In 1971 Don McClean sang about the day the music died. He coined the phrase in reference to February 3, 1959, when three Rock and Roll musicians (Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson) died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Ia. I don’t remember. I was in Kindergarten.
The first time the music died for me was October of 1970. A lifestyle of drugs and booze took 27 year old Janis Joplin. She was a vocal phenomenon and could belt out the blues with the best of ’em. I wept that day.
Musically, life moved along at a break neck pace and over the next decade we heard rock and roll genius unfold before us. Look back to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, The Eagles’ Hotel California, and Springsteen’s Born to Run. Raise your hand if you can remember rolling down the highway, windows down, singing at the top of your lungs — “The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive…” I don’t know about you but that memory slapped a smile on my face a city block wide.
Fast forward to the mid-eighties. It was a time of big hair, baggy pants, the mullet and shoulder pads. God save us. We lost John Lennon, Bob Marley, and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. Frankly, as a decade, the eighties pretty well sucked for me, but the music had it’s moments. Michael Jackson’s Thriller was a juggernaut that wouldn’t die and newcomers Duran Duran, Joan Jett, and The Beastie Boys were redefining music. And then this disaster.
In August of 1985 the remnants of Jefferson Starship reformed as simply Starship and gave us We Built This City, arguably the worst rock and roll song of all time. Forget for a moment that this little diddy was penned by the lyrical genius behind Elton John, Bernie Taupin. Set aside the fact that WBTC topped the Billboard Hot 100 Singles for the week of November 16, 1985. Ignore Blender Magazine, who 20 years later pronounced WBTC as the “#1 Worst Song Ever.” Now, I don’t know about worst song ever. Toni Basil’s Mickey comes immediately to mind.
To me, this is the last day the music died, when one of the great counter-culture bands of San Francisco, The Jefferson Airplane, sold out to “The Man.” They went from Volunteers of America at Woodstock, to this stylized electronic pop crap. And, adding insult to injury, to see Grace Slick all decked out in Madonna clothes was more than I could take. For pete’s sake, she was wearing shoulder pads — I repeat… Shoulder pads! It’s like the whole counter-culture went to the mall and shopped at The Gap.
If you know Jefferson Starship’s debut album, Blows Against the Empire, you can comprehend the scope of this tragedy. If you don’t, liken it to a day when Muhammad Ali takes up knitting or Richard Petty drives a Volkswagen at Daytona, or Obama plays a round of golf with Glenn Beck. Say it ain’t so!
Grace Slick went from Bell Bottoms to Parachute Pants. Go ask Alice — She’s at the mall.