Historical Items Referred to in “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (1989), Natural Born Killers (1994), and “In 2007”

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A Brief History

On September 29, 1989, American singer-songwriter and pianist Billy Joel released his song titled “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.

On August 26, 1994, American satirical crime Natural Born Killers film premiered at the Venice Film Festival.

Years later, JibJab set their 2007 year in review song to “We Didn’t Start the Fire”’s tune.

This article lists historical items referred to in “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (1989), Natural Born Killers (1994), and “In 2007”.

Digging Deeper

  1. In 1949, Harry Truman (1884-1972) was inaugurated as U.S. president after being elected in 1948 to his own term; previously he was sworn in following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945).  Truman authorized the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during World War II (1939-1945), on 6 August 1945 and 9 August 1945, respectively.
  2. Doris Day (born 1922 or 1924) entered the public spotlight with the films My Dream Is Yours (1949) and It’s a Great Feeling (1949) as well as popular songs like “It’s Magic” (1948); she divorced her second husband.
  3. In Red China, The Communist Party of China won the Chinese Civil War (1946-1950), establishing the People’s Republic of China.
  4. In 1949, Johnnie Ray (1927-1990) signed his first recording contract with Okeh Records, although he would not become popular for another two years.
  5. South Pacific (1949), the prize-winning musical, opened on Broadway on 7 April 1949.
  6. Walter Winchell (1897-1972) was an aggressive radio and newspaper journalist credited with inventing the gossip column.
  7. Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999) and the New York Yankees went to the World Series five times in the 1940s, winning four of them.
  8. In 1950, Joe McCarthy (1908-1957), the U.S. Senator, gained national attention and began his anti-communist crusade with his Lincoln Day speech.
  9. In 1950, Richard Nixon (1913-1994) was first elected to the United States Senate.
  10. In 1950, Studebaker (1852-1967), a popular car company, began its financial downfall.
  11. In 1950, television became widespread throughout Europe and North America.
  12. North Korea and South Korea declared war after Northern forces streamed south on 25 June 1950.
  13. Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) soared in popularity with five new movies, including The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and All About Eve (1950). She attempted suicide after the death of friend Johnny Hyde (1895-1950) who asked to marry her several times, but she refused respectfully.  Monroe would later (1954) be married for a brief time to Joe DiMaggio (mentioned in the previous verse).
  14. The Rosenbergs, Ethel (1915-1953) and Julius (1918-1953), were convicted on 19 March 1951 for espionage.
  15. In 1951, the H-Bomb was in the middle of its development as a nuclear weapon, announced in early 1950 and first tested in late 1952.
  16. In 1951, Sugar Ray Robinson (1921-1989) was a champion welterweight boxer.
  17. Panmunjom, the border village in Korea, is the location of truce talks between the parties of the Korean War (1950-1953).
  18. Marlon Brando was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).
  19. The King and I (1951), musical, opens on Broadway on 29 March 1951.
  20. The Catcher in the Rye (1951), a controversial novel by J. D. Salinger (1919-2010), was published.
  21. In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) was first elected as U.S. president, winning by a landslide margin of 442 to 89 electoral votes.
  22. In 1952, the vaccine for polio was privately tested by Jonas Salk (1914-1995).
  23. In 1952, England got a new queen when Queen Elizabeth II (r. 1952-present) succeeded to the throne upon the death of her father, George VI (r. 1936-1952), and was crowned the next year.
  24. In 1952, Rocky Marciano (1923-1969) defeated Jersey Joe Walcott (1914-1994), becoming the world Heavyweight champion.
  25. Liberace (1919-1987) had a popular 1950s television show for his musical entertainment.
  26. Santayana goodbye: George Santayana (1863-1952), philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, died on 26 September 1952.
  27. Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), leader of the Soviet Union, died on 5 March 1953.
  28. Georgy Maksimilianovich Malenkov (1902-1988) succeeded Stalin for six months following his death. Malenkov had presided over Stalin’s purges, but would be spared a similar fate by Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) mentioned later in verse.
  29. In 1953, Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) acted as the true power behind the new Egyptian nation as Muhammad Naguib’s minister of the interior.
  30. Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), the composer, died on 5 March 1953, the same day as Stalin.
  31. In 1953, Winthrop Rockefeller (1912-1973) and his wife were involved in a highly publicized divorce, culminating in 1954 with a record-breaking $5.5 million settlement.
  32. In 1953, Roy Campanella (1921-1993), an African-American baseball catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, received the National League’s Most Valuable Player award for the second time.
