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WE BUILT THIS CITY!

Written by on 23/02/2022

SOURCE GQ Magazine

Thirty years ago, radio stations and MTV put an insidiously catchy song called “We Built This City” into heavy rotation and kept it there. The hit single gave the members of the band Starship—which emerged from the ashes of Jefferson Starship, successor to Jefferson Airplane, the essential 1960s psychedelic band—unlikely second careers as pop stars. At the time, Starship’s most famous member, singer Grace Slick, was 46.

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• Cover art for the “We Built This City” vinyl single. Half a million people paid money to own this.

But over the years, as ’80s music began to sound dated and ludicrous—and no song sounds more ’80s than “We Built This City”—it developed a hideous reputation: the worst song of all time. Blender magazine first crowned it thus in 2004, and the label has stuck, thanks to a series of online polls, thickening into something close to empirical fact. Like many things celebrated and awful, “We Built This City” has grown into a meme: It was the title of a 2008 episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation. During the late-1980s peak of junk bonds on Wall Street, Michael Milken changed the lyrics to We built this city on high-yield bonds to celebrate his law-breaking firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert. Russell Brand has sung it, Fergie and the Muppets have performed it. John Kasich played it at campaign events

“We Built This City” was written and recorded in stages, by an assembly line of songwriters. (Cancer, too, develops in stages.) Today, its creators are ambivalent about what they’ve wrought. It has made them wealthy, but years of ridicule have taken a toll. Among the people who now say they hate it are two band members and the guy who wrote the lyrics. “I don’t think anybody can take all the credit,” says Starship guitarist Craig Chaquico, “or all the blame.”

 

 


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