We Started Turning Other Billy Joel Songs Into We Didn't Start The Fire Country singer-songwriter Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey, her guitarist husband join house musician Jonathan Coulton in a game where other Billy Joel songs are rewritten to be about 20th century events.
NPR logo

We Started Turning Other Billy Joel Songs Into We Didn't Start The Fire

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/892239130/892292932" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
We Started Turning Other Billy Joel Songs Into We Didn't Start The Fire

We Started Turning Other Billy Joel Songs Into We Didn't Start The Fire

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/892239130/892292932" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Our next contestants are a married musical couple joining us from their home in Nashville, Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey. Margo's new album "That's How Rumors Get Started" is out right now. Margo, Jeremy, hello.



EISENBERG: Margo, you have a new album out, but obviously, you are not on tour. How are you keeping busy?

PRICE: We've really leaned into the home life. And we've got about 2,000 tomatoes that we grew.

IVEY: Lots of tomatoes.

PRICE: The only successful thing in our garden.


EISENBERG: That's amazing.

JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: You doing that thing where you're begging your neighbors to take tomatoes away from you?

IVEY: Yeah.

PRICE: Yeah, pretty much.

EISENBERG: Yeah. Before you grow tomatoes, you never understand why people are always like, do you want some tomatoes?


IVEY: Yeah, yeah. It's a tomato apocalypse.

EISENBERG: And I saw the music video that you just put out for "Letting Me Down" that was part of the Jimmy Kimmel concert series, where it's all around a pool. It actually looks like - because you're wandering around the pool and all the band members are around the pool in different places, it looks like you're all social distancing.


PRICE: We are. Everyone in our camp has been, like, so overly cautious. And, you know, we talked about doing rehearsals again because we did, like, 100 days of solitude, basically, at the beginning of the COVID outbreak. But, you know, we really wanted to get back to seeing friends. And so we thought, let's just practice outside. It's safer. Everybody can stay apart. And, yeah, that was their suggestion because they - somebody on their team saw that we were having band practices outside around the pool. So they were like, do you just want to do your performance out there? And turned out - I think it turned out pretty good.

EISENBERG: Yeah. It looks great. Well, I mean, it's totally - I think it's very innovative because you - a lot of Zoom performances were just looking into people's homes. It's pared down. And that is really interesting in its own way.

PRICE: Yeah.

EISENBERG: But this felt like a hybrid. It was - had the production value. Like, outside of this context, I think you're just like, yeah, someone shot a great music video.

IVEY: Yeah. I think it worked.

PRICE: Yeah, yeah. Totally. I mean, it seemed like a good transition because we've done some of the squares, you know, everybody from their own homes.


PRICE: And it gets kind of visually tiring, you know? As you can see in our shot, I just realized we have a vacuum in the background. So you're still getting a glimpse into...


COULTON: Oh, is that what that is? I thought it was some sort of sculpture or maybe a robot...

IVEY: It is. Yeah. It's a something we've been working on.

COULTON: ...Kind of a cool-looking vacuum.

EISENBERG: You know what? I'm glad you're cleaning, OK? I think that's really healthy.

COULTON: (Laughter).

IVEY: We're not cleaning. We're just putting vacuums around the house.



EISENBERG: Would you guys like to segue into a game?

PRICE: Let's do it.

IVEY: Sure.

EISENBERG: This is a music challenge. It is inspired by the song "We Didn't Start The Fire"...


EISENBERG: ...Which lists dozens of historic events between 1949 and 1989.

IVEY: Yeah.

PRICE: Oh, no.

IVEY: With no narrative, just a list of events. No narrative.

EISENBERG: Just a list.

COULTON: Just a list of things. It's true

IVEY: Yeah. This happened.

COULTON: (Laughter) So here's the thing. Here's the thing about this song. Billy Joel says that he wrote the lyrics to this song before he wrote the melody, which is not usually how he works. And he - this is a quote from him about the melody...

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COULTON: ...That the melody is horrendous. This is Billy Joel talking. It's like a mosquito drowning. It's one of the worst melodies I've ever written.

IVEY: A mosquito drowning.

PRICE: You know, at least he's truthful with himself because I tend to agree with that sentiment.

IVEY: Yeah.

COULTON: Yes. No, there are a few people who would disagree with Billy Joel about the awfulness of the melody of this song. So we decided to help in the only way we know how...

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COULTON: ...Which is to rewrite his other songs to make them about historic events from the 20th century.


PRICE: Wonderful.

COULTON: So now, basically, all of his songs are "We Didn't Start The Fire," which is definitely a thing that nobody was asking for.


COULTON: I'm going to play a Billy Joel hit with the lyrics changed to be about an event that happened in the year that that song peaked on the charts.

IVEY: Nice.


COULTON: To earn full credit, you only have to give me one of the following pieces of information - you can name the historic event. You can name the song that I'm parodying. Or you can admit that you were the one who started the fire.


EISENBERG: And why. And then I'm going to need - I need a couple sentences as to why.

COULTON: Maybe - and we'd like to know why.

PRICE: Right.

COULTON: It's only fair.

IVEY: OK. Yeah, yeah.

COULTON: So we're going to go back and forth. And we're going to start with Jeremy.


COULTON: Here we go.


COULTON: (Singing) I don't need your "Grease" soundtrack or your Rickie Lee Jones. I just want my Black Sabbath and my Jethro Tull. My new personal tape player comes with some headphones. You can listen to your stuff, mine's in my skull.

IVEY: Oh, is that 8-track?

PRICE: No, a Walkman.

IVEY: A Walkman?

