DATA CONFIRMS: ‘We Built This City’ is the Worst Song Ever

by Robert Madison on March 26, 2013

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Why bother investigating something that has no immediate business application whatsoever?

Because, as social media monitoring and data analysts, we like to analyze stuff. It’s what we do…

Fact: If you were to say that Starship’s “We Built This City” (WBTC, henceforth) was included on a 2011, Rolling Stone Readers Poll of The Ten Worst Songs of the 1980s, you’d be correct. Then again, you could also say that it was voted as the very worst song of the 1980s, and you’d still be correct. And considering our cultural adoration of biggest, fastest, richest, etc., it seems thoroughly disingenuous to fail to acknowledge that WBTC is arguably the worstest song ever recorded.

For the record, we do not take issue with the fact that that WBTC is probably the worst song ever recorded. However, we — ever curious, and analytically predisposed — are not satisfied with just knowing that it is vile and offensive, we want to know why it’s offensive, so let’s fire up the Stat-Master 9000, and see what’s going on.

Actually, hold that thought for a second. Let’s backtrack. You don’t have a SM9K (obviously; we have it), so if you were going to attempt to unravel the awful that is WBTC, you’d probably start by going to Wikipedia. And if you go to Wikipedia, here’s what you’ll see:

“We Built This City” is a song written by Bernie Taupin, Martin Page, Dennis Lambert, and Peter Wolf, and originally recorded by the American rock group Starship and released as its debut single on August 1, 1985.

The single version reached number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 on November 16, 19851, and also number one on the U.S. Top Rock Tracks chart and number twelve in the United Kingdom.

Blah, Blah, Blah. Who cares? None of this helps because it actually reinforces how popular the song was.

Does Immense Popularity = Classic Song?

There is a section on Wikipedia about the reception of the song, but the closest thing to analyzing why it’s so terrible is explained thusly:

When asked about why the song was listed as #1 on the review, the editor of Blender magazine, Craig Marks, referenced the line of the song “Marconi plays the mamba” by asking,

“Who is Marconi? And what is the mamba? The mamba is the deadliest snake in the world, so he must have meant the mambo, but it sounds so much like ‘mamba’ that every lyric web site writes it that way. It makes sense neither way.”

We don’t argue that Mr. Marks makes a fair and valid point, but we’d also like to point out that many people — including yours truly — had no idea that there was a reference to Marconi, or a mamba (due in large part to entering a Tourette’s-like fit of anguished rage upon hearing even a single measure of WBTC, and consequently going into full auditory shutdown as the body reflexively enters into extreme, fight-or-flight survival mode), and as such, we’re skeptical that public uncertainty as to who Marconi is (he invented the radio), or why he might be playing a deadly snake, are significant factors contributing to the universal disgust for WBTC. No, there must be something more. And indeed, we’ve found it.

We Built This City by the Numbers

Although there are 373 total words in the song, there are only 125 unique words, meaning that many words are used more than once.

There are 1,529 characters (not including spaces), but aside from the fact that 1,529 is only divisible by 11 and 139, (and 1 and 1,529, obviously), we really don’t feel it’s that interesting that there are 1,529 characters.

Interesting looks more like this:

  • The phrase, “We built this city on rock and roll” occurs 13 times.
  • The phrase, “We built this city” occurs 9 times
  • The phrase, “built this city” occurs 7 times
  • The phrase/segment, “We built” occurs twice

Meaning that the phrase/segment, “built this city” occurs 29 friggin’ times, in one form or another. And keep in mind, that in roughly half of those occurrences (13/29 = 44.82%), they’re reminding us that they “built this city on rock and roll.” Thirteen. Times.

If we look at the phrase “We built this city on rock and roll,” it’s easy to see that it’s comprised of just 8 words, which is just 2% (8/373) of all the words used, and 6% of all the unique words (8/125) used.

But if we look at the total, unbearable, unendurable weight of the phrase “We built this city on rock and roll” — that is, the total number of words used in repeating that god-awful phrase over, and over, and over again — we see that, at 192 words, its lyrical mass accounts for more than 50% of the entire song!

Note: As you have no doubt already noticed, we couldn’t help but draw the correlation between the 1% and the 99% (and the 40%ish of the wealth they control), as well as the 2% (words) vs 98% (and the 51% of the song that they #occupy) but that analysis is beyond the scope of this study. Additionally, we’d like to remind you that this post is not a call for any sort of retroactive violence against WBTC. However, if you feel like deleting any copies of WBTC that your “friends” might have on their music storage devices (to include vinyl, 8-tracks, and cassettes), you’ll be doing them a favor, and making the world a better place.

Word Freq % Total % Unique
city 33 8.85% 26.40%
built 31 8.31% 24.80%
on 31 8.31% 24.80%
this 29 7.77% 23.20%
we 27 7.24% 21.60%
the 25 6.70% 20.00%
in 15 4.02% 12.00%
rock 15 4.02% 12.00%
and 13 3.49% 10.40%
roll 13 3.49% 10.40%
me 12 3.22% 9.60%
you 11 2.95% 8.80%
to 9 2.41% 7.20%
us 8 2.14% 6.40%
don’t 7 1.88% 5.60%
or 7 1.88% 5.60%
remember 6 1.61% 4.80%
our 5 1.34% 4.00%
radio 5 1.34% 4.00%
that 5 1.34% 4.00%

Adding Human Analysis to the Numbers Game

We ran the numbers. We did the analysis. We changed the “ick” filter on the Stat-Master 9000 more times than I care to count, and yet, we know that these numbers — however “on our side” we feel that they are — do not tell the whole story. Sometimes, you have to go beyond the numbers. Sometimes, human analysis is required.

