Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Starship -- "We Built This City"

I think Bernie Taupin might be the Rosetta Stone of awesomely bad lyrics. Not only did his collaborations with Elton John produce some of the loopiest lyrics of all time, but he's credited as one of four writers that contributed a little bit of pixie dust to this train wreck of a song.

Also, I encourage you to watch the video (linked above) if you enjoy unnecessary reaction shots, impassioned pleas to statues of Abraham Lincoln (presumably to suspend habeas corpus or something in order to allow Starship to keep on rockin'), statues of Abraham Lincoln that spontaneously come to life in order to rock out, floating emotionless disembodied heads, oversized killer dice that terrorize entire populations, and of course, big hair!

Let's get it on!

We built this city, we built this city on rock and roll / Built this city, we built this city on rock and roll

I like songs that get right to the point. Here. Listen. See this city? We built it. On what? Funny you should ask. Not on bricks or mortar or asphalt or dinosaur bones, but on good old fashioned rock and roll!!! It's a metaphor, you see, because obviously you couldn't ... I mean it would be ridiculous to suggest that ... heh heh. Ahhhh.

OK, now that that pesky chorus is out of the way, let's bust out the first verse.

Say you don’t know me or recognize my face / Say you don’t care who goes to that kind of place / Knee deep in the hoopla, sinking in your fight / Too many runaways eating up the night

Clearly this song wants to rebel against something, but I'm not sure what. I'm not sure the four writers of these lyrics really agree on what, either.

Marconi plays the mamba, listen to the radio, don’t you remember / We built this city, we built this city on rock and roll

I was going to make an obscure joke about Guglielmo Marconi here, but after a little research it appears this lyric actually refers to Guglielmo Marconi. My goodness. Marconi's Wikipedia entry reveals that not only was he a Nobel Prize winner and a pioneer in wireless communication, but was, later in life, "an active Italian fascist and an apologist for their ideology and actions such as the attack by Italian forces in Ethiopia." Umm, maybe not the guy to whom you want to hitch your fake-counter-culture wagon here, Starship.

Wikipedia is silent on whether G. Marconi ever actually played the "mamba," which is a kind of snake. Did you mean "mambo"? Maybe "samba"?

Or, maybe we should take this literally and believe that an early 20th-century Italian inventor is attempting to play a deadly reptile like a musical instrument. Makes about as much sense as any other interpretation.

Hold on a second ... Marconi!!!! LOOK OUT!!!!

We built this city, we built this c
ity on rock and roll / Built this city, we built this city on rock and roll

Phew. That was a close one.

Someone always playing corporation games / Who cares, they’re always changing corporation names

Yeah! Take that, CORPORATIONS!!! How dare you establish yourself as a legal entity for the purpose of doing any kind of business! You suck!!!! Except, of course, for RCA Records, the good people that marketed and distributed this song.

We just want to dance here, someone stole the stage / They call us irresponsible, write us off the page

What are you angry about? Seriously. I'm getting sleepy.

It’s just another Sunday, in a tired old street / Police have got the choke hold, oh then we just lost the beat

What? How do these lyrics make any sense together? The first line makes me think everything is boring and people have stopped rocking because of complacency or something, but then you tell me the police have "got the choke hold," which then caused you to "lose the beat."

I think the songwriting process for this tune was like an exquisite corpse-type scenario in which Bernie Taupin and his collaborators would each just contribute one line, then pass it off to the next person, and so on until this #1 hit was complete!

Who counts the money underneath the bar?

Probably the bartender.

Who rides the wrecking ball in two rock guitars?

Ummm .... I don't know. Ronald Reagan? Anthony Michael Hall? Is this a trick question?

Don’t tell us you need us, cause we’re the ship of fools / Looking for America, coming through your schools

The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine.


  1. a belated kudos to reader Jamie P. for the suggestion.

  2. Grace Slick refuses to show her face in public to this day, and I think this song has something to do with that. The anti-"White Rabbit" if there ever was one.

    It would have been better to acknowledge their tenuous relationship with the original Jefferson Airplane and sing "We built this city! We built this city on L! S! D!"

  3. if Marconi was playing the medieval instrument known as a serpent, he may have named his "Mamba" as a sign of affection.

  4. Coincidentally, a couple of days ago my 12-year-old son asked me which song I thought was the worst of all time. Without hesitation, I answered, "We Built This City."

    I stand by that judgment. Good job.

  5. As someone who's endured a lifetime of people wailing "SAAARAH! SAAAAAAAAAAAAAARAH! STORMS ARE BREWIN' IN YOUR EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEYES!!!" at me and acting like it's the very soul of wit, I feel it's only fair to warn Grace Slick that if I ever encounter her, she's got a hearty punch in the face coming to her.

    This song is even worse though, even if it lacks the personal insult of the other one. Grace Slick is the poster child for the benefits of choking on your own vomit and dying before 30. Live fast, die young, don't make embarassingly awful "rock".

  6. Marconi also founded a company that produced radio sets, mainly in Europe. I know that for a while people referred to the radio by the brand, and since this song was written by some Europeans, I take it to mean that the radio is playing some mambo or samba music and the writers got the spelling wrong.

  7. Sarcasm as a substitute for objective analysis.

  8. You know what makes the song even worse? That it's SO DAMN SINGABLE! It's been stuck in my head for weeks now, and shows no signs of leaving. Sure, I can use "Wake me up Before you Go Go" to silence it for a while, but even a solid chaser of "Karma Chameleon" can't keep it quite for long!

  9. The song is about the legal problems the various factions of Jefferson Starship/Airplane/Starship were having at the time.

  10. The truth is that the song may widely be regarded as the worst of all time, but it's obviously a song that people love to hate. So why is that? Because, as awful as it is, it's also great. It's fucking fantastic.

    1. I understand that the lyrics don't make sense, but its pop!!

  11. I have always wondered, "What is it, exactly, that made this song become the 'Worst Song Ever'?" - as it has been billed". After reading just a little bit about this issue, what I have learned is that the group of people that dislike it so much (...because of what? Their 'taking sides' in a 'John-vs-Paul type' of interpretation of the breakup between an old band and one of its members?) is more knowledgeable (and skillful) than most in two things concepts: 1.) Human nature dictates that people are much more apt to latch on to something negative than latch on to something positive; and, 2.) The PR concept (based on #1) that states "Negative PR spreads exponentially faster than good PR". It's a certified Gold, #1 selling song, is it not? Has anyone from the previously mentioned group done better?