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Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South __________, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker,________
North Korea, ____________ Korea, Marilyn Monroe
Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
_____, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”
Eisenhower, ________, England’s got a new _______
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye
CHORUS: We didn’t start the fire
It was always _______________
Since the world’s been _____________
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t______________ it
But we tried to _____________it
Joseph ________, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
_____________, Campanella, __________ Bloc
Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, “Rock ____________ the Clock”
_______, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, ___________
Bardot, Budapest, _____________, Krushchev
Princess Grace, “Peyton Place”,________ in the Suez
Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
__________, Zhou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”
Lebanon, Charlse de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather ___________, children of Thalidomide
Oh, huh, ho
Buddy Holly, “Ben-Hur”, space ___________, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go
U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and _____________
Chubby Checker, “Psycho”, __________ in the Congo
Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs______________
“Lawrence of Arabia”, _____________ Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson
Pope __________, Malcolm X, British politician sex
__________, blown away, what else do I have to say?
Birth _______, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, _____________, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollahs in Iran, Russians in______________
“Wheel of Fortune”, Sally Ride, heavy metal, _______
Foreign debts, homeless vets __, Crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under ______ law
Rock and roller Cola wars, I can’t take it ___________
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vaccine, Disneyland, Pacific, television, Stalin, Communist, Alabama, Sputnik, homicide, Kennedy, invasion, Paul, Woodstock, suicide, Brando, South, queen, Rockefeller, Einstein, monkey, British, control, anymore, martial, Afghanistan, burning, turning, light, fight, Around, trouble, Belgians, JFK, AIDS,
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- Though the lyrics are rapid-fire with several people and events mentioned in a single word each:Billy Joel captured the major images, events, and personalities of this half-century in a three-minute song…. It was pure information overload, a song that assumed we knew exactly what he was singing about…What was truly alarming was the realization that we, the listeners, for the most part understood the references.
The following events (with Joel’s lyric for each appearing in bold) are listed in the order that they appear in the song, which is almost entirely chronological. The lyric for each individual event is brief and the events are punctuated by the chorus and other lyrical elements. The following list includes longer, more descriptive names for clarity. Events from a variety of contexts – such as popular entertainment, foreign affairs, and sports – are intermingled, giving an impression of the culture of the time as a whole. There are 118 events listed in the song.
- Harry Trumanwins the 1948 United States presidential electionbeginning his full presidential term; previously he was sworn in following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- Doris Daydebuts in film in Romance on the High Seas, featuring the popular song “It’s Magic“.
- Red China: The Communist Party of China wins the Chinese Civil War, establishing the People’s Republic of Chinaon September 21.
- Johnnie Ray: The rock and rollprogenitor signs his first recording contract with Okeh Records, although he did not become popular for another two years.
- South Pacific, the award-winning musical, opens on Broadwayon April 7.
- Walter Winchellwas a radio and newspaper journalist credited with having invented the gossip column.
- Joe DiMaggio signs a record-breaking $100,000 contract with the New York Yankeeson February 7.
- Joe McCarthy, a S. Senator, gains national attention and begins his anti-Communism crusade with his Lincoln Day speech.
- Richard Nixonis first electedto the United States Senate.
- Studebaker, a popular automobile company, begins its financial downfall.
- Televisionbecomes widespread throughout Europe and North America.
- North Koreainvades South Koreaon June 25, beginning the Korean War.
- Marilyn Monroe appears in five films, including The Asphalt Jungleand All About Eve
- The Rosenbergs, married couple Ethel and Julius, were convicted on March 29 of espionage.
- H-Bomb: The United States is in the middle of developing the hydrogen bombas a nuclear weapon; it would be first testedin late 1952.
- Sugar RayRobinson, a champion boxer, defeats Jake LaMottain the “ Valentine’s Day Massacre“.
- Panmunjom, the border village in Korea, is the location of truce talks between the parties of the Korean War.
- Marlon Brando is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actorfor his role in A Streetcar Named Desire.
- The King and I, the musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, opens on Broadwayon March 29.
- The Catcher in the Rye, a controversial novel by D. Salinger, is published.
- Dwight D. Eisenhoweris first elected as President of the United States, winning by a landslide margin of 442 to 89 electoral votes.
- Vaccinefor poliois privately tested by Jonas Salk.
- England’s got a new queen: Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh succeeds to the throne as Queen Elizabeth IIupon the death of her father, George VI, and is crownedthe following year.