  33. In the Communist bloc, the uprising of 1953 in East Germany was crushed by the Volkspolizei and the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany.
  34. In 1954, Roy Cohn (1927-1986) resigned as Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel and enters private practice with the fall of McCarthy (1954). Cohn also worked to prosecute the Rosenbergs, mentioned earlier.
  35. In 1954, Juan Perón (1895-1974) spent his last full year as President of Argentina before a September 1955 coup.
  36. In 1954, Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) was at the height of his fame as a conductor, performing regularly with the NBC Symphony Orchestra on national radio.
  37. Dacron is an early artificial fiber made from the same plastic as polyester.
  38. In 1954, Dien Bien Phu fell. A French/Vietnamese camp fell to Viet Minh forces under Vo Nguyen Giap (1911-2013), signaling the end of French Indochina and leading to the creation of North Vietnam and South Vietnam as separate states.
  39. “Rock Around the Clock” (1954) is a hit single released by Bill Haley & His Comets (1952-1981) in May, spurring worldwide interest in rock and roll music.
  40. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) died on 18 April 1955 at the age of 76.
  41. James Dean (1931-1955) achieved success with East of Eden (1955) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955), was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, and died in a car accident on 30 September 1955 at the age of 24.
  42. In 1955, Brooklyn had a winning team: The Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series for the only time before their move to Los Angeles.
  43. Davy Crockett (1954-1955) is a Disney television miniseries about the legendary frontiersman of the same name. The show was a huge hit with young boys and inspired a short-lived “coonskin cap” craze.
  44. Peter Pan was broadcast on TV live and in color from the 1954 version of the stage musical starring Mary Martin (1913-1990) on 7 March 1954. Disney released an animated version the previous year.
  45. Elvis Presley (1935-1977) signed with RCA Records on 21 November 1955, beginning his pop career.
  46. Disneyland opened on 17 July 1955 as Walt Disney’s first theme park.
  47. Brigitte Bardot (born 1934) appeared in her first mainstream film And God Created Woman (1956) and established an international reputation as a French “sex kitten”.
  48. Budapest is the capital city of Hungary and site of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
  49. Alabama is the site of the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956) which ultimately led to the removal of the last race laws in the USA. Rosa Parks (1913-2005) and Martin Luther King, Jr (1929-1968) figured prominently.
  50. Nikita Khrushchev made his famous Secret Speech denouncing Stalin’s “cult of personality” on 25 February 1956.
  51. Princess Grace Kelly (r. 1956-1982) released her last film, High Society (1956), and married Prince Rainier III (r. 1949-2005) of Monaco.
  52. Peyton Place (1956), the best-selling novel by Grace Metalious (1924-1964), was published. Although mild compared to today’s prime time, it shocked the reserved values of the 1950s.
  53. In 1956, trouble was in the Suez: The Suez Crisis boiled as Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal on 29 October 1956.
  54. In 1957, Little Rock, Arkansas became the site of an anti-integration standoff, as Governor Orval Faubus (1910-1994) stopped the Little Rock Nine from attending Little Rock Central High School and President Dwight D. Eisenhower deployed the 101st Airborne Division to counteract Faubus.
  55. Boris Pasternak (1890-1960), the Russian author, published his famous novel Doctor Zhivago (1957).
  56. In 1957, Mickey Mantle (1931-1995) was in the middle of his career as a famous New York Yankees outfielder and American League All-Star for the sixth year in a row.
  57. Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) published his first novel in seven years, On the Road (1957).
  58. Sputnik became the first artificial satellite, launched by the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957, marking the start of the space race.
  59. In 1957, Chou En-Lai (1898-1976), Premier of the People’s Republic of China, survived an assassination attempt on the charter airliner Kashmir Princess.
  60. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) was released as a film adaptation of the 1954 novel and received seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
  61. In 1958, Lebanon was engulfed in a political and religious crisis that eventually involves U.S. intervention.
  62. In 1958, Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) was elected first president of the French Fifth Republic following the Algerian Crisis (1958).
  63. In 1958, California baseball began as the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved to California and became the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, respectively. They are the first major league teams west of Kansas City.
  64. Charles Starkweather’s murder spree captured the attention of Americans, in which he killed eleven people between 25 January 1958 and 29 January 1958 before being caught in a massive manhunt in Douglas, Wyoming.