COULTON: Sony Walkman. That is correct.

IVEY: OK. A Walkman. And also it was obviously "My Life."

COULTON: And "My Life." That's right.

IVEY: Yeah. Yeah.

EISENBERG: You know, as I was thinking about the Walkman, I was just - because this totally gives you my age. But I went travelling after high school. And I had a Walkman. And for a year, I went travelling. And I was like, wow. That is so crazy. I packed six cassette tapes. And that was my music.

IVEY: Yeah.


EISENBERG: Like, that's what I listened to for a year on my device.

PRICE: Yeah. Yeah.

IVEY: Yeah, I mean you had to - it just took so long to fast-forward, you had to like the record. You had to, you know...

EISENBERG: (Laughter) You had to like the whole thing.

IVEY: Yeah.

COULTON: Yeah. There's a - and it's also the - I remember that I used to have cassette tapes that would have one album recorded on one side and another album recorded on the other side.


IVEY: Yeah.

COULTON: And so I forever relate those two albums in my head even though they were not (laughter) related in any way.

IVEY: They had nothing - yeah. Well, I remember I had - I didn't have a lot of tapes. But I remember I had a copy of "Bread's Greatest Hits."

COULTON: Oh, yeah.

IVEY: Even "Bread's Greatest Hits," you had to skip a few.


IVEY: Like, there's some stinkers in there, you know?

COULTON: All right. Margo, here's one for you.



COULTON: (Singing) She's little, but she's tough. She's lifting tiny weights. During Clinton's regime, she joined her eight new mates, the second woman to serve there. This notorious elf needs to hear our special plea, take care of yourself.

PRICE: Oh. I didn't start the fire.


IVEY: What?

PRICE: Help me.

IVEY: In the middle of the night, I go...

PRICE: Oh, yeah.

IVEY: Yeah.

PRICE: (Singing) In the middle of the night. OK. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

COULTON: Yeah. That's right.

PRICE: I got it. All right.

IVEY: But what...

PRICE: But yeah. Who is it about?

COULTON: She's the second woman to serve there.

PRICE: Oh, oh, oh. Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


PRICE: There we go. There we go.

COULTON: And that song should've been called "In The Middle Of The Night." But it's actually called "River Of Dreams."

PRICE: Oh, yeah, yeah.

IVEY: "River Of Dreams." That's right.

COULTON: All right, Jeremy. Here is one for you.


COULTON: (Singing, playing guitar) Lake Placid night. The game is hockey. They're experienced, and we are really young and green. Can this be right? The score is 4-3. Nobody thought we would kick butt in this Cold War fight.

IVEY: Oh, God. I wish I knew more about hockey. "You May Be Right" is the song.

COULTON: That's correct.

IVEY: I'm always going to be better with that name in the song than the historical event.


COULTON: This was a Cold War-related foe.

IVEY: OK, so...

PRICE: Did we - did we...

IVEY: The score was 3-4, right?

PRICE: Did we beat Russia?

COULTON: Yeah, does that narrow it down (laughter) ?

IVEY: Did we beat Russia 3-4?

COULTON: That's right.

PRICE: Yeah. OK.

COULTON: It was the U.S. defeating Russia, the Miracle on Ice...

IVEY: Nice. All right.

COULTON: ...In the 1980 Winter Olympics.

EISENBERG: It was such a big deal that America won hockey. Canada did a lot of miracles at the Olympics. So good job, Americans (laughter).

COULTON: Never bring up hockey around a Canadian, I swear.

PRICE: Well, didn't Nashville...

IVEY: Oh, I know this.

PRICE: ...Like, just this last year or the year before - didn't Nashville, like - we didn't win, but we got close.

EISENBERG: You did get close.

IVEY: The Preds are pretty good, you know?

EISENBERG: Everyone was like, what?

PRICE: I know. It's so hot here. There's...

IVEY: All the frozen lakes in our neighborhood, you know...


IVEY: ...All the kids growing up - it's a passion here naturally, you know?

PRICE: Yeah.

COULTON: OK, this is the last one. It is for you, Margo.


COULTON: (Singing, playing guitar) Flash us your V-sign, ex-president. Chopper's here. Get on board. 'Cause you left before we impeached you. Oh, great, now there's just Gerald Ford.

PRICE: Well, it's "Piano Man." That's correct. It is definitely Nixon flipping the peace sign - Watergate.

COULTON: That's correct.

EISENBERG: And I've always thought "Piano Man" is best on guitar.


PRICE: Agreed.

EISENBERG: That was fantastic. Is that - was that the last one?

COULTON: That's right. That was the last one.

PRICE: Make up some more.

IVEY: Make up some more.

PRICE: Make up some more (laughter).

IVEY: "Always A Woman" - come on.

COULTON: Don't tempt me. Don't tempt it.

EISENBERG: Always end on "Piano Man."


IVEY: On guitar.

EISENBERG: You guys did great, obviously. Obviously, you did great.

PRICE: Thank you.

EISENBERG: Thank you so much again. Thank you so much, Margo Price. Thank you so much for joining us, Jeremy Ivey.

PRICE: Thank you.

IVEY: Thank you.

PRICE: Y'all take care. And thanks again.


EISENBERG: That's Jeremy Ivey and Margo Price. Margo's new album "That's How Rumors Get Started" is out now. Coming up, I'm so excited to talk to the host of "Top Chef" and the new Hulu series "Taste The Nation," Padma Lakshmi. And she's agreed to help me and Jonathan figure out what to do with all of those ingredients that have been sitting around our kitchens forever. So please unpack your knives and stay. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and this is ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.