« Matt S. on Bigotry | quotables | Main | Mike L. on Caution | quotables »

Apr 30, 2004

Starship's "We Built This City" | editorial


Today’s “Opinion Writers of the Week” awards go to my Nougatmates Ben Turney, Fikri Yucel, and Beth Ann Koelsch for their contributions to an email thread that started when Blender Magazine proclaimed Starship’s “We Built This City” as the worst single ever.

Said Blender editor Craig Marks, Starship’s 1985 anthem, the runaway No. 1 stinker, "seems to inspire the most virulent feelings of outrage… 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."

Rebuts Ben:

I have to disagree completely. It's a great song, and if it spelt the end of rock and roll, then rock and roll needed help anyway. Maybe rock and roll, like jazz and classical, needs to come off its high horse and get back to the people. Did they ever think about that? Huh?

Beth Ann takes the bait:

“Au Contraire, Mr. Turney!” I think it's right up there in the pantheon of jaded, soulless, cynical dreck. I remember when it came out I couldn't believe it was a hit. The song tasted like plastic to me. I always pair it with Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" as songs phoned in to support the bands' cocaine habits.

Starship used to be Jefferson Airplane. Jefferson Airplane used to care. Starship had long ago given up even appearing to try.

Act III, enter Fikri:

"We Built This City" sucks. Its sucking is entirely unmitigated and irredeemable. The utter through-and-through suckage of the song, however, renders "outrage" a ridiculous response. The only sensible response to this song is cool indifference. When I'm drivin' around and it comes on the radio, sure, I'll change the station, but I will do so calmly and unhurriedly. It's not like the song is so offensive that I must jab at the stereo in frantic haste, even at risk of life and limb to myself and others as I lurch violently to the center console of the dashboard, flailing at the stereo preset buttons so as to minimize my exposure to the aural toxicity. I mean, it's not like it's Alanis Morrissette or anything...

I think the "virulent feelings of outrage" at this song betray the old-guyness of the panel. They are the music critic equivalent of David Denby whose every movie review shrieks "I am an old white guy who has nothing valuable whatsoever to contribute to any discussion of current pop culture anywhere, and the fact that I write regularly for the New Yorker is an utterly baffling mystery, as my writing itself is also entirely devoid of any spark of creativity, insight, or wit!"

Basically these dudes loved the music of the sixties that Jefferson Airplane represented, and so they excoriate the band for going "80s corporate rock." This kills me. As if 80s corporate ANYTHING is so different from corporate bullshit from any other era (this is a common practice, reviling the "corporate excess and greed" from the 80s without batting a fucking eyelash
at the EXACT SAME STUFF that went on in the 90s, and, hell, lots of other periods of time, only at orders of magnitude greater intensity—anyone remember the "robber-barons" of the turn of the century, for example?).

The notion of anything about the 80s "killing rock music" is absurd on its face. What a bunch of hand-wringing wankers. Shut up, Blender panel of critics. Even if I agree with you about specific songs or bands, I think you are asshats.

Ben, undeterred:
I like the damn song. You may say to me, "Ben -- not a single musical instrument was touched by a human hand or breath to make that music." But I don't care. In high school, I spent an hour a day each on trombone and piano. My own lips and fingers have well known the feel of real instruments. Let me have my little studio produced pleasure. And don't worry, I'm still listening to Van Halen, so there's plenty of humanity pounding out of my speakers.

In "City," I like the rising-pitch nature of the verses. I like that little instrumental sound like knives being sharpened, and, I love how those two bold "guitar" chords which mostly occur on beats 2 and 3, instead occur on beats 3 and 4 during the bridge ("It's just another Sunday . . ."). I sit and conduct this song in a four-count pattern to prove to myself every time that these chords fall on different beats during the bridge.

And you say its sucking is unmitigated.

Whether Fikri leaves it on or changes the radio station when he hears this song matters not to me. But if he is streaming it, and he kills the stream, well, that just means, more bandwidth for the rest of us.

Epilogue: four days later, the thread is still cruising along with contributions from Jerry, Jen, Alan and Glenn.

12:04 AM in Editorial | Permalink


i agree with fikri. it sucks so much it blows.

Posted by: christa | Apr 30, 2004 11:25:35 AM

that song has always made my ass twitch. i'm glad, that finally, it is being recognized as the sucky song that it is. pure dreck, that song.

Posted by: joy | Apr 30, 2004 12:32:41 PM

I have always hated that song. From the first time I heard it. It epitomizes the worst about pop music, and is an egregious abuse of notes.

Posted by: pinky | Apr 30, 2004 10:59:43 PM

God. I was just now getting to where that song wasn't running through my head all day.

Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Posted by: Jerry | May 2, 2004 11:45:51 PM

If song makes your ass twitch, isn't that a good thing? I'd hate to see what salsa does to pinky.

Posted by: Ben Turney | May 5, 2004 11:04:22 PM

Not the greatestm but i've heard a HELL of a lot worse. It beat out Achey Breaky? WTF anyone?

Posted by: Torin | May 13, 2004 11:52:36 PM

dudes this song rules

Posted by: yoplait | May 21, 2005 5:49:29 PM

I think if this song was covered by McFly, that would just about wrap things up!

Posted by: Ben | Nov 30, 2005 7:03:05 PM

I just love to sing it... however.

Posted by: Jen | Sep 10, 2007 10:26:46 PM