Weird Stuff

We Built This City On Rock and Roll

posted by Chris Valentine

“The city by the bay, the city that rocks, the city that never sleeps!” Let’s talk about Starship’s hit song We Built This City On Rock and Roll.


We Built This City is a song originally recorded by the group Starship and released as its debut single on November 10, 1985. The lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin, best known for his longtime collaboration with Elton John. The song features Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick on lead vocals. The single reached number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, number one on the U.S. Top Rock Tracks chart, and number twelve in the United Kingdom.

In April 2004, the song was listed as the #1 Worst Song Ever by Blender magazine.

The tune “seems to inspire the most virulent feelings of outrage,” says editor Craig Marks. “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.”

The radio station in a late interlude references “The City By the Bay”, “The City That Rocks” and “The City That Never Sleeps”, meaning San Francisco, Cleveland and New York City, respectively. MTV executive and former D.J. Les Garland provided the D.J. voice-over. The song was also released without the traffic report and D.J. interaction during the song’s bridge – local stations were encouraged to make local versions. New York City, for example, included a traffic report describing conditions on the George Washington Bridge and LG73 in Vancouver, BC included a traffic report overlooking the Lion’s Gate Bridge.

The lyrics of “We Built This City” appear to restate the importance of the band once known as Jefferson Airplane within San Francisco’s ’60s rock scene. Not so, says former leader Grace Slick: “Everybody thought we were talking about San Francisco. We weren’t,” Slick says. “It was written by an Englishman, Bernie Taupin, about Los Angeles in the early ’70s. Nobody was telling the truth!”

Certainly not Starship, who spend the song carrying on as if they invented rock & roll rebellion, while churning out music that encapsulates all that was wrong with rock in the ’80s: Sexless and corporate, it sounds less like a song than something built in a lab by a team of record-company executives. The result was so awful that years afterward, it seems to bring on a personality disorder in the woman who sang it. “This is not me,” Slick remarks when reminded of the 1985 chart-topper. “Now you’re an actor. It’s the same as Meryl Streep playing Joan of Arc.” Worst Moment “Who cares, they’re always changing corporation names,” sneers Slick — whose band had changed its name three times.

Commentary from the Saucy Vixen:

Nothing is more ironic than a band taking the corporate dollar while chastising those who take the corporate dollar. Kudos to you Starship. That was clever!

Marconi played the mamba. Listen to the radio. Don’t you remember…
We built this city. We built this city on rock and roll!

Guglielmo Marconi was interested in the work of Heinrich Hertz, who demonstrated that one could produce and detect electromagnetic radiation, or “radio waves.” In short, Marconi is often credited as being the creator of what became the radio.


But what about this mamba thing? Most people think it’s a dance. But it’s not. The mamba is the most deadly type of snake. So what does Marconi playing the mamba mean? Clearly, “Marconi” is referring to the radio itself. The marconi. The device. The radio plays a deadly snake. Listen to it. We built this city. The snake — the mamba — is slithering from the speakers. Ready to kill greedy corporations. Ready to squeeze the life out of the police. Ready to free the world of all that is evil, and to leave behind only the youthful idealism that is encompassed by the tenets of rock and roll.


Anyway, our friend Jeffy’s cat likes it.

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