We Built This City

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"We Built This City"
Single by Starship
from the album Knee Deep in the Hoopla
B-side"Private Room" (Instrumental)
ReleasedAugust 1985 (US)[1]
GenrePop rock, synth-pop
Length4:53 (album version)
4:49 (single version)
Songwriter(s)Bernie Taupin, Martin Page, Dennis Lambert, Peter Wolf
Producer(s)Peter Wolf, Jeremy Smith
Starship singles chronology
"We Built This City"
Audio sample
"We Built This City"
Music video
"We Built This City" on YouTube

"We Built This City" is a 1985 song by American rock band Starship. It was released as their debut single on their album Knee Deep in the Hoopla. It was written by English musicians Martin Page and Bernie Taupin, who were both living in Los Angeles at the time, and was originally intended as a lament against the closure of many of that city's live music clubs.

The song peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Outside the United States, "We Built This City" topped the charts in Australia and Canada, peaked inside the top ten of the charts in Germany, the Republic of Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland, the top twenty on the charts in Belgium, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and the top thirty of the charts in Austria and the Netherlands.

The song has gained significant scorn, both for the seeming inscrutability of its lyrics (notably the line "Marconi plays the mamba"), and for the contrast between the song's anti-corporate message and its polished, "corporate rock" sound. It has appeared on several "worst song" lists, topping a 2011 Rolling Stone poll of worst songs of the 1980s by a wide margin.


Song co-writers Martin Page and Bernie Taupin have stated that the song is about the decline of live performance clubs in Los Angeles during the 1980s.[2] The lyrics are structured as a plea to corporate interests who are shutting down rock music clubs ("We just want to dance here/ Someone stole the stage") because the corporations are concerned only with profits and respectability ("Too many runaways"), and have forgotten that rock music was what brought people to the city in the first place ("Don't you remember? We built this city on rock and roll!").

Though the song was originally written about Los Angeles, the Starship rendition references San Francisco instead (the hometown of both Starship and its predecessors, Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship), with a spoken-word interlude in which a radio DJ states, "I'm looking out over that Golden Gate Bridge". However, the DJ then says, "Here's your favorite radio station in your favorite radio city, the city by the bay, the city that rocks, the city that never sleeps", stressing the universality of the message: while "the city by the bay" is a nickname for San Francisco, the other two phrases are not, and "The City That Never Sleeps" is a well-known nickname for New York City. Capitalizing on the ambiguity, several radio stations added descriptions of their own local areas when they broadcast the song or added their own ident in its place.

The album's title, Knee Deep in the Hoopla, is taken from a lyric in the first verse of this song.[3]


The song was engineered by producer Bill Bottrell, written by Bernie Taupin, Martin Page, Dennis Lambert, and Peter Wolf, and arranged by Bottrell and Jasun Martz. The song was based on a demo by Page and Taupin, which had a darker feel to it and was based on how clubs were dying out in Los Angeles at the time, leaving live performers without work. Producer Wolf reworked the song's arrangement into a more upbeat one.[2]

The song features Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick sharing lead vocals. MTV executive and former DJ Les Garland provided the DJ voice-over during the song's bridge.[4] Additionally, some radio stations, with the help of jingle company JAM Creative Productions in Dallas, Texas, inserted their own opening line to promote their stations.[5]


Billboard said that this "unusual rock 'n' roll anthem is as wise as it is rebellious."[6] Cash Box called it "an ear-catching tune" and described it as "dance rock with sharp hooks."[7]

"We Built This City" received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group in 1986.[8]

Blender magazine's 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever[edit]