Ultimately, our human analysts concluded that the reason we hate WBTC as much as we do is not only because it repeats some variation of the phrase “We built this city” 29 times — which it does — and not only because its loathsome chorus of 8 words accounts for over 50% of the song — which it does — but because of its staggering duplicity:

At no point in the song is there anything that even remotely begins to approach something that actually sounds like rock ‘n roll – you know, the thing upon which this city is allegedly built.

Our ears hear the lyrics, but we don’t buy it, because the song most decidedly Does_Not_Rock.

  1. Shame on you, 1985

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Furluge July 19, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Its a technically horrible song… That Robert will probably sing along with it if it comes on the radio when he is all alone in his car right along with “Don’t Stop Believing”.

I’ve been told a large reason the same chords are used again and again in music is your brain is pleased when it can predict what is coming up next. Naturally if the pattern is too simple it gets boring. Anyway the repetitiveness and that property of the brain is probably why many enjoy this song.


theenlightened1 August 12, 2013 at 4:12 am

NOW I’m ENLIGHTENED!!! I always used to wonder what was WORSE, wbtc or “nothing’s going to stop us now” from ‘Manequin’? After full absorption of this thorough and technical analysis, now I FINALLY know! Thanks, Robert! I can die a happy man.

Now if we can just get some anthropologists out there to give thorough analysis in this comment section on exactly WHY wbtc was #1 in the US in Nov ’85 (just like Frank Zappa wanted CBS to hire one to study why his very own “Bobby Brown” was an insane hit single all over Europe), that would COMPLETE things! Furluge seems to have us started off in the right direction!


Kartikeya September 16, 2013 at 11:01 am

i like this song. is there something wrong with me ? :O


Usedtolikerr April 26, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Thanks. Always thougt this was a payola song. Never understood why it was ever on airwaves. Could never change the station fast enough.


Xeronex August 7, 2014 at 5:11 am

I think you guys are a bunch of morons !!!!!!

It amazes me that a group of whiny 20 year old so called music critics can even have the right to comment on a song that they never even heard until ten years after it was in the charts and/or they grew to a point where they were able to even form a musical opinion. I’ve read your article and several others like the one in Blender magazine and Rolling Stone and I find it unbearable to go along with your analysis or theirs as to why this song sucked; much less your “breakdown” as to why it sucked. Do you know how many songs fit the same criteria that you submitted this song to? Have you heard the crap that is on the radio today? I don’t know about anyone else’s opinion but the so called music that kids listen to today only makes a person want to run their fingers down a chalkboard just to get any kind of relief from the annoying, repetitive, offensive, and ridiculous noise they label as “music” today; and you wonder why so many teens are withdrawn, negative, depressed, violent, angry, and suicidal?

What gives you the right to judge why a certain song that was popular before you were even born had the right to be liked at all. Especially when your generation doesn’t understand what music really is or was. I guess it’s the only thing you can expect from so called critics that grew up listening to rap crap, computer-generated noise with ear piercing sound effects, and best of all (and I really mean “best of all”), so called “musicians” who can’t even come up with their own lyrics or rhythms or melodies for that matter, so they take snip-its of really great songs and add their own “spin” to it and then have the gall to call themselves artist.

You can’t compare the band Starship to its predecessors especially when all of the founding members of the previous incantations of the band left. Mickey Thomson formed a new band with what was left and turned it into a musical success and people think that he destroyed what was of the former Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship. Read the charts!!! He took Starship to a height of success that surpassed the two former entities and was criticized for the type of music he created. Then he has to put up with idiots like you judging his accomplishments and the mentality of the people of the 80s era who gave Starship that distinction based on your warped ideas as to what music “is”. Get a life !!!!!!!!!


Tori November 14, 2014 at 1:17 pm

I agree with the last post. This song rocked the airways because it’s rad. You can try to bring technicality or science to this song but you won’t prevail. This song will be a classic forever.

So stupid. Thanks for the laugh though.


Johnny March 22, 2015 at 10:32 am

Your analysis suck.

If this song is so bad, why did it end up number one in theh US, Australia and Canada.

You wanna know why your analysis sucks? Just look at house music, one or two words are used over and over again, but according to your analysis that would be a bad song, since the same words are used over and over again.

Maybe you shouldn’t analyse at all if you think people care about logic when listening to music. This is just sad.


Scott S. Schultz June 7, 2015 at 11:30 pm

At no point did anybody go and ask Bernie Taupin what his thoughts were when writing it. Remember, he wrote Take Me To The Pilot, which he has stated was just meaningless lyrics he threw together and that song made no sense. In closing, the song was a big hit with the public and made a lot of musians a ton of money.


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