Billy Joel Talks Forgetting the Lyrics (and Fall Out Boy's Version) of "We Didn't Start the Fire"

Playing Toronto in 2014, Joel found out that "if you get one word wrong ... it's a trainwreck"

Photos: slgckgc (left), Arturo Pardavila III (right)

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Jul 12, 2023

Late last month, Fall Out Boy boldly mashed together over 30 years of "newsworthy items" to create their own version of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." Now, the "Piano Man" has shared his thoughts on how the pop-punk vets handled his song — and how a Toronto concert reaffirmed just how difficult it is to perform live.

Joel was asked about Fall Out Boy's "We Didn't Start the Fire" as part of a wide-ranging chat on BBC Radio 2's Zoe Ball Breakfast Show, sharing how questions concerning the whereabouts of the updated version have been a common ask.

"Everybody's been wanting to know when there's going to be an updated version of it, because my song started in '49 and ended in '89 — it was a 40-year span," Joel explained, adding that he's more than happy to let younger artists take the reigns when it comes to charting the historical timeline of their lives through song.

"Everybody said, 'Well, aren't you going to do a part two?' I said, 'Nah, I've already done part one.' So, Fall Out Boy, go ahead. Great, take it away."

Joel was also asked about the difficulty performing "We Didn't Start the Fire" live, with all those lyrics and little room left between singing them. As opposed to relying on a teleprompter, Joel noted that his eyes are usually on the first few rows of the audience in the event of any slip-ups.  

He explained, "Sometimes I'm watching people sing along, hoping they'll guide me. Because you get one word wrong, and it's a trainwreck." As it happens, one such trainwreck happened during Joel's most recent performance in Toronto, which took place at Scotiabank Arena (f.k.a. Air Canada Centre) in 2014.

Reflecting on how he and his band opened that evening's encore with "We Didn't Start the Fire," Joel shared, "I was in Toronto, and I forgot the words. And then I just stopped the song. 'Stop the music! Stop...' And the crowd made this noise like, 'Ahhhh...' So it's, you know, it's walking on a tightrope with that thing."

You can watch the 2014 trainwreck play out in the clip below, and see Joel poke fun at his songwriting as he tells the Toronto audience, "It's the same thing, verse after verse — only the words change ... one of the worst melodies I ever wrote!"


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