1981.


The song mentions homeless veterans in the 1980s who served in which war?

Support for the Vietnam War remained relatively high throughout the '60s, as Americans feared that if Vietnam fell to communism then so would the rest of Asia. It wasn't until news outlets began depicting the atrocities of the war that U.S. support faded.


Can you name the famous filmmaker who created the thriller "Psycho"?

Alfred Hitchcock added an entire new level of suspense to film when he started making movies. "Psycho" might be the best example of his ability to craft suspense, but he also created thriller films such as "Vertigo" and "North by Northwest."


RCA Records signed which singing legend to a contract in 1955?

Born on January 8, 1935, Elvis Presley had a twin brother who was born shortly before him. However, his brother, Jesse, was stillborn, leaving Elvis an only child throughout his life.


Do you know which style of music the Sex Pistols helped usher in?

Though it has roots that can be traced back to garage bands in the '60s, the first major punk rock scene began in New York in the mid-70s. The club CBGB in the Bowery District became the center of the movement.


Can you remember the car company that is brought up in the song because it went out of business in the '50s?

Before its downfall, Studebaker had a history of manufacturing that dated back to the company's founding in 1852. Obviously, there weren't motorized vehicles at the time, but the company did produce wagons used by farmers and miners.


Billy Joel brings up what popular toy whose sales soared in the late '50s?

First marketed by Wham-O in 1958, Hula-Hoops were finally patented in 1963 by Arthur Melin, a co-founder of the company. The toy was so popular that around 25 million were sold in the first four months.


In which major European city was a wall erected dividing the east from the west?

Following WWII, Berlin was divided between communist Russia in the East and the democratic states in the West, becoming a symbolic representation of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall was erected to keep East Germans from fleeing to West Germany due to economic woes.


Billy Joel mentions the death of a famous world leader in 1953. Who is the leader?

After the death of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin was able to eliminate his political rivals to seize full power in Russia, making him the dictator of the Soviet Union. During his reign, he transformed the country into an industrial powerhouse but at the cost of many lives.


Are you familiar with the famous theme park brought up in the song?

Built in Anaheim, California, the original Disneyland was built on 160 acres to entertain fans, adults and children alike. Though success would come, the first day was a disaster after thousands of counterfeited invitations were given out.


Can you identify the animal that the United States first sent into space on flight Jupiter AM-18?

Two monkeys, Able and Baker, were sent into space aboard Jupiter AM-18, becoming the first official American astronauts. Both monkeys returned safely to earth after a 16-minute mission that carried them over 300 miles into the air.


Billy Joel brings up which controversial novel published in 1951?

The author of "The Catcher in the Rye," J.D. Salinger, was a veteran of WWII, where he served in Europe during the advancement on Berlin. The theme of alienation depicted in the book is often thought to have been influenced by his time at war.


Do you know which famous player from the New York Yankees is mentioned in the song?

Joe DiMaggio played his entire MLB career with the New York Yankees from 1936 until 1951, though he did miss three years to serve in the military during WWII. The winner of nine World Series, his most famous accomplishment was his 56-game hitting streak that set an MLB record.


What's the name of the Vietnamese leader mentioned in the song?

While living in France during WWI, Ho Chi Minh tuned into the Bolshevik Revolution taking place in Russia, where he would later travel. His travels eventually carried him back to Vietnam, where he founded the Viet Minh in 1941.


What did Coke and Pepsi use to promote their products to younger consumers as they engaged in a marketing war in 1989?

The increased popularity of rock 'n' roll in the 1980s can largely be credited to the rise of MTV, which went on air in 1981. The television station was created to promote music and also incorporated music videos that launched the careers of many bands.


During what round of the 1962 boxing match between Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson was Patterson knocked out?

Known for his speed and agility, Floyd Patterson is considered one of the greatest boxers of all time. However, Sonny Liston proved to be his weakness, knocking him out not once but twice in the first round.


Where is Bill Joel referring to with "Trouble in the Suez"?

The crisis at the Suez Canal was the result of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalizing the canal for Egypt. The move angered the Israelis, who were backed by French and British forces.


Do you know which year the Camp David Accords were negotiated by Menachem Begin, the Prime Minister of Israel?

U.S. President Jimmy Carter brought together Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at Camp David. The Camp David Accords that resulted initiated peace between the two nations for a time, though it wouldn't last.


Known as the syringe tide, where did medical waste illegally dumped at sea wash up on American shores in the late '80s?

New Jersey wasn't the only state affected by the syringe tide, as illegally dumped medical waste also found its way to shores across New York and Connecticut. The event played a major role in the support for environmentalism that arose by the end of the '80s.


Many Americans faced jail time as what drug mentioned by Billy Joel devastated communities?

The crack epidemic in the 1980s caused soaring crime rates across the United States, particularly in inner cities. The epidemic resulted in policies supported by the Ronald Raegan administration that were tough on crime and drugs.


In 1950, the United States was pulled into a foreign war in what Asian country?

The Korean War started on June 25, 1950, when soldiers from North Korea crossed the 38th parallel. It took less than a month for the United States to enter the war on the side of South Korea, beginning the first military engagement of the Cold War.


A prominent lawyer, who did Roy Cohn work for?

Prior to his death from AIDS, Roy Cohn served as the advisor and lawyer to future Republican president Donald Trump. The end of his life and death are depicted in Tony Kushner's famous play "Angels in America."


"We Didn't Start the Fire" calls out the bus boycotts in which southern state?

Buses in Alabama, along with other parts of the South, held tight segregated seating requirements, forcing African Americans to the back of the bus. Boycotts began in response to these requirements after the arrest of Rosa Parks, who refused to abide.


"On the Road" was written by which member of the Beat Generation?

For many Americans post WWII, the United States was viewed more as a country to explore than to settle in. Jack Kerouac decided to share his travels around the country in his novel "On the Road," which became a defining work of the Beat Generation.


The first line in the song references which U.S. president known for authorizing the bomb dropped on Hiroshima?

Harry S. Truman identified the next major concern following WWII as the spread of communism, which was particularly prevalent in Asia, Eastern Europe and South America. To combat this, Truman issued the Truman Doctrine, giving any country facing suppressive regimes access to U.S. aid.


The widely acclaimed musical "South Pacific" is mentioned in the song. When did it premier on Broadway?

The music for "South Pacific" was created by the famous duo Rodgers and Hammerstein. The two creators also worked on several other musicals together, including "Carousel," "Oklahoma!" and "The Sound of Music."


"Sugar" Ray Robinson fought Jake LaMotta in 1951 in a match given which title?

The boxing match between "Sugar" Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta was named after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre that took place in Chicago in 1929, when members of the North Side Gang were slain by men dressed as police officers. The fight received the name because it took place in Chicago on February 14.


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