This week I was reminded of the anniversary of a presumed low point in music history, the ascension of ‘We Built This City’ by Starship to the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on November 16, 1985. More famously, surely, was a ranking of a different kind issued by Blender Magazine in 2003: ‘We Built This City’ appeared atop their list of the 50 Worst Songs Ever. Numero uno. Crowned as the absolute worst song of all time.
Those ever in the habit of discussing music are accustomed to hearing of this oft-cited “achievement,” and overwhelmingly seem to accept it with an appropriate level of ridicule and without much further discussion. And on the surface, why not? It is indeed a fairly execrable excuse for a tune, an obnoxious synth-pop triviality put out by the third and final iteration of the once-weighty Jefferson Airplane, and appreciably mutilated by Blender as “Purporting to be anti-commercial but reeking of ‘80’s corporate-rock commercialism,” before concluding “It’s a real reflection of what practically killed rock music in the ‘80’s.”
Okay sure. But here’s where I come in with a couple of related questions and thoughts. Let’s break it down. First, as far as the source, what the hell is Blender Magazine?! I’ve had this odd item of rock lore tossed at me scores of times. As gospel. But I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard anything else from or about Blender. I mean, it’s not like it’s the world-renowned media pillar you’re enjoying now (I kid, I kid). So I took a look, and here’s the deal: Blender existed as a magazine beginning in 1994 and ceasing operations in 2009, billing itself as “the ultimate guide to music and more” but apparently becoming far better known for steamy pictorials of pop pin-ups – its sister publication under Alpha Media Group was Maxim. Think trashy, tarted-up covers of late ‘90’s Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Courtney Love, and Tila Tequila and you’ll get the idea. This? This is supposed to be the authoritative voice on popular songs, and the all-important question of which one stinks the most?
A subsequent lengthy re-examination in 2016 by GQ, surely everyone’s next call for music criticism, cited the long-held Blender placement as “thickening into something close to empirical fact.” Men’s fashion, gents, maybe stick to that.
More importantly, and more to the point here, is this: Yeah it’s bad, but hold on – there have been way worse songs than ‘We Built This City’! What, was Blender knee deep in the hoopla or something? (gratuitous ‘We Built This City’ lyrical reference). Come on! It’s got a half-decent beat, some driving bass, the majestic Grace Slick gets a whole verse, there’s a couple of mod guitar interludes…it’s just not in the ultra-putrid echelon of the most heinous stains on recorded music history potentially warranting the “worst ever” label. Not even close.
Now, to do any further exploration of this obviously compelling subject, like any such analysis, an assessment would first logically need to be made establishing certain ground rules, definitions and qualifications. And, readers familiar with the numerous prior SMGM Top Ten Lists will know that those preambles can typically be quite elaborate. So let’s keep this one pretty straightforward by simply saying that for worst consideration a song would merely have had to have been part of what’s generally accepted as the popular music genre. Not a novelty song or outtake, but appearing at some time, for instance, on a pop music chart. General enough, I hope.
Blender’s infamous list, for reference, also included such admitted affronts as the tepid ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ and slushy ‘Ice Ice Baby,’ Celine Dion’s titanically regrettable ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ by Miley’s mullet-ed dad Billy Ray Cyrus, and Chicago’s thoroughly uninspiring ‘You’re The Inspiration.’ Truly awful songs, all. Yet, rather insanely, it also named ‘Shiny Happy People,’ ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,’ ‘Two Princes’ by the Spin Doctors, the goddamn catchy theme from Friends ‘I’ll Be There For You,’ and, for crissake, Simon & Garfunkel‘s masterpiece ‘The Sounds of Silence.’ Worst songs ever? Um, get the fuck outta here, Blender.
For a ‘70’s Playlist series compiled a few years ago my friend and fellow music maven Dave put together some of his favorite examples of broadly popular songs that almost defy explanation (entitling it “What In God’s Name Were We Thinking?”) which presented such ludicrous luminaries as ‘Seasons in the Sun,’ ‘Muskrat Love,’ ‘Afternoon Delight,’ ‘You Light Up My Life,’ and ‘I’d Really Like To See You Tonight’ by England Dan & John Ford Coley. Even their name was terrible. To my way of thinking, these are hitting much closer to the desired undesirable mark.
My friend Messiah, outside of So Much Great Music likely the world’s top music authority, always hastens to add his two top choices for bottom of the barrel: ‘Mr. Roboto’ by Styx and ‘Bicycle Race’ by Queen. Somewhat less obvious, but most definitely terrible. Tough to beat.
For my money, though, this is all a race for second place. Nothing, and I mean nothing, has ever been as objectionably, abhorrently, revoltingly bad as ‘Sometimes When We Touch,’ the vomit on vinyl produced in 1977 by Canadian songwriter, make that songwrecker, Dan Hill. In March of 1978 this abomination actually peaked at #3 on the Billboard charts. You read that right (what in god’s name indeed, Dave). Hill reportedly wrote this aural atrocity in an attempt to convince the woman he was seeing to be his exclusive girlfriend; at the time, she was also dating two other men. After completing it Hill sang the song for the woman, who promptly decided to move to the United States with yet another man. Ouch. I guess there’s no getting around it: the honesty really was too much.
Ladies and gentlemen, and music observers of all notes, the catastrophic ‘Sometimes When We Touch’ has got to be the rightful holder of the Worst Song of All Time championship belt. Not ‘We Built This City’ nor any other possibly worthy contenders of lousiness. It’s really just in a repulsive, nauseating league all its own. Go ahead, listen to it now, my brave friends. In fact, we’ll do it together. Let’s hold our collective noses and fully take it in, experience it in all its horrid glory, until, well…‘til we both break down and cry.