We Built This City
|"We Built This City"|
|Single by Starship|
|from the album Knee Deep in the Hoopla|
|B-side||"Private Room" (Instrumental)|
|Released||August 1, 1985|
|Length||4:56 (album version)|
4:39 (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" is a 1985 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 on their album Knee Deep in the Hoopla.
Commercially, the single reached number one in Australia, Canada and the United States; the top 10 in Germany, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland; the top 20 in Belgium, New Zealand and the United Kingdom; and number 21 in Austria and the Netherlands. It has appeared on several "worst song" lists, topping a 2011 Rolling Stone poll of worst songs of the 1980s by a wide margin.
What exists of a narrative in the song consists of an argument between the singers (Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick) and an unidentified "you", presumably a music industry executive, who is marginalizing the band and ripping them off by "playing corporation games" ("who counts the money underneath the bar?"). In response to this injustice, the singers remind the villain of their importance and fame: "Listen to the radio! Don't you remember? We built this city on rock and roll!" A spoken-word interlude explicitly mentions the Golden Gate Bridge and refers to "the city by the bay", a common moniker for Starship's hometown of San Francisco. Starship's predecessors, Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, were prominent members of San Francisco's psychedelic rock scene in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. However, the interlude then rapidly refers to the same city as "the city that rocks", a reference to Cleveland, Ohio (home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum) and then "the city that never sleeps", one of the nicknames 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. 
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. Additionally, some radio stations, with the help of jingle company JAM Creative Productions in Dallas, Texas, would insert their own opening line to promote their stations.
Blender magazine's 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever
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. 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."
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." Mickey Thomas, one of the singers of Starship, said in 2010 regarding 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.
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."
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.
Rolling Stone Top Ten Worst Songs of the 1980s
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 was so large that the magazine reported it "could be the biggest blow-out victory in the history of the Rolling Stone Readers Poll".
GQ Worst Song of All Time
In August 2016, Gentlemen's Quarterly magazine declared this song as the worst of all time, referring to it as "the most detested song in human history". The article covered Bernie Taupin's role in writing an early version of the song, the backlash against a video that no one liked and Grace Slick's inconsistent statements about whether she liked it or not.
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||21|
|Belgium (VRT Top 30 Flanders)||17|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||10|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||21|
|New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)||11|
|South Africa (Springbok Radio)||1|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||8|
|United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company)||12|
|US Billboard Hot 100||1|
|US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)||37|
|United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company)||25|
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- 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 2011-04-03.
- "1. Starship – 'We Built This City' Photo – Readers' Poll: The 10 Worst Songs of the 1980s". Rollingstone.com. 2011-10-06. Archived from the original on 2015-05-27. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
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- "We Built This City – Starship". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 2011-11-24.
- "Starship". Archived from the original on 2014-03-06. Retrieved 2014-03-09.
- Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics
- Tannenbaum, Rob (August 31, 2016). "An Oral History of "We Built This City," the Worst Song of All Time". GQ. Retrieved 2016-09-06.
- Sears, Jeannette (January 3, 2012). "We Built This City". jeannettesears.com.