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History Lessons In Music

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For some reason, I have Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” running through my head. I’m not too sure where it came from, but it must be that Erin and I were talking about it the other day. The History teacher on her team just finished a lesson using that song. It’s basically the same lesson that appeared shortly after the song was released, back when I was in high school. Each student gets assigned a line from the song (excluding the chorus, of course) and they need to write a paper based on the events of that line. Sadly, I was never in one of the history classes that got the assignment. It would have been one particular lesson I really, really dug. Combine music and history and you have two things that I am EXTREMELY passionate about.

What really shocked me is that they’re still using this song in schools. I figured it would be like any pop music (and let’s face it, Stormfront WAS a pop album!) phenomenon, and it would fade away like a sunset at the beach. Here it is, almost 14 years after it’s release and it’s still being used in at least one school that I know of. I think that is really, really cool. It might have something to do with the fact that the history teacher in question is about the same age as I am, so she would have done the lesson in high school as well. Perhaps she recalls that it is a great lesson and she should pass it on, I don’t know. I know that the next time I talk to her, I will ask.

I have to admit that I’m not a huge Billy Joel fan. I have Piano Man on record, tape and CD, but that’s the extent of my fanaticism for Billy. The album Stormfront annoyed me when it came out, for the simple fact that my brother and sister each had a copy and would play it constantly. I found it FAR too commercial. This, of course was at a stage of my life when I was obsessed with underground metal and punk rock. Nothing in the pop music world or top 40 radio world interested me in the slightest. The songs “We Didn’t Start The Fire” and “Downeaster Alexa” are still the only two songs I like, since the album as a whole is just too poppy and radio friendly for my tastes. I would always recommend Piano Man before this one, but I would definately tell someone not to miss this particular song.

History meets pop. An interesting mix that was recently repeated with the song “Nineteen Something” by Mark Wills. Unlike “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” Wills focuses primarily on the late ’70’s and 80’s, the time period I grew up in. I’m sure there are more but none come directly to mind like these two did.

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About Jim Schwab

  • history meets pop: would you ever consider writing on the line “rock and roller cola wars”? There’s an historical treasure trove in that one.

  • John Fogerty’s song “I Saw it on TV” is another musical history lesson.

  • Colez

    My U.S. History teacher is using this song for a lesson this year. It’s awesome. Now for extra credit…I need to find the reason why Billy Joel wrote the song. Extra credit. Due tomorrow. Assigned today, so this isn’t last minute 😛 But anyways, if anyone knows, or can help me, please write back or email me I’m not quite sure how this post thing works. Even if it isn’t tonight, I am still interested to find out his reasoning. Thank you!!! ~Colez