Fall Out Boy put a modern twist on a classic rock hit by updating the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” more than 30 years after its 1989 release.
The new version, which the Grammy-nominated group released on Thursday, June 28, swaps out the original’s pop culture and political references for some of the most notable events of the past three decades — including the death of Michael Jackson, former President Donald Trump’s impeachments, climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement, Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s feud and more.
Bassist and lyricist Pete Wentz gave Apple Music 1’s Zane Lowe insight into the song choice, revealing in a new interview that he had been trying to the band to do a new version of the tune “for so long.” It finally came into fruition after bandmate Patrick Stump gave the OK.
“I remember listening to the original when I was little and I was like, ‘I don’t know what half this stuff is,’” Wentz, 44, explained. “And it made me look up a bunch of this stuff. So, it was just interesting thinking about the stuff we would include versus you wouldn’t. Because there’s some stuff that was in the original that kind of is lost to the sands of time. You know what I mean? So yeah, we just did it. We put it together. It’s just a fun, goofy thing.”
Fall Out Boy’s reimagined version mentions everything from Queen Elizabeth II’s death to the September 11 terrorist attacks, but Wentz noted that they weren’t worried about following a timeline. “It’s just a little bit out of order, but it is what it is,” he told Apple Music. “Listen, we wanted the Internet to still have something to complain about.”
One event the group chose to leave out of the new lyrics was the COVID-19 pandemic. “That’s all anybody talked [about],” Wentz explained. “It felt like there was a couple of things that felt, like, a little on the nose. And then there were a couple of things where it was like Bush V. Gore, [and] we needed the rhyme.”
Even if Fall Out Boy’s take on “We Didn’t Start the Fire” doesn’t land with listeners, Wentz said he’s happy with what they created. “I think that the beauty of the way that music and art works now is that you put something out there,” he shared. “If it misses, it kind of just doesn’t go anywhere. And if people like it, then it becomes a thing. But you can put a lot more things kind of out into the ether and it just becomes white noise, if people don’t like it.”
Joel, 74, has yet to comment on the cover. He previously opened up about people’s opinions on his classic song, which was featured on his 1989 album Storm Front, during an October 2021 episode of the “We Didn’t Start the Fire: The History Podcast.”
“The only thing I’ve heard about that song from people is, ‘I hate that song!’” he revealed on the series, which dedicates an episode to every reference from the song’s lyrics. “Some people hate that song. It’s one of the most hated things I ever wrote! And I don’t get the hate.”
Joel noted at the time that he “only wrote about stuff I wanted to hear” — and that it was just “dumb luck” that the song became a hit. “I didn’t even pick the singles; the record company picks what’s going to be a single,” he continued. “I hand them an album of a bunch of songs and go, ‘Here, now it’s your turkey. You figure it out.’”