  65. Children of Thalidomide: Mothers taking the drug Thalidomide had children born with congenital birth defects caused by the sleeping aid and antiemetic, which was also used at times to treat morning sickness.
  66. Buddy Holly (1936-1959) died in a plane crash on 3 February 1959 with Ritchie Valens (1941-1959) and The Big Bopper (1930-1959) in a day that had a devastating affect on the country and youth culture. Billy Joel (born 1949) prefaces the lyric with a Holly signature vocal hiccup: “Uh-huh, uh-huh.”
  67. Ben-Hur (1959), a film based around the New Testament starring Charlton Heston (1923-2008), won eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
  68. In 1959, space monkeys Able and Miss Baker (1957-1984) returned to Earth from space aboard the flight Jupiter AM-18.
  69. In 1959, the Mafia were the center of attention for the FBI and public attention built to this organized crime society with a historically Sicilian-American origin.
  70. In 1959, hula hoops reached 100 million in sales as the latest toy fad.
  71. In 1959, Fidel Castro (born 1926) came to power after a revolution in Cuba and visited the United States later that year on an unofficial twelve-day tour.
  72. In 1959, Edsel (1958-1960) was a no-go: Production of this car marque ended after only three years due to poor sales.
  73. In 1960, An American U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers (1929-1977) was shot down over the Soviet Union, causing the U-2 Crisis of 1960.
  74. In 1960, Syngman Rhee (1875-1965) was rescued by the CIA after being forced to resign as leader of South Korea for allegedly fixing an election and embezzling more than US $20 million.
  75. In 1960, Payola, illegal payments for radio broadcasting of songs, was publicized due to Dick Clark’s testimony before Congress and Alan Freed’s public disgrace.
  76. John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) beat Richard Nixon (1913-1994) in the 8 November 1960 general election.
  77. In 1960, Chubby Checker (born 1941) popularized the dance The Twist with his cover of the song of the same name.
  78. Psycho (1960), an Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) thriller, based on a pulp novel by Robert Bloch (1917-1994) and adapted by Joseph Stefano (1922-2006), became a landmark in graphic violence and cinema sensationalism. The screeching violins heard at this point in the song “We Didn’t Start teh Fire” are a trademark of the film’s soundtrack.
  79. In 1960, Belgians were in the Congo: The Republic of the Congo (Leopoldville) was declared independent of Belgium on 30 June 1960, with Joseph Kasavubu (1910-1969) as President and Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961) as Prime Minister.
  80. Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) committed suicide on 2 July 1961 after a long battle with depression.
  81. In 1961, Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962), a “most wanted” Nazi war criminal, was traced to Argentina and captured by Mossad agents. He was covertly taken to Israel where he was put on trial for crimes against humanity in Germany during World War II, convicted, and hanged.
  82. Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), written by Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988), is a breakthrough best-seller with themes of sexual freedom and liberation.
  83. In 1961, Bob Dylan (born 1941) was signed to Columbia Records after a New York Times review by critic Robert Shelton (1926-1995).
  84. Berlin was separated into West Berlin and East Berlin, and from the rest of East Germany, when the Berlin Wall (1961-1989) was erected on 13 August 1961 to prevent citizens escaping to the West.
  85. The Bay of Pigs Invasion (1961) failed, an attempt by United States-trained Cuban exiles to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro.
  86. Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Academy Award-winning film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935) starring Peter O’Toole (1932-2013) premiered in America on 16 December 1962.
  87. British Beatlemania (1963-1966): In 1962, The Beatles (1960-1970), a British rock group, gained Ringo Starr (born 1940) as drummer and Brian Epstein (1934-1967) as manager, and joined the EMI’s Parlophone label. The Beatles soon became the world’s most famous rock band, with the word “Beatlemania” adopted by the press for their fans’ unprecedented enthusiasm.  It also began the British Invasion (1963-1967) in the United States.
  88. In 1962 at Ole Miss, a riot was fought between Southern segregationist civilians and federal and state forces as a result of the forced enrollment of black student James Meredith (born 1933) at the University of Mississippi.
  89. John Glenn (born 1921) flew the first American manned orbital mission termed “Friendship 7” on 20 February 1962.
  90. Sonny Liston (c. 1932-1970) beat Floyd Patterson (1935-2006): Liston and Patterson fought for the world heavyweight championship on 25 September 1962, ending in a first-round knockout. This match marked the first time Patterson had ever been knocked out and one of only eight losses in his 20-year professional career.
  91. Cardinal Giovanni Montini was elected to the papacy and took the papal name of Pope Paul VI (r. 1963-1978).
  92. In 1963, Malcolm X (1925-1965) made his infamous statement “The chickens have come home to roost” about the Kennedy assassination, thus causing the Nation of Islam to censor him.
