Recently, the Internet was all abuzz when someone determined the exact day described in Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day.” Nobody was happier to hear this than me. Hopefully, it will bring more attention to my ongoing quest to figure out exactly what town Starship referred to in its chart-busting 1985 hit “We Built This City.”
This question has plagued me ever since I was a young boy. I can still remember how revolutionary it sounded, blaring through the PA system of a Zayre’s discount store in Suffern, NY. My curiosity has not been deterred by all the people who have told me they couldn’t care less, or the countless cease-and-desist letters I’ve received from Starship’s legal team. I swore I would solve this mystery, and when I resolve to do something, I nearly always see it through to the end or thereabouts.
The facile explanation is to say that the song refers to San Francisco, since it contains references like “city by the bay” and “the Golden Gate Bridge,” and because that city was the point of origin for the initial group that spawned Starship (a band whose name escapes me at the moment). This conclusion ignores the lyrics’ playful obfuscations, and also the fact that it was actually written in part by two Englishmen and a German. Why would Bernie Taupin or Peter Wolf write about California when they could just as easily write about London, or some city in Germany? The San Francisco references are clearly red herrings. Use your heads, people.
After nine years of study, research, meditation, and restraining orders, these are the conclusions I’ve drawn based on the lyrical evidence.
Say you don’t know me, or recognize my face
Say you don’t care who goes to that kind of place
This allows us to eliminate Boston, where everybody knows your name.
Knee deep in the hoopla, sinking in your fight
Too many runaways eating up the night
Possible hat tip to Des Moines and its Hoopla-ville ‘83 celebration. No eating up of the night occurred there, as far as my research shows, but there were several pie-eating contests.
Marconi plays the mambo, Listen to the radio
Don’t you remember?
We built this city, We built this city on rock and roll!
Marconi is obviously a nod to Starship’s favorite kind of pasta, but the issue is confused by the mention of mambo. Could this be an allusion to mob influence in pre-Castro Havana? I have not eliminated the possibility that this is might be a tribute to Italian-American Mambo Kings star Armand Assante, even though the film had not yet been made when the song was written and Assante refuses to respond to my postcards.
Someone always playing corporation games
Who cares they’re always changing corporation names
The 1983 Corporate Challenge Games were held in Baton Rouge. Wang Computers racked up a record 15 medals, taking top honors in the sack relay and three-legged race events.
We just want to dance here, someone stole the stage
They call us irresponsible, write us off the page
This could be a reference to a Journey concert in Minneapolis in 1982, which was canceled when thieves made off with the Metrodome. It was later found in a Kroger’s parking lot and returned to its original site.
Who counts the money underneath the bar
Who rides the wrecking ball into our guitars
Invocation of Boise’s annual Great American Guitar Crush, the longest running musical instrument destroying festival in the country.
Don’t tell us you need us, ’cause we’re just simple fools
Looking for America, coming through your schools
This has been the hardest part of the song for me to parse out, because my research shows that at least 10 major American cities have schools.
It’s your favorite radio station, in your favorite radio city,
The City by the Bay, the city that rocks, the city that never sleeps
These are, of course, individual shout outs to Oakland, St. Louis, and Seattle.
As you can see, the evidence is all over the map. The picture starts to become clearer when we do an acrostic of each verse: SSKMDWSWWTWWDLIT. A reference to Battle Creek, Michigan, right? Yes, unless it’s meant to invoke the exact opposite of Battle Creek, which as we all know is Tuscaloosa. Obviously.
The answer is nearly within my grasp, and it should only take me several more years to find it, provided my $75,000 NEH grant application comes through.