The magazine Blender's ranking of the song as the worst song ever was in conjunction with a VH1 Special of The 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs...Ever.[9] In order to qualify for the distinction, the songs on the list had to be a popular hit at some point, thus disqualifying many songs that would by consensus be considered much worse. Blender editor Craig Marks said of the song, "It purports to be anti-commercial but reeks of '80s corporate-rock commercialism. It's a real reflection of what practically killed rock music in the '80s."[10] When asked about why the song was listed as No. 1 on the review, Marks referred to the line of the song "Marconi plays the mamba" by asking, "Who is Marconi? And what is the mamba? The mamba is the deadliest snake in the world, so he must have meant the mambo, but it sounds so much like 'mamba' that every lyric website writes it that way. It makes sense neither way."[11]

However, an article in the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out that "Blender's list—compiled via an arbitrary and anecdotal data collection process and ranked by Marks—included several whimsical criteria. One was to go easy on novelty songs. In a discussion with the band's manager, Bill Thompson, he was surprised at the ranking, but also "thrilled" because of the other high-profile groups on the list, saying, "I wish Blender had called us for a group shot. I'd love to have my picture taken with Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney."[11] Mickey Thomas, one of the singers of Starship, said in 2010 regarding the review from the by-then defunct Blender magazine: "From what I heard, they got so much flak about it that they sort of retracted their statements in a way about the song. And not only that, but Blender's folded, and we're still here."[12] Richmond Times-Dispatch music critic Melissa Ruggieri argued that "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" and "Sara" were Starship songs that were more suitable for the top of the list than "We Built This City", a song Ruggieri said "references Marconi, the father of the radio...inserted a cool snippet of DJ chatter from the band's beloved San Francisco...[and] found Grace Slick enunciating the phrase 'corporation games' with nutty abandon."[13]

Rolling Stone Top Ten Worst Songs of the 1980s[edit]

In 2011, a Rolling Stone magazine online readers poll named "We Built This City" the worst song of the 1980s. The song's winning margin was so large that the magazine reported it "could be the biggest blow-out victory in the history of the Rolling Stone Readers Poll".[14]

GQ Worst Song of All Time[edit]

In August 2016, GQ magazine declared this song as the worst of all time, referring to it as "the most detested song in human history".[2] The article covered Bernie Taupin and Martin Page's roles in writing an early version of the song, the song's development into its final version, its massive success and backlash, and Grace Slick's inconsistent statements about whether she liked the song or not.


Additional personnel



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[38] Gold 45,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[39] Platinum 600,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[40] Gold 500,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

LadBaby version[edit]

"We Built This City"
LadBaby We Built This City.jpg
Single by LadBaby
ReleasedDecember 14, 2018 (2018-12-14)
GenreComedy rock
  • Mark Hoyle
  • Bernie Taupin
  • Martin Page
  • Dennis Lambert
  • Peter Wolf
LadBaby singles chronology
"We Built This City"
"I Love Sausage Rolls"

In December 2018, British blogger LadBaby released a comedy version of the song with a sausage roll theme (the refrain being "We Built This City on Sausage Rolls") as a charity single whose profits went to The Trussell Trust. It debuted at number one on the UK Singles Chart, beating Ava Max's "Sweet but Psycho" and Ariana Grande's "Thank U, Next" to the 2018 Christmas number one.[41]

Chart (2018) Peak
Australia Digital Track Chart (ARIA)[42] 31
Scotland (OCC)[43] 1
UK Singles (OCC)[44] 1
US Hot Rock Songs (Billboard)[45] 47

