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We Built This City

Updated: 2017-08-11T22:54Z
"We Built This City"
Single by Starship
from the album Knee Deep in the Hoopla
B-side"Private Room" (Instrumental)
ReleasedAugust 1, 1985[1]
RecordedMay 1985
GenrePop rock
Songwriter(s)Bernie Taupin, Martin Page, Dennis Lambert, Peter Wolf
Producer(s)Peter Wolf, Jeremy Smith
Starship singles chronology
"We Built This City"

- "We Built This City"
Audio sample
File:Starship - We Built This City.ogg

"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.

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. Despite the song's commercial success, 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 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"

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, 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.[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

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".[10]

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".[11] 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.

Commercial uses

In 1990, ITT Corporation began using a variation (as "We Built This Business") to promote their purchase of the financial services firm The Hartford.[12]

The song is featured in 2011's The Muppets in a montage where the Muppets are cleaning up The Muppet Theater, as well as the Broadway musical Rock of Ages and its film adaptation,[13] where it is sung in counterpoint with Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It".[14]

In 2014 it was used for a United Kingdom commercial for the 3 mobile service.[15] Following the advert, the song climbed 158 places to number 25 in the UK Singles Chart.[16]

The song is featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto V on the Los Santos Rock Radio station on the enhanced Xbox One, PS4 and PC editions of the game.[17][18]

The 2017 LEGO Batman Movie features a remixed variant of the song prominently in its movie teaser and trailer.[19]


Chart (1985–1986)Peak
Australia (ARIA)1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[20]21
Belgium (VRT Top 30 Flanders)[21]17
Canada (RPM)[22]1
Germany (Official German Charts)[23]10
Ireland (IRMA)[24]9
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[25]21
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[26]11
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[27]4
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[28]8
United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company)[29]12
US Billboard Hot 100[30]1
US Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks37
Chart (2014)Peak
United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company)[31]25


  1. ^ "Gold & Platinum Searchable Database – May 28, 2015". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  2. ^ "We Built This City On Rock and Roll". Retrieved 2016-08-12. 
  3. ^ "We Built This S**tty : The worst song of all time? Les Garland begs to differ" (PDF). 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!". Archived from the original on 2010-08-06. 
  6. ^ "10 Really, Really Bad Songs". 2004-04-20. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  7. ^ a b "We built this city on detestable lyrics". Sydney Morning Herald. April 27, 2004. Retrieved 2011-04-03. 
  8. ^ Rachael Recker (May 2, 2010). "It's not Jefferson, but it is 'Starship starring Mickey Thomas' at 2010 Tulip Time". Booth Newspapers. Retrieved 2011-04-03. 
  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 2011-04-03. 
  10. ^ "1. Starship – 'We Built This City' Photo – Readers' Poll: The 10 Worst Songs of the 1980s". 2011-10-06. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  11. ^ Tannenbaum, Rob (August 21, 2016). "An Oral History of "We Built This City," the Worst Song of All Time". GQ. Condé Nast. Retrieved 2016-09-25. 
  12. ^ ""We Built This Business" - ITT Commercial, 1990". 1993-07-04. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  13. ^ [1] Archived December 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Minow, Nell (2012-06-15). "Rock of Ages". Beliefnet. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  15. ^ Dassanayake, Dion. "Sing It Kitty: Three follow-up advert to moonwalking pony set to go viral | Weird | News | Daily Express". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  16. ^ "Radio 1 – Charts – The Official UK Top 40 Singles Chart". 2015-05-24. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  17. ^ "Grand Theft Auto V Reveals Expanded Radio Station Tracklists for Game Relaunch | News". 2014-11-17. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  18. ^ "GTAV Soundtrack: Listen to Original New Songs Added from Flying Lotus, Jamie Lidell, Freddie Gibbs and More". 2014-11-20. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  19. ^ "Watch New 'LEGO Batman Movie' Trailer With Will Arnett, Michael Cera". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2016-12-21. 
  20. ^ "Starship – We Built This City (song)". Ö3 Austria Top 40. March 1, 1986. Retrieved 2012-01-13. 
  21. ^ "Radio2 top 30: 23 mei 2015 | Radio2". Archived from the original on 2012-04-09. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  22. ^ "RPM 100 Singles". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. 43 (13): 6. December 7, 1985. Retrieved 2011-11-24. 
  23. ^ " – Starship Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
  24. ^ Jaclyn Ward – Fireball Media Group. "The Irish Charts – All there is to know". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  25. ^ "We Built This City – Starship". Dutch Top 40. RTL Nederland. 1986. Retrieved 2012-01-13. 
  26. ^ " – Starship – We Built This City". Top 40 Singles.
  27. ^ " – Starship – We Built This City". Singles Top 100.
  28. ^ " – Starship – We Built This City". Swiss Singles Chart.
  29. ^ "Starship". The Official Charts Company. November 16, 1985. Retrieved 2011-11-24. 
  30. ^ "We Built This City – Starship". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 2011-11-24. 
  31. ^ "Starship". Retrieved 2014-03-09. 

External links

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
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