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Music / Starship

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Starship, circa 1987. From left to right: Grace Slick, Donny Baldwin, Mickey Thomas and Craig Chaquico.
"We built this city!
We built this city on rock and roll!
Built this city!
We built this city on rock and rooo-oolllll!"
—"We Built This City"

Starship is an American pop-rock band formed in 1984. It is the legal and Spiritual Successor to Jefferson Starship, which itself is a Spiritual Successor to Jefferson Airplane. Starship was formed directly after the dissolution of Jefferson Starship, caused by the departure of Paul Kantner (a founding member of both the aforementioned groups); subsequent legal action by Kantner led the remaining members to remove the "Jefferson" moniker, thus rechristening themselves "Starship". Presumably to prevent the acrimonious inter-band conflicts that had befallen (and ultimately obliterated) its predecessor, Starship shifted from playing primarily group-written work to externally-sourced material; only a single track on their debut album Knee Deep in the Hoopla was contributed by any members. Through this shift, the ensemble-based structure of Starship's two predecessors faded, leaving the group's output more firmly centered on the performances of its two lead vocalists (with Mickey Thomas noticeably the more prominent of the two).

Starship released three albums of pop rock (in alternating shades of Arena Rock and adult contemporary) in the mid to late 1980s and had three number-one singles with the synth-laden songs "We Built This City", "Sara" and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now", the latter of which was famously used in the film Mannequin, granting them substantial commercial success despite their low critical reputation. However, this band turned out to have less staying power than its two predecessors. Longtime Jefferson Starship member David Freiberg left during the making of their first album (Knee Deep In The Hoopla, 1985) after discovering that his keyboard parts had been unknowingly delegated to session musicians, Pete Sears, after realising what the hell he was doing there (literally) left in 1987 (although he would later perform regularly with the Jefferson Airplane successor band Hot Tuna), and Grace Slick, the group's sole remaining link to Jefferson Airplane, left the following year after being increasingly sidelined on the group's second album, No Protection and, ultimately, becoming unavoidably jaded with the group's perceived creative sterility. With Mickey Thomas as the sole remaining lead singer, they released a single further album, the Def Leppard-reminiscent Love Among the Cannibals, before two notable disruptions impaired the group's progress further: on the 1989 tour, Donny Baldwin was sacked after assaulting Thomas to the point where Thomas had to have facial reconstruction surgery and plates implanted into his skull, while longtime guitarist Craig Chaquico (the final remaining founding member of Jefferson Starship) departed in 1990, completing the group's transformation into an effective solo vehicle for Thomas. The band subsequently disintegrated, releasing two additional singles on a greatest hits compilation before manager Bill Thompson (formerly of both the Airplane and Jefferson Starship) fired the remaining members in 1991 owing to plummeting sales. With Starship's final unceremonious breakup, the main evolutionary line of the Jeffersons concluded, having persisted over an impressive 26-year period spanning from the heyday of The Byrds and Bob Dylan to the dawn of the grunge era.

However, around the same time Paul Kantner reformed Jefferson Starship, Mickey Thomas chose to reform Starship. Briefly known as Mickey Thomas's Starship, they quickly settled on Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas, a clear indication of Thomas being the band. With a revolving-door line-up, the reincarnated Starship continues to tour today. Guitarist Mark Abrahamian tragically died of a heart attack after a concert in 2012, and Starship released their first album in over 20 years with Loveless Fascination the following year, to extremely positive reviews.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold, current members in italic):

  • Mark Abrahamian - guitar (2000-2012, died 2012)
  • Jeff Adams - bass, vocals (2000-Present)
  • Donny Baldwin - drums, vocals (1984-1989)
  • Phil Bennett - keyboard, vocals (1995-Present)
  • Brett Bloomfield - bass, vocals (1988-1990, 1993-1996)
  • Stephanie Calvert - backing and lead vocals (2006-Present)
  • Craig Chaquico - guitar (1984-1990)
  • David Freiberg - keyboard, synthesizer, bass, vocals (1984-1985)
  • John Garnache - bass, vocals (1996-2000)
  • Max Hasket - trumpet, vocals (1992-1993)
  • Melisa Kary - backing and lead vocals (1992-2000)
  • T. Moran - drums (1992-1995)
  • Mark Morgan - keyboard (1988-1990)
  • John Roth - guitar, vocals (2012-Present)
  • John Sandersis - keyboard, saxophone (1992-1995)
  • Christina Marie Saxton - backing and lead vocals (1996-2006)
  • Pete Sears - bass, keyboard (1984-1987)
  • Bill Slais - saxophone, keyboard (1993-1995)
  • Grace Slick - lead vocals, keyboard (1984-1988), (1966–1972, 1989)
  • Jeff Talamaire - guitar (1992-1997)
  • Mickey Thomas - lead vocals (1984-1990, 1992-Present)
  • Erik Torjesen - guitar, vocals (1997-2000)
  • Bobby Vega - bass (1992-1993)
  • Darrell Verdusco - drums, vocals (1995-Present)