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gold & Platinum Searchable Database – May 28, 2015". Record Industry Association of America. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Tannenbaum, Rob (August 21, 2016). "An Oral History of "We Built This City," the Worst Song of All Time". GQ. Archived from the original on October 5, 2017. Retrieved September 25, 2016.
  3. ^ "We Built This City On Rock and Roll". Oddculture.com. Archived from the original on May 7, 2015. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  4. ^ "We Built This S**tty : The worst song of all time? Les Garland begs to differ" (PDF). Reelradio.com. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  5. ^ "'We Built This City': 30 years ago, the day the music (almost) died". wtop.com. July 31, 2015. Archived from the original on December 28, 2017. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  6. ^ "Reviews". Billboard. August 31, 1985. p. 83. Retrieved August 1, 2022.
  7. ^ "Single Releases" (PDF). Cash Box. September 7, 1985. p. 9. Retrieved August 1, 2022.
  8. ^ De Atley, Richard (January 10, 1985). "Dire Straits, Tina Turner, Sting lead performer nominations". The Times-News. Associated Press. p. 23.
  9. ^ "Run for Your Life! It's the 50 Worst Songs Ever!". Blender. May 2004. Archived from the original on January 24, 2005.
  10. ^ "10 Really, Really Bad Songs". CBS News. April 20, 2004. Archived from the original on October 12, 2004. Retrieved August 8, 2020.
  11. ^ a b "We built this city on detestable lyrics". The Sydney Morning Herald. April 27, 2004. Archived from the original on May 4, 2004. Retrieved August 8, 2020.
  12. ^ Recker, Rachael (May 2, 2010). "It's not Jefferson, but it is 'Starship starring Mickey Thomas' at 2010 Tulip Time". The Grand Rapids Press. Archived from the original on October 13, 2012. Retrieved August 8, 2020.
  13. ^ Ruggieri, Melissa (April 29, 2004). "Are you kidding me? Many tunes are obviously inferior to Blender's 50 Worst Songs of All Time". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Archived from the original on May 14, 2004. Retrieved August 8, 2020.
  14. ^ "1. Starship – 'We Built This City' Photo – Readers' Poll: The 10 Worst Songs of the 1980s". Rolling Stone. October 6, 2011. Archived from the original on May 27, 2015. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  15. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  16. ^ "Starship – We Built This City" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  17. ^ "Starship – We Built This City" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  18. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 0608." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved September 15, 2020.
  19. ^ "European Hot 100 Singles" (PDF). Eurotipsheet. Vol. 3, no. 1. January 6, 1986. p. 14. OCLC 29800226 – via World Radio History.
  20. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – We Built This City". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  21. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Starship" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  22. ^ "Starship – We Built This City" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  23. ^ "Starship – We Built This City". Top 40 Singles.
  24. ^ "SA Charts 1965–1989 (As presented on Springbok Radio/Radio Orion) – Acts S". The South African Rock Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on August 26, 2011. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
  25. ^ "Starship – We Built This City". Singles Top 100.
  26. ^ "Starship – We Built This City". Swiss Singles Chart.
  27. ^ "Starship: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  28. ^ "Starship Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  29. ^ "Starship Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  30. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 Singles – Week ending November 23, 1985". Cash Box. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  31. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Starship – We Built This City". GfK Entertainment charts. Retrieved September 15, 2020.
  32. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  33. ^ "RPM's Top 100 Singles of 1985". RPM. Vol. 43, no. 16. December 28, 1985. p. 11. ISSN 0315-5994 – via Library and Archives Canada.
  34. ^ "Top Pop Singles of 1985". Billboard. December 31, 1985. Archived from the original on October 8, 2012. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  35. ^ "The Cash Box Year-End Charts: 1985 – Top 100 Pop Singles". Cash Box. December 28, 1985. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  36. ^ "Top 20 Hit Singles of 1986". South African Rock Lists. Retrieved September 15, 2020.
  37. ^ "Billboard Hot 100 60th Anniversary Interactive Chart". Billboard. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  38. ^ "Danish single certifications – Starship – We Built This City". IFPI Danmark. Retrieved March 2, 2022.
  39. ^ "British single certifications – Starship – We Built This City". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  40. ^ "American single certifications – Starship – We Built This City". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  41. ^ Alibhai, Zaina (December 18, 2018). "Who is LadBaby – the dad behind We Built This City poised to beat Ariana Grande in Christmas number one race?". Metro.
  42. ^ "ARIA Australian Top 40 Digital Tracks" (PDF). Australian Recording Industry Association. December 24, 2018. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  43. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  44. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  45. ^ "Top Rock Songs Chart: December 29, 2018". Billboard. Retrieved December 25, 2018.

External links[edit]