- Rocky Marcianodefeats Jersey Joe Walcott, becoming the world heavyweight boxing champion.
- Liberacefirst broadcasts The Liberace Show.
- Santayana goodbye: George Santayana, philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, dies on September 26.
- Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, dies on March 5.
- Georgy Maksimilianovich Malenkovsucceeds Stalin for six months following his death. Malenkov had presided over Stalin’s purges, but would be spared a similar fate by his successor Nikita Khrushchev.
- Gamal Abdel Nasser acts as the true power behind the new Egyptian nation as Muhammad Naguib‘s minister of the interior.
- Sergei Prokofiev, Russian composer dies on March 5, the same day as Stalin.
- Winthrop Rockefellerand his wife Barbara are involved in a highly publicized divorce, culminating in 1954 with a record-breaking $5.5 million settlement.
- Roy Campanella, an Italian-American/African-American baseball catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, receives the National League‘s Most Valuable Playeraward for the second time.
- Communist bloc: The East German uprising of 1953is crushed by the Volkspolizeiand the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany.
- Roy Cohnresigns as Joseph McCarthy‘s chief counsel and enters private practicewith the fall of McCarthy.
- Juan Perónspends his last full year as President of Argentinabefore a September 1955 coup.
- Arturo Toscaniniis at the height of his fame as a conductor, performing regularly with the NBC Symphony Orchestraon U.S. national radio.
- Dacronis an early artificial fiber made from the same plastic as polyester.
- Dien Bien Phu falls. A French/Vietnamese camp falls to Việt Minhforces under Võ Nguyên Giáp, signaling the end of French Indochina and leading to the creation of North Vietnamand South Vietnam as separate states.
- “Rock Around the Clock“is a hit single released by Bill Haley & His Cometsin May, spurring worldwide interest in rock and roll
- Albert Einsteindies on April 18 at the age of 76.
- James Deanachieves success with East of Edenand Rebel Without a Cause, gets nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, and dies in a car accident on September 30, 1955, at the age of 24.
- Brooklyn’s got a winning team: The Brooklyn Dodgerswin their first and only World Seriesbefore their move to Los Angeles.
- Davy Crockettis a Disneytelevision 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.
- Peter Pan: A year after Walt Disney Animation Studiosreleased an animated adaptionof the play by M. Barrie, the 1954 stage musical of the same name starring Mary Martin is broadcast on NBC live and in color.
- Elvis Presleysigns with RCA Recordson November 21, beginning his pop career, going on to earn a reputation as the “King of Rock and Roll”.
- Disneylandopens on July 17, 1955, as Walt Disney‘s first theme park.
- Brigitte Bardotappears in her first mainstream film And God Created Womanand establishes an international reputation as a French “sex kitten”.
- Budapestis the capital city of Hungary and site of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
- Alabamais the site of the Montgomery bus boycottwhich ultimately led to the removal of the last race laws in the United States. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. figure prominently.
- Nikita Khrushchevmakes his famous Secret Speechdenouncing Stalin’s “Cult of personality” on February 25.
- Princess GraceKellyappears in her last film, High Society, and marries Prince Rainier III of Monaco.
- Peyton Place, the best-selling novel by Grace Metalious, is published. Though mild compared to today’s standards, it shocked the reserved values of the 1950s.
- Trouble in the Suez: The Suez Crisis boils as Egyptnationalizes the Suez Canalon October 29.
- Little Rock, Arkansasis the site of an anti-integration standoff, as GovernorOrval Faubus stops the Little Rock Nine from attending Little Rock Central High School and President Eisenhower deploys the 101st Airborne Division to counteract him.
- Boris Pasternak, the Russian author, publishes his novel Doctor Zhivago.
- Mickey Mantleis in the middle of his career as a famous New York Yankeesoutfielder and American League All-Star for the sixth year in a row.
- Jack Kerouacpublishes his novel On the Road, a defining work of the Beat Generation.
- Sputnikbecomes the first artificial satellite, launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, marking the start of the space race.
- Chou En-Lai, Premier of the People’s Republic of China, survives an assassination attempt on the charter airliner Kashmir Princess.
- The Bridge on the River Kwai, an adaptation of the 1954 novel, is released and receives seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
- Lebanonis engulfed in a political and religious crisisthat eventually involves U.S. intervention.
- Charles de Gaulleis electedfirst president of the French Fifth Republic following the Algerian Crisis.
- California baseballbegins as the Brooklyn Dodgersand New York Giants move to California and become the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, respectively. They are the first teams in Major League Baseball west of Kansas City, Missouri.