Studio Discography:

  • 1985 - Knee Deep In The Hoopla
  • 1987 - No Protection
  • 1989 - Love Among The Cannibals
  • 2013 - Loveless Fascination

"We built this wiki! / We built this wiki on rock and roll!!":

  • The '80s: Starship became pretty much the poster band for the so-called "corporate rock" movement mid-decade, an ironic fate for a group distantly descended from one of the most counterculture-aligned and politically-oriented groups of The '60s (or any group helmed by Paul Kantner, for that matter).
  • Album Title Drop: Knee Deep In The Hoopla in "We Built This City."
  • Arena Rock: The predominant style for the group, albeit in a more synthpop and adult contemporary-adjacent form than Jefferson Starship's generally harder-rocking output earlier in the decade.
  • Broken Aesop:
    • One of the main criticisms of "We Built This City" is that the song goes against its message about how corporate greed and slickly produced music is ruining radio by being the exact thing its preaching against. This isn't helped by two additional factors:
      • The first problem comes with the music video, itself slickly produced with some prominent VFX shots such as the giant dice rolling down the city streets or the Miniature Effects that pop up sporadically throughout.
      • The second being that it was partially resung by completely different singers, provided by then-jingle juggernaut JAM Creative Productions, to incorporate station taglines between the opening lines and the first verse. Making the song sound even more commercial than it would have been otherwise. A few station PDs would admit after the fact that it was impossible to tell the two groups apart, simultaneously praising the job of the jingle singers while also criticizing the song and Starship themselves.
    • Grace Slick herself derided the message of "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" (in which romance is depicted as unequivocal and permanent) in an interview for the book Got a Revolution, noting "I know goddamn well how fast a relationship can come apart"; this may have contributed to her departure shortly afterwards.
  • City Shout Outs: "We Built This City" had a version recorded without the San Francisco-themed DJ pattern, so that local DJs could insert their own shoutouts.
  • Couch Gag: Two in "We Built This City":
    • The bridge between the second stanza and final reprise of the chorus features a different radio DJ depending on which station played the song back in the day (The version as done by MTV's Les Garland is the one heard in the studio recording).
    • On top of that, many of those stations would also hire some singers (the same ones responsible for the jingles and music on American Top 40 at the time, JAM Creative Productions; who in turn were assisted by the band's label, RCA Records), to record a tagline between the opening lines and the first verse.
  • Lighter and Softer: Relative even to Jefferson Starship, Starship's lyrics tend to be vehemently apolitical (a number of tracks offered by longtime Jefferson Starship member Pete Sears were thereby actively rejected for their political commentary), almost invariably centering on romantic love with a quasi-idealistic worldview. Bizarrely, "We Built This City", while often reviled as naïve and insincere by both music critics and fans of the group's predecessors, serves as an exception to this trend.
  • Questioning Title?: "How Do You Sleep?", "What Did I Ever Do?", "Where Did We Go Wrong?", and "How Will I Get By?" from Loveless Fascination.
  • Revolving Door Band: Note that, unlike the revived Jefferson Starship, none of Starship's other founding members have featured (presumably due to long-standing interpersonal conflicts) in the group's current incarnation, further solidifying its status as this.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • David Freiberg quit Starship not long after it was formed. He lasted long enough to be around for the first sessions of Knee Deep In The Hoopla, but found himself replaced in the studio by session musicians.
    • Pete Sears quit Starship after Knee Deep In The Hoopla when during a performance of "Sara" he realized just how much they had sold out and wondered what the hell he was still doing with them.
    • Grace Slick quit Starship after No Protection (in which she featured prominently on less than half of the album's eleven tracks) due to both conflicts with Thomas' mounting egomania and recognition of her apathy towards the group's output. She would rejoin the reformed Jefferson Airplane a year later - only to quit them after one tour when she decided she was getting too old for this.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "We Built This City" features DJ Les Garland providing the voice-over during the song's bridge. There were also localized variants featuring DJs of other radio stations during its original radio broadcasts.
  • What Have I Become?: Both Sears and Slick felt Starship had sold out, straying too far from Jefferson Airplane's folk/psychedelic rock roots.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "We Built This City" uses mostly nonsense lyrics (like "someone's always playing corporation games"), which is a contributing factor in critics slamming the song as "the worst rock song ever".