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)
Released August 1, 1985[1]
Format 7"
Recorded May 1985
Genre Pop rock
Length 4:56
Label Grunt
Writer(s) Bernie Taupin, Martin Page, Dennis Lambert, Peter Wolf
Producer(s) Peter Wolf, Jeremy Smith
Certification Gold (RIAA)
Starship singles chronology
- "We Built This City"
Music sample

"We Built This City" is a song written by Bernie Taupin, Martin Page, Dennis Lambert, and Peter Wolf, and originally recorded by US rock group Starship and released as their debut single 1 August 1985.

The single version reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 on 16 November 1985, and also number one on the US Top Rock Tracks chart and number twelve in the UK.


The lyrics describe a city built purely on rock and roll (music). The lyrics explicitly mention the Golden Gate Bridge and refer to "the City by the Bay", a common moniker for Starship's hometown of San Francisco, California. However, the lyrics also refer to "the City That Rocks", a reference to Cleveland, Ohio, and "the City That Never Sleeps", a reference to both New York City and Las Vegas. Capitalizing on the ambiguity, several radio stations added descriptions of their own local areas when they broadcast the song, or even simply added their own ident in its place.[2]


The song was engineered by producer Bill Bottrell and arranged by Bottrell and Jasun Martz.

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.[3]


"We Built This City" received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group in 1986.[4]

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

The defunct 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.[5] 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."[6]

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."[7] Mickey Thomas, one of the singers of Starship, stated in regard to the review from the by then folded 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.[8]

When asked about why the song was listed as #1 on the review, the editor of Blender magazine, Craig Marks, referenced 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 web site writes it that way. It makes sense neither way."[7]

The Richmond Times-Dispatch listed other songs by Starship that would have made more sense for being on the top of the list than "We Built This City," concluding,

No, no. They chose the song that references Marconi, the father of the radio. The song that inserted a cool snippet of DJ chatter from the band's beloved San Francisco. The song that found Grace Slick enunciating the phrase "corporation games" with nutty abandon.[9]

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

In 2011 a Rolling Stone magazine online readers poll named "We Built This City" as the worst song of the 1980s. The song's winning margin among was so large that the magazine reported it "could be the biggest blow-out victory in the history of the Rolling Stone Readers Poll".[10]

Commercial uses[edit]

In 1990, ITT Corporation began using a variation (as "We Built This Business") to promote their purchase of the financial services firm The Hartford.[11]

The song is featured in 2011's The Muppets, as well as the Broadway musical Rock of Ages and its film adaptation,[12] where it is sung in counterpoint with Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It".[13]

In 2014 it was used for a United Kingdom commercial for the 3 mobile service.[14] Following the advert, the song climbed 158 places to number 25 in the UK Singles Chart.[15]

The song is featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto V on the "Los Santos Rock Radio" station, but only on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC versions.[16][17]


Chart (1985–1986) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report Top Singles) 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[18] 21
Belgium (VRT Top 30 Flanders)[19] 17
Canada (RPM)[20] 1
Germany (Official German Charts)[21] 10
Ireland (IRMA)[22] 9
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[23] 21
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[24] 11
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[25] 4
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[26] 8
United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company)[27] 12
US Billboard Hot 100[28] 1
US Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks 37
Chart (2014) Peak
United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company)[29] 25


  1. ^ "Gold & Platinum Searchable Database – May 28, 2015". RIAA.com. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  2. ^ "Web Hosting – This site is temporarily unavailable". Oddculture.com. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  3. ^ "We Built This S**tty : The worst song of all time? Les Garland begs to differ" (PDF). Reelradio.com. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  4. ^ Richard De Atley (10 January 1985). "Dire Straits, Tina Turner, Sting lead performer nominations". The Times-News. Associated Press. p. 23. 
  5. ^ "The 50 Worst Songs Ever! Watch, Listen and Cringe!". Blender.com. Archived from the original on August 6, 2010. 
  6. ^ "10 Really, Really Bad Songs". Cbsnews.com. 2004-04-20. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  7. ^ a b "We built this city on detestable lyrics". Sydney Morning Herald. April 27, 2004. Retrieved April 3, 2011. 
  8. ^ Rachael Recker (May 2, 2010). "It's not Jefferson, but it is 'Starship starring Mickey Thomas' at 2010 Tulip Time". Booth Newspapers. Retrieved April 3, 2011. 
  9. ^ E. Franklin (April 29, 2004). "Are you kidding me?; Many tunes are obviously inferior to Blender's50 Worst Songs of All Time". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved April 3, 2011. 
  10. ^ "1. Starship – 'We Built This City' Photo – Readers' Poll: The 10 Worst Songs of the 1980s". Rollingstone.com. 2011-10-06. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  11. ^ ""We Built This Business" - ITT Commercial, 1990". YouTube.com. 1993-07-04. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  12. ^ [1] Archived December 16, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Minow, Nell (2012-06-15). "Rock of Ages". Beliefnet. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  14. ^ Dassanayake, Dion. "Sing It Kitty: Three follow-up advert to moonwalking pony set to go viral | Weird | News | Daily Express". Express.co.uk. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  15. ^ "Radio 1 – Charts – The Official UK Top 40 Singles Chart". BBC.co.uk. 2015-05-24. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  16. ^ "Grand Theft Auto V Reveals Expanded Radio Station Tracklists for Game Relaunch | News". Pitchfork.com. 2014-11-17. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  17. ^ "GTAV Soundtrack: Listen to Original New Songs Added from Flying Lotus, Jamie Lidell, Freddie Gibbs and More". Rockstargames.com. 2014-11-20. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  18. ^ "Starship – We Built This City (song)". Ö3 Austria Top 40. March 1, 1986. Retrieved January 13, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Radio2 top 30: 23 mei 2015 | Radio2". Top30-2.radio2.be. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  20. ^ "RPM 100 Singles". RPM (Library and Archives Canada) 43 (13): 6. December 7, 1985. Retrieved November 24, 2011. 
  21. ^ "Musicline.de – Starship Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
  22. ^ Jaclyn Ward – Fireball Media Group. "The Irish Charts – All there is to know". Irishcharts.ie. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  23. ^ "We Built This City – Starship". Dutch Top 40. RTL Nederland. 1986. Retrieved January 13, 2012. 
  24. ^ "Charts.org.nz – Starship – We Built This City". Top 40 Singles.
  25. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Starship – We Built This City". Singles Top 100.
  26. ^ "Swisscharts.com – Starship – We Built This City". Swiss Singles Chart.
  27. ^ "Starship". The Official Charts Company. November 16, 1985. Retrieved November 24, 2011. 
  28. ^ "We Built This City – Starship". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved November 24, 2011. 
  29. ^ "Starship". Retrieved March 9, 2014. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Miami Vice Theme" by Jan Hammer
Billboard Hot 100 number one single
November 16, 1985 – November 23, 1985
Succeeded by
"Separate Lives" by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin
Preceded by
"Separate Lives" by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin
Canadian RPM Singles Chart number-one single
December 7, 1985
Succeeded by
"Broken Wings" by Mr. Mister
Preceded by
"Species Deceases" by Midnight Oil
Australian Kent Music Report number one single
January 20, 1986 – February 10, 1986
Succeeded by
"A Good Heart" by Feargal Sharkey