- Starkweather homicide: Charles Starkweather‘s murder spree, in which he kills eleven people mostly in Lincoln, Nebraska, between January 25 and 29 before fleeing and being caught in a massive manhunt in Douglas, Wyoming, captures the attention of Americans.
- Children of Thalidomide: Many pregnant women taking the drug Thalidomidehad children born with congenital birth defects.
- Buddy Hollydies in a plane crash on February 3 with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, in a day that had a major impact on rock and roll and youth culture. Joel prefaces the lyric with a Holly signature vocal hiccup: “Uh-huh, uh-huh.”
- Ben-Hur, a film adapted from Lew Wallace‘s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christstarring Charlton Heston, wins eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
- Space Monkey: Aboard the flight Jupiter AM-18, Able and Miss Bakerbecome the first two animals to be launched by NASA into space that returned to Earth alive.
- Mafia leaders are convicted in the Apalachin meetingtrial, confirming the existence of the Mafia as a nationwide conspiracy.
- Hula hoops sales reach 100 million as the latest toy fad.
- Fidel Castro comes to power after a revolutionin Cuba and visits the United States later that year on an unofficial twelve-day tour.
- Edsel is a no-go: Production of this much-advertised car marque ends after only three years due to poor sales, costing Ford Motor Company $250 million.
- U-2: An American U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powerswas shot down over the Soviet Union, causing the U-2 Crisis of 1960.
- Syngman Rhee was rescued by the CIAafter being forced to resign as leader of South Korea for allegedly fixing an election and embezzling more than US$20 million.
- Payola, illegal payments for radio broadcasting of songs, was publicized due to Dick Clark‘s testimony before Congress and Alan Freed‘s public disgrace.
- John F. Kennedy, a senator from Massachusetts, beats Vice President Richard Nixon in the November 8 general election.
- Chubby Checker popularizes the dance The Twist with his cover of the song of the same name.
- Psycho: An Alfred Hitchcockthriller, based on a pulp novelby Robert Bloch and adapted by Joseph Stefano, which becomes a landmark in graphic violence and cinema sensationalism. The screeching violins heard at this point in the song are a trademark of the film’s soundtrack.
- Belgians in the Congo: The Republic of the Congo (Leopoldville)was declared independent of Belgium on June 30, with Joseph Kasavubuas President and Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister.
- Ernest Hemingwaycommits suicide on July 2 after a long battle with depression.
- Adolf Eichmann, a “most wanted” Naziwar criminal, is traced to Argentinaand captured by Mossad He is covertly taken to Israel where he is put on trial for crimes against humanity during World War II, convicted in 1961, and hanged the following year, 1962.
- Stranger in a Strange Land, written by Robert A. Heinlein, is a breakthrough best-seller with themes of sexual freedom and liberation.
- Bob Dylan(then known as Robert Zimmerman) is signed to Columbia Recordsafter a New York Times review by critic Robert Shelton.
- Berlin‘s separationinto West Berlinand East Berlin is cemented when the Berlin Wall is erected on August 13 to prevent citizens of East Germany escaping to the West.
- The Bay of Pigs Invasion,an attempt by United States-trained Cuban exilesto invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro, fails.
- Lawrence of Arabia: The Academy Award-winning film based on the life of E. Lawrencestarring Peter O’Toolepremiered in the United States on December 16.
- British Beatlemania: The Beatles, a British rock group, gain Ringo Starras drummer and Brian Epsteinas manager, and join EMI‘s Parlophone They soon become the world’s most famous rock band, with the word “Beatlemania” adopted by the press for their fans’ unprecedented enthusiasm. In 1964, their tour of the United States would mark the beginning of “the British Invasion“.
- Ole Miss: A riotwas fought between Southern segregationistcivilians and federal and state forces as a result of the forced enrollment of black student James Meredith at the University of Mississippi.
- John Glennflew the first American manned orbital mission termed “Friendship 7” on February 20.
- Liston beats Patterson: Sonny Listonand Floyd Pattersonfought for the world heavyweight championship on September 25, 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.
- Pope Paul: Cardinal Giovanni Montini is electedto the papacyand takes the papal name of Paul VI.
- Malcolm Xmakes his infamous statement “The chickens have come home to roost” about the Kennedy assassination, thus causing the Nation of Islamto censure him; about fifteen months later, he himself is assassinated while preparing to make a speech.
- British politician sex: The British Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, has a relationship with Christine Keeler, a showgirl, and then lies 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 Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.