  93. British politician sex: The British Secretary of State for War, John Profumo (1915-2006), had a relationship with a showgirl, and then lied when questioned about it before the House of Commons. When the truth came out, it led to his own resignation and undermined the credibility of the Prime Minister.
  94. JFK blown away: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on 22 November 1963 while riding in an open convertible through Dallas.
  95. Birth control: In the early 1960s, oral contraceptives, popularly known as “the pill”, first went on the market and are extremely popular. Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 challenged a Connecticut law prohibiting contraceptives.  In 1968, Pope Paul VI released a papal encyclical entitled Humanae vitae (1968) which reaffirmed Catholic teaching that artificial birth control was a sin.
  96. Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969), a Vietnamese Communist, served as President of Vietnam from 1954–1969. On 2 March 1965, Operation Rolling Thunder began bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply line from North Vietnam to the Vietcong rebels in the south.  On 8 March 1965, the first U.S. combat troops, 3,500 marines, landed in South Vietnam.
  97. Richard Nixon came back again: Former Vice President Nixon was elected President in 1968.
  98. Moonshot: In 1969, Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing, successfully landed on the moon.
  99. Woodstock, a famous rock and roll festival of 1969, came to be the epitome of the counterculture movement.
  100. In 1974–75, Watergate, a political scandal, began when the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. was broken into. After the break-in, word began to spread that President Richard Nixon (a Republican) may have known about the break-in, and tried to cover it up.  The scandal would ultimately result in the resignation of President Nixon, and to date, remains the only time that anyone has ever resigned the United States Presidency.
  101. Punk rock: The Ramones (1974-1996) formed, with the Sex Pistols (1975-1978) following in 1975, ushering in the punk era.
  102. Menachem Begin (1913-1992) became Prime Minister of Israel in 1977 and negotiated the Camp David Accords with Egypt’s president in 1978. This item from 1977 comes before three items from 1976 to make the song scan.
  103. Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) was elected President of the United States in 1980, but he first attempted to run for the position in 1976.
  104. In 1976, a United Nations resolution called for an independent Palestinian state and end of the Israeli occupation.
  105. Terror on the airline: Numerous aircraft hijackings took place, specifically, the Palestinian hijack of Air France Flight 139 and the subsequent Operation Entebbe (1976) in Uganda.
  106. Ayatollahs in Iran: During the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the West-backed and secular Shah was overthrown as the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989) gained power after years in exile and forced Islamic law.
  107. Russians in Afghanistan: Following their move into Afghanistan, Soviet forces fought a ten-year war, from 1979 to 1989.
  108. Wheel of Fortune (1975-present), a hit television game show, has been TV’s highest-rated syndicated program since 1983.
  109. Sally Ride (1951-2012): On June 18, she became the first American woman in space by flying aboard Challenger (1979-1986) on the STS-7 shuttle mission. Ride’s quip from space “Better than an E-ticket”, harkens back to the opening of Disneyland mentioned earlier, with the E-ticket purchase needed for the best rides.
  110. Heavy metal suicide: In the 1980s Ozzy Osbourne (born 1948) and the bands Judas Priest (1969-present) and Metallica (1981-present) were brought to court by parents who accused the musicians of hiding subliminal pro-suicide messages in their music.
  111. The lyric “foreign debts” refers to persistent U.S. trade and budget deficits.
  112. The lyric “homeless vets” refers to how Veterans of the Vietnam War, including many disabled ex-military, were reported to be left homeless and impoverished.
  113. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a collection of symptoms and infections in humans resulting from the specific damage to the immune system caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It was first detected and recognized in the 1980s and was on its way to becoming a pandemic.
  114. Crack cocaine use surged in the mid-to-late 1980s.
  115. On 22 December 1984, Bernie Goetz (born 1947) shot four young men who he said were threatening him on a New York City subway. Goetz was charged with attempted murder but was acquitted of the charges, although he was convicted of carrying an unlicensed gun.
  116. In 1988, hypodermics were on the shore: Medical waste was found washed up on beaches in New Jersey after being illegally dumped at sea. Before this event, waste dumped in the oceans was an “out of sight, out of mind” affair.  This Syringe Tide (1987-1988) has been cited by Wikipedia as one of the crucial turning points in popular opinion on environmentalism.1
  117. In 1989, China was under martial law: On 20 May 1989, China declared martial law, resulting in the use of military forces against protesting students to end the Tiananmen Square protests (1989).
