Why Jefferson Airplane Were Once Barred From Playing a Free Show
On May 23, 1973, Jefferson Airplane were denied permission to perform a free concert in their hometown of San Francisco. The city had passed a resolution banning amplified instruments in Golden Gate Park, the location of the show. According to Legacy Recordings, the group was told, "As you know, we built this city on orchestral music."
The slight cut much deeper than your average bummer in the summer; it was a huge insult to Jefferson Airplane, which had been instrumental in making the city by the Bay an integral part of the counterculture, thanks to hit songs like "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love."
The group eventually exacted their revenge, even though it ended up serving it cold – more than a decade after the incident.
In the years that followed, the pioneering psych-rockers went through some mutations, changing their name to Jefferson Starship and releasing some very spotty records. Meanwhile, various members became entangled in personal soap operas that rivaled Fleetwood Mac's.
By the time Knee Deep in the Hoopla arrived in 1985, the latest incarnation of the group – now simply called Starship – had reinvented itself once again. Leading the charge was a rather gimmicky and unaccountably saccharine, but undeniably catchy single which used the words they had been told 12 years earlier to express a deep connection to San Francisco.
Except "We Built This City" switched out "orchestral music" for "rock 'n' roll." The song stormed radio playlists nationwide, reaching the very top of the charts, with some help from MTV. (A key executive at the network had conveniently provided the song's DJ voice-over.)
Since its chart-topping reign, "We Built This City" has consistently landed on worst-of lists. But the song received a 1986 Grammy nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group, and remains a radio staple. That extended Starship's career until the end of the decade – though, of course, the city officials responsible for halting that San Francisco show were long gone by then.