42 Years Ago: Jefferson Airplane Barred From Playing Free Hometown Concert
On May 23, 1973, ’60s flower-power icons 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 the band, 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.”
But the group would have its revenge, even though it ended up serving it cold, more than a decade after the incident. By then, the city officials responsible for barring the show were long gone.
In the decade since the incident, the pioneering psych-rockers had gone 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 1984, the latest incarnation of the group was reinventing itself once again, this time as simply Starship, who released Knee Deep in the Hoopla the following year. Leading the charge was a rather gimmicky and unaccountably saccharine, but undeniably catchy, single called “We Built This City,” which used the words they had been told 12 years earlier to express their deep connection to San Francisco. It 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 in publications like Rolling Stone and Blender. But the song (still a radio staple) received a 1986 Grammy nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group and extended the band’s career until the end of the decade.
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