Starship’s signature hit, “We Built This City,” is a silver lining with a bit of black cloud.
The song was a No. 1 smash in 1985, the biggest hit in the career of a group that began as the Jefferson Airplane 43 years ago in San Francisco. But it’s never been a critical favorite and once topped a VH1 poll of the worst songs in rock ’n’ roll.
“I think there were two big problems with it,” says singer Mickey Thomas, 58, who joined the Jefferson Starship in 1979 and has captained Starship himself since 1988. “I think some people assumed we were coming from an egotistical point of view that we, the Starship, built this city, San Francisco. It was never meant to be about that at all.
“And most people never get passed the chorus, that big, anthemic kind of singalong. The lyrics in the verses (written by Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin) are pretty interesting, much darker than people realize.”
Nevertheless, “We Built This City” has allowed Thomas to keep Starship active and on the road, even with Paul Kantner, who co-founded Jefferson Airplane, leading his own Jefferson Starship aggregate on periodic tours. Thomas acknowledges that having the two bands out there causes “a little confusion” for fans but says he tries to make sure people know which group is his.
“I try to attach my name to it so there’s no confusion about who’s in the band,” explains Thomas, who sang on Elvin Bishop’s hit “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” before joining the Starship crew. “If I say ‘featuring Mickey Thomas,’ it’s reasonable for people to assume we don’t have a Paul Kantner or (original singer) Marty Balin along. I never want to mislead anybody.”
Starship featuring Mickey Thomas performs at 8 p.m. Friday (July 18) at the General Motors Rockin’ on the Riverfront concert behind the GM Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. Admission is free. Call (313) 567-3126 or visit www.gmrencen.com.
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