Charlie's 80s Blog

This Day In Music, November 16th

On this day in 1985: Starship started a two week run at #1 on the U.S. singles chart with ‘We Built This City.’

The song was written by Bernie Taupin, Martin Page, Dennis Lambert, and Peter Wolf and recorded by U.S. rock group Starship. It was released as the lead single off their album ‘Knee Deep In the Hoopla.’

The song peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. Outside the United States, “We Built This City” topped the charts in Australia and Canada, peaked inside the top ten in Germany, the Republic of Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland, the top twenty in Belgium, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and the top thirty in Austria and the Netherlands. It has appeared on several “worst song” lists, topping a 2011 Rolling Stone Magazine poll of worst songs of the 1980s by a wide margin.

The narrative of 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 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 added their own ident in its place. The album’s title ‘Knee Deep in the Hoopla’ is taken from a lyric in the first verse of this song.

Here’s the complete Top 20 on the U.S. singles chart from this day back in 1985:

1 5 WE BUILT THIS CITY –•– Starship (Grunt)-11 (1 Week at #1) (1)
2 4 YOU BELONG TO THE CITY –•– Glenn Frey (MCA)-10 (2)
3 1 MIAMI VICE THEME –•– Jan Hammer (MCA)-11 (1)
4 3 HEAD OVER HEELS –•– Tears For Fears (Mercury)-10 (3)
5 2 PART-TIME LOVER –•– Stevie Wonder (Tamla)-11 (1)
6 7 SEPARATE LIVES –•– Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin (Atlantic)-7 (6)
7 11 BROKEN WINGS –•– Mr. Mister (RCA)-9 (7)
8 12 NEVER –•– Heart (Capitol)-10 (8)
9 9 BE NEAR ME –•– ABC (Mercury)-13 (9)
10 10 LAY YOUR HANDS ON ME –•– Thompson Twins (Arista)-9 (10)

11 16 WHO’S ZOOMIN’ WHO –•– Aretha Franklin (Arista)-8 (11)
12 14 YOU ARE MY LADY –•– Freddie Jackson (Capitol)-11 (12)
13 8 TAKE ON ME –•– A-Ha (Warner Brothers)-19 (1)
14 6 SAVING ALL MY LOVE FOR YOU –•– Whitney Houston (Arista)-14 (1)
15 19 LOVE THEME FROM “ST. ELMO’S FIRE” –•– David Foster (Atlantic)-13 (15)
16 13 ONE NIGHT LOVE AFFAIR –•– Bryan Adams (A&M)-10 (13)
17 21 ONE OF THE LIVING –•– Tina Turner (Capitol)-7 (17)
18 29 ELECTION DAY –•– Arcadia (Capitol)-4 (18)
19 25 SLEEPING BAG –•– ZZ Top (Warner Brothers)-5 (19)
20 15 LOVIN’ EVERY MINUTE OF IT –•– Loverboy (Columbia)-13 (9)

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