Ask Mr.H: Why is “We Built This City” considered such a horrible song from a music perspective?


Mr. H says: LOATH that song and to such an extent that I cannot offer an objective answer. But some others can, and so:

Rocci Disopa, former Recording Engineer answered May 16Because the old Airplane were seminal figures in the ‘hippy’ counter culture movement of the Sixties. They were considered radicals, purveyors of a new dawn. Grace Slick and Paul Kantner were an identifiable part of that whole progression that would become known as ‘the Sixties’. She was the first woman (with Janis Joplin) to front a successful Rock n Roll band, and because she was attractive, Grace became one of the poster children of it’s counter culture idealism and hedonism.

Same with The Starship, or Kantner’s workshop as I like to call it’s early incarnations. These guys were quite the revolutionary types, and some of the early content at the time was idealism about radicalism, mixed in with sex/dope in a Sci-Fi setting. Haha..

Musicians, friends, and most of the old Airplane came and went regularly. In fact, you could make a point that there were as many personnel and lineup changes in the Starship as there were in Jethro Tull or King Crimson! So as the mid-Eighties took hold, the Starship embraced the new musical trends of videos and music television by staying current and harmless. Believe it or not “We Built This City” actually began as a Bernie Taupin song! However, the original demo was changed considerably by Producer Peter Wolf and the subsequent ‘assembly line of songwriters’ that followed. By the time the song went to No.#1 in the Fall of 1985, there was no resemblance to its original form at all. Said guitarist Craig Chaquico, “ I don’t think anyone can take all the credit, or all the blame”.

The Grammy nominated song also had a quirky video that got max airplay on MTV. In fact, the DJ sequence of the song is actually then MTV exec Les Garland reliving his Bay Area radio days! The follow up years have not done well for the track. In 2009, the magazine Blender considered it ‘the worst song ever’ in its lists of the 50 worst songs. Among those titles it beat out were proud papa Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart”, and the Vanilla Ice Classic ‘ Ice Ice Baby’ circa 1990. ‘We built This City’ now seemed to sum up all that was wrong with the 80’s. In 2011, Rolling Stone (one of the original promoters of the SF scene) decreed it the ‘worst song of the Eighties by a large margin’.

Musically it’s fine, but for some reason it has been targeted as representative of the falsehoods and misrepresentation in the music biz. It’s not even about San Francisco. It’s written by Elton John’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin about the dying LA club scene, and Producer Peter Wolf (an Austrian) added in the chorus. The only part of the song that references ‘the city by the bay’ is Les Garland’s DJ voiceover.

I gotta admit, I never liked the track or it’s music video. But I’ll take it any day over “Achy Breaky Heart”.



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