Charlie's 80s Blog

This Day In Music, December 9th

On this day in 1988: According to a poll released in the U.S., the music of Neil Diamond was favored as the best background music for sex, Beethoven was the second choice and Luther Vandross was voted third.

On this day in 1989: Billy Joel started a two week run at #1 on the U.S. singles chart with ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’. Its lyrics are made up from rapid-fire brief allusions to over a hundred headline events between 1949 (Joel was born on May 9 of that year) and 1989, when the song was released on his album ‘Storm Front.’

Joel got the idea for the song when he had just turned 40. He was in a recording studio and met a 21-year-old friend of Sean Lennon who said “It’s a terrible time to be 21!” Joel replied to him, “Yeah, I remember when I was 21 – I thought it was an awful time and we had Vietnam, and y’know, drug problems, and civil rights problems and everything seemed to be awful.” The friend replied, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but it’s different for you. You were a kid in the fifties and everybody knows that nothing happened in the fifties”. Joel retorted, “Wait a minute, didn’t you hear of the Korean War or the Suez Canal Crisis?” Joel later said those headlines formed the basic framework for the song.  Joel has also criticized the song on strictly musical grounds. 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.”

When asked if he deliberately intended to chronicle the Cold War with his song he responded, “It was just my luck that the Soviet Union decided to close down shop [soon after putting out the song]”, and that this span “had a symmetry to it, it was 40 years” that he had lived through. He was asked if he could do a follow-up about the next couple of years after the events that transpired in the original song, he commented “No, I wrote one song already and I don’t think it was really that good to begin with, melodically.”

Here’s a look at the complete Top 20 on the U.S. singles chart from this day back in 1989:

1 2 WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE –•– Billy Joel – 9 (1)
2 6 ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE –•– Phil Collins – 6 (2)
3 1 BLAME IT ON THE RAIN –•– Milli Vanilli – 10 (1)
4 3 (IT’S JUST) THE WAY THAT YOU LOVE ME –•– Paula Abdul – 17 (3)
5 8 DON’T KNOW MUCH –•– Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville – 11 (5)
6 7 BACK TO LIFE –•– Soul II Soul Featuring Caron Wheeler – 12 (6)
7 4 ANGELIA –•– Richard Marx – 10 (4)
8 11 WITH EVERY BEAT OF MY HEART –•– Taylor Dayne – 8 (8)
9 5 LOVE SHACK –•– The B-52’s – 15 (3)
10 16 PUMP UP THE JAM –•– Technotronic Featuring Felly – 9 (10)

11 13 LEAVE A LIGHT ON –•– Belinda Carlisle – 11 (11)
12 12 DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES –•– Kix – 14 (12)
13 17 RHYTHM NATION –•– Janet Jackson – 5 (13)
14 15 LIVING IN SIN –•– Bon Jovi – 10 (14)
15 9 WHEN I SEE YOU SMILE –•– Bad English – 13 (1)
16 10 POISON –•– Alice Cooper – 12 (7)
17 19 JUST LIKE JESSE JAMES –•– Cher – 8 (17)
18 24 EVERYTHING –•– Jody Watley – 9 (18)
19 18 DON’T SHUT ME OUT –•– Kevin Paige – 17 (18)
20 21 LOVE SONG –•– Tesla – 11 (20)

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