- JFK blown away: President John F. Kennedy is assassinatedon November 22 while riding in an open convertible through Dallas.
- Birth control: In the early 1960s, oral contraceptives, popularly known as “the pill”, first go on the market and are extremely popular. Griswold v. Connecticutin 1965 challenged a Connecticut law prohibiting contraceptives. In 1968, Pope Paul VIreleased a papal encyclical titled Humanae vitae which reaffirmed Catholic teaching that artificial birth control was a sin.
- Ho Chi Minh: A Vietnamese Communist, who served as President of Vietnamfrom 1954 to 1969. On March 2, Operation Rolling Thunder begins, with the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply line from North Vietnam to the Viet Congrebels in the south. On March 8, the first U.S. combat troops, 3,500 marines, land in South Vietnam.
- Richard Nixon back again: Former Vice President Nixon is elected President in 1968.
- Moonshot: Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing, successfully lands on the moon.
- Woodstock: Famous rock and roll festival of 1969 that came to be the epitome of the counterculture
- Watergate: Political scandal that began when the Democratic National Committee‘s headquarters at the Watergate office complexin Washington, D.C. was broken into during the 1972 campaign. After the break-in, word began to spread that President Richard Nixon may have known about the break-in and tried to cover it up. The scandal would ultimately result in the resignation of President Nixon on August 9, 1974; this remains the only time to date that anyone has resigned the United States Presidency.
- Punk rock: Backlash against the progressive rockof the early 1970s leads to the emergence of newly formed bands such as The Ramones(founded in 1974) and the Sex Pistols (founded a year later).
- Menachem Beginbecomes Prime Minister of Israelin 1977 and negotiates the Camp David Accords with Egypt‘s president in 1978.
- Ronald Reagan, former Governor of California, begins his second presidential campaign in 1976. He eventually wins in the next election in 1980.
- Palestine: The ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflictescalates as Israelis establish settlementsin the West Bank, previously held by Jordan for non-Jewish Palestinians after the 1948 war, beginning shortly after Begin’s election.
- Terror on the airline: Numerous aircraft hijackingstake place, specifically, the Palestinian hijack of Air France Flight 139 and the subsequent Operation Entebbein Uganda.
- Ayatollahsin Iran: During the Iranian Revolutionof 1979, the West-backed and secular Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is overthrown as the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini gains power after years in exile and creates an Islamic society.
- Russians in Afghanistan: Following their move into Afghanistanon December 24, Soviet forces fight a ten-year war up until 1989.
- Wheel of Fortune: The hit television game show, on air since 1975, underwent several changes in the early 1980s, including the hiring of Pat Sajakas host in 1981, Vanna Whiteas hostess in 1982, and a move to syndication in 1983, all three of which remain in effect through 2021.
- Sally Ride: On June 18, she became the first American woman in space by flying aboard Challengeron the STS-7shuttle mission.
- Heavy metalsuicide: In the 1970s and 1980s, heavy metal bands became popular. Ozzy Osbourneand Judas Priest in particular were sued for fans’ suicides after listening to their songs “Suicide Solution” and “Better By You, Better Than Me“, respectively.
- Foreign debts: Persistent trade and budget deficits around the world, leading to a debt crisis that began a year before when Mexico declared that it would no longer be able to service its debt. This ignited a succession of sovereign defaults around the world, with one country after another declaring a similar inability to repay.
- Homelessvets: Veterans of the Vietnam War, including many disabled ex-military, are reported to be left homeless and impoverished.
- AIDS: 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 is first detected and recognized in the 1980s, and was on its way to becoming a pandemic.
- Crackcocaineuse surged in the mid-to-late 1980s.
- Bernie Goetz: On December 22, Goetz shot four young black men who he said were trying to mug him on a New York City Subway. Goetz was charged with attempted murder but was acquitted of the charges, though convicted of carrying an unlicensed gun.
- Hypodermics on the shore: Medical waste was found washed up on the beaches of Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticutafter being illegally dumped at sea. Before this event, waste dumped in the oceans was an “out of sight, out of mind” affair. This has been cited as one of the crucial turning points in popular opinion on environmentalism.
- China’s under martial law: On May 20, China declares martial law, resulting in the use of military forces against protesting students to end the Tiananmen protests.
- Rock-and-roller cola wars: Soft drink giants Cokeand Pepsieach run marketing campaigns using rock & roll and popular music stars to reach the teenage and young adult demographic.
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