Don McLean’s “American Pie” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” – America’s Best Song Lyrics – Part 8

By April 30th, 2019

Blog No 98 

May 1, 2019 

The Best Song Lyrics of Modern AmericaPart 8

– The Poetry of Modern America –

By Mack W. Borgen
Author, National Award-Winning Dead Serious and Lighthearted – The Memorable Words of Modern America – Volume I (1957-1976), Volume II (1977-1993), and Volume III (1994-2015) (Published 2018-2019)The Relevance of Reason – The Hard Facts and Real Data about the State of Current America – Volume I (Business and Politics) and Volume II (Society and Culture) (Published 2013-2014).
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Introduction and Background

Song lyrics are the real poetry of Modern America. The lyrics of our favorite songs roll around in our heads for decades. Almost unconsciously, every day we honor the words of America’s songwriters who said something in that perfect, poetic, or clever way.

Here is Part 8 of my assembled list — done over the last eight years in conjunction with my research for my last series of books, Dead Serious and Lighthearted – The Memorable Words of Modern America.  For an explanation about the background of this Best Lyrics project, see below.

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          But, now, … 

The Best Lyrics of Modern America – Part 8

– From 1957 through 2015 –


The Seventies

American Pie (1971) (Don McLean) (B: 1945, New Rochelle, NY). 

“I can still remember how that music used to make me smile

 And I knew if I had my chance

That I could make those people dance

 And maybe they’d be happy for awhile.  …

 But February made me shiver

 With every paper I delivered

 Bad news on the doorstep

 I couldn’t take one more step.  … 

I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck

With a pink carnation and a pickup truck

 But I knew I was out of luck

 The day the music died.  …  

 I started singin’ bye-bye, Miss American Pie,

 Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry

 Them good ole’ boys were drinkin’ whiskey ‘n rye

 Singin’ ‘This’ll be the day that I die’ …

 Now for 10 years we’ve been on our own

 And moss grows fat on a rolling stone,…

 A generation lost in space

 With no time left to start again , …  

 And in the streets, the children screamed

 The lovers cried and the poets dreamed

But not a word was spoken

The church bells all were broken  …  

And the three men I admire most

The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost

They caught the last train for the coast

The day the music died.

The Eighties

We Didn’t Start the Fire (1989) (Billy Joel) (1949, The Bronx, NY).

(Author’s Note: This song by Billy Joel is about 100 events which occurred between 1949, the year of his birth, and 1989, the year of the song’s release. It is here included because, in a sense and in the opinion of this author, there are some historical narrative parallels in the structures of this song and Don McLean’s American Pie as excerpted above).

“We didn’t start the fire

It was already burning

Since the world’s been turning …

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British Politician Sex,

J.F.K. blown away, what else do I have to say? … 

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again,

Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock

Begin, Reagan, Palestine, Terror on the airline

Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan,

Wheel of Fortune, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide,

Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, Crack, Bernie Goetz

Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law,

Rock and roller Cola wars, I can’t take it any more. …

We didn’t start the fire ….”

Country Western 

Bye Bye (Jo Dee Messina) (B: 1970, Framingham, MA).    

“Bye bye love, I’ll catch you later

Got a lead foot down on my accelerator

And the rearview mirror torn off

I ain’t never lookin’ back

And that’s a fact. … 

Don’t think all those fears are gonna hold me here

Like they’ve done before

You’ll find what’s left of us

In a cloud of dust on Highway 4 

And I know it sounds trite

I’ve seen the light.” 

Explanation and Background of These

“The Best Lyrics of Modern America” Blogs

Song lyrics are the real poetry of Modern America. The lyrics of our favorite songs roll around in our heads for decades. Almost unconsciously, every day we honor the words of America’s songwriters who said something in that perfect, poetic, or clever way.

About nine years ago, in 2010, when I started my research for my books, Dead Serious and Lighthearted – The Memorable Words of Modern America. I spent much of the initial year assembling, sorting, and selecting those “memorable” song lyrics to be included in my books.

However, I eventually decided that it was necessary to exclude song lyrics from my books. This was done partly in deference to the needs of book brevity and in bowing recognition to the unavoidable subjectivity of making such selections. But it was also done because most songs are almost definitionally “intra-generational” in that they remain the separate and proud province of each generation. They are a part of each generation’s formative and collective memory – but not beyond that.

Nevertheless, as a result of that year of research, I assembled a relatively massive collection of what may be, by some measures of broad consensus, the greatest song lyrics of Modern America.

I have decided to start presenting them here for your remembrance and enjoyment. I confess that this is partly triggered by the fact that I have already done the fun, but painstaking, work of such assemblage. However, these lyrics blogs are also triggered by the fact that America needs – maybe now more than ever — to reach back and enjoy something or, as best said in 1967 by the Beatles in their song A Day in the Life” — “I read the news today, oh boy.”

Thus, starting on October 9, 2018 with Blog No. 83, I have started posting some excerpts of this author’s humble suggestions of The Best Lyrics of Modern America.

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