  118. Rock-and-roller cola wars: Soft drink giants Coke and Pepsi each ran marketing campaigns using rock & roll and popular music stars to reach the teenage and young adult demographic.
  119. On 1 May 1992, American criminal Rodney King (1965-2012) appealed for calm during the Los Angeles riots (1992) by asking, “People, I just want to say, you know,can we all get along?”  The riots followed the acquittal of police officers on trial regarding a videotaped and widely covered incident of the accused officers beating King after a high-speed police pursuit that occurred on 3 March 1991.  King eventually admitted he attempted to outrun the police at dangerously high speeds because a charge of driving under the influence would violate his parole for a previous robbery conviction.
  120. On 19 April 1993, during theWaco siege (1993), a siege of a compound belonging to the religious group Branch Davidians by American federal and Texas state law enforcement and military, a fire engulfed Mount Carmel Center and 76 people, including the Branch Davidians’ American leader David Koresh (1959-1993), died.
  121. During the middle of the night of 23 June 1993, John Bobbitt (born 1967) arrived at his apartment and subsequently gained worldwide notoriety after his wife, Lorena Bobbitt (born 1970), severedhis penis with a knife.  In a 1994 court hearing, Lorena stated that after returning home, he raped   Her claims were dismissed as unevidenced, when, in 1994, John was tried for and acquitted of spousal rape, prosecuted by the same district attorney who prosecuted Lorena for attacking her husband.  After seven hours of deliberation, a jury found Lorena not guilty due to insanity causing an irresistible impulse to sexually wound John.  As a result, she could not be held liable for her actions.  Under state law, the judge ordered her to undergo a 45-day evaluation period at Central State Hospital, located in Petersburg, Virginia, after which she would be released.  In 1995, after six years of marriage, John and Lorena divorced.
  122. Lyle Menendez(born 1968) and Erik Menendez (born 1970) are brothers known for their conviction in 1994, as a result of a much-publicized trial, for the shotgun murders of their wealthy parents in 1989.  The Menendez brothers and the murder of their parents became a national sensation when Court TV broadcast the trial during 1993.  The younger brother’s defense became famous for alleging that the brothers were driven to murder by a lifetime of abuse from their parents, including sexual abuse from their father.
  123. On 6 January 1994, American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan (born 1969) was clubbed in the right knee with a police baton after a practice session at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit in an assault planned by rivalTonya Harding’s ex-husband.  The attack on Kerrigan and the news of Harding’s alleged involvement led to a media frenzy of saturation news coverage.  Kerrigan appeared on the cover of TIME  magazine in January 1994.  Reporters and TV news crews attended Harding’s practices in Portland.  The tape-delayed broadcast of the short program at the Olympics remains one of the most watched telecasts in American history.
  124. On 26 August 1994, Natural Born Killers(1994), an American crime film starring Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey, Jr., and Tom Sizemore was released in theaters.  From almost the moment of its release, the film has been accused of encouraging and inspiring numerous murderers in North America, including the Heath High School shooting (1997) and the Columbine High School massacre (1999).  The film was banned completely in Ireland, although it has since been unbanned.  Entertainment Weekly ranked the film as the eighth most controversial film ever.
  125. In the most publicized criminal trial in history, from thejury’s swearing-in on 2 November 1994 to a verdict of “not guilty” on 3 October 1995, former professional football star and actor  J. Simpson (born 1947) was tried on two counts of murder after the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson (1959-1994), and waiter Ronald Lyle Goldman (1968-1994), in June 1994.
  126. In 2007, the tune “We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel was used in this Year in Review. Topics used in this Year in Review include: global warming, the indictment of Michael Vick (born 1980) and the Bad Newz Kennels dog fighting investigation (2007), Alberto Gonzales (born 1955), Lindsay Lohan’s cocaine bust, the discovery of dangerous amounts of lead in many Chinese-produced children’s toys, the war in Darfur (2003-present), the Don Imus (born 1940) Rutgers University women’s basketball team controversy (2007), the death of Anna Nicole Smith (1967-2007), Blackwater USA, Britney Spears’s performance at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, the indictment of Barry Bonds (born 1964), the Malibu forest fires (2007), the inaugural flight of the Airbus A380 Airlines (referred to as “a big ass plane”) with Singapore Airlines, Caitlin Upton (born 1989), the rise of Facebook (2004-present), Halo 3 (2007), the Wii (2006-present), the iPhone (2007-present), and Sanjaya Malakar (born 1989).

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Historical Evidence (Note)

1 Wikipedia contributors, “Syringe Tide,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syringe_Tide (accessed 28 April 2015).


About Author

Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history in Ohio.