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

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