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The Freedom of Music: We Built This City on Crappy Synth-Pop

October 16th, 2011
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freedom-of-music-header

One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

Rolling Stone did a reader survey asking what was the worst song of the 80‘s? Here’s how the poll was reported in the Sun newspaper chain:

Starship’s We Built This City has been named the worst song from the worst musical decade in a new Rolling Stone magazine poll.

The 80’s are the “worst musical decade?” sidebar-3

Well, it is if you take it as given that time ended on December 31st, 1989. However, if by decade you are including the 90’s and the recently ended oughts, then it’s hard to see how the 80’s are the worst of it. Put simply, the 80’s, at their very worst, was Madonna. The 90’s and 00’s brought us talent-less diva’s who cite Madonna as an influence.

Since the 1980’s music has descended into a beauty contest with an auto-tune soundtrack. Glee is not the worst offender, it is an inevitable stop on the road, but compare Glee to it’s 1980’s counterpart, Fame, to see how far the music industry has fallen. To suggest  that the 80’s is the low point, and somehow now we are above that decade is delusional. Of course, everyone thought the 80’s music was great in the 80’s, including We Built This City (we also thought Grace Slick’s pink outfit with matching running shoes was pretty cool too). And agreed, the decline began in the 80’s, but it’s been a steady decline ever since.

The Rolling Stone readers survey: Worst Songs of the 80’s:

  1. Starship – We Built This City
  2. Europe – The Final Countdown
  3. Chris De Burgh – Lady In Red
  4. Wham! – Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
  5. Men Without Hats – The Safety Dance
  6. Falco – Rock Me Amadeus
  7. Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy
  8. Toni Basil – Mickey
  9. Taco – Puttin’ On The Ritz
  10. Rick Astley – Never Gonna Give You Up

I’ll give you Rock me Amadeus, Don’t Worry Be Happy and Never Gonna Give You Up. Awful songs, deserving to be on any worst of list. And Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Mickey wouldn’t be on my list, but I get why there here. The Final Countdown is also worthy of inclusion, but for the life of my I don’t know why.

But seriously, no Madonna songs? No Duran Duran? I could make a credible top ten worst songs of the 80’s list consisting of nine Madonna and Duran Duran songs, plus Paula Abduls, Opposites Attract . But conceding that may be extreme, where is The Beasty Boys/ Aerosmith’s Walk This Way? which is both bad and an abomination.

Here’s a riddle: would Fred Astaire’s Puttin’ On The Ritz make a worst song of the 30’s list? No, I thought not. Yet the Taco version sounds pretty much like the Astaire version, and as we’ve already seen the 80’s called the worst musical decade, this seems contradictory. And if we’re hating songs from that period redone in the 80’s, wouldn’t you vote for David Lee Roth’s Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody? And why do so many people hate Lady in Red so much? It’s a nice song, and granted it gets played too often at weddings, but so does You Are So Beautiful and Up Were You Belong, and nobody is putting Joe Cocker on any worst of lists.

But the two songs I’ll never understand is Safety Dance and We Built This City. Safety Dance was the only song on the list I was completely surprised by: there are people who don’t like this fun little dance song? I can’t imagine what bothers people about it. The words are OK, again a little bit of fun.

We can dance if we want to.
We can leave your friends behind.
‘Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance
Well they’re no friends of mine…

It’s not, “If you start me up, if you start me up I never stop…” I grant you. Musically, Safety Dance isn’t so bad either. Certainly it has some of those cheesy keyboards, but that’s just about every song of the decade. If your going to have a token cheesy keyboard song on the list – and I think you should – I Got You or Tainted Love are much better choices.

We Built This City didn’t just come out #1 for worst song of the 80’s, as voted on by Rolling Stone readers, it came in #1 by a margin of more than 2-1 against the number two song. Is We Built This City rally that bad? Personally, I don’t mind it. It’s a snappy pop song, unworthy of a former supposedly-great hippy band, I grant. But if that’s the criteria, there’s a long list of those bands, and Starship is not the worst of the bunch. There is some suggestion Starship is being punished for a) selling out and b) singing a song against selling out. The band that changed it’s name three times, moans about corporation changing names and playing, “corporation games.” The left leaning readers of Rolling Stone can’t stand the hypocrisy, seems to be the argument, as if left wing readers of Rolling Stone have ever cared about hypocrisy before.

But the readers of Rolling Stone have spoken, and We Built This City is worse than Like A Virgin, Hungry Like a Wolf and In The Air Tonight. It says more about Rolling Stone readers than it does the songs, and what it says to me is, don’t read Rolling Stone.


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