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Mar 10

STARSHIP – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”

FT + Popular115 comments • 7,147 views

#590, 9th May 1987, video

Listening to this song you realise that at some point the idea that a rock record should sound like a bunch of people in the same place playing the same music at the same time was completely abandoned by record producers. Not in the name of experimentation, or expanding a record’s sound, but I guess just because that kind of verisimilitude didn’t seem relevant any more. In its way this even seems a more radical shift than genres like dub reggae or techno which were clearly studio constructs from the off.

This is a long way of saying that there’s something quite off about a song like “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”: built for a movie, it has the same oddly flat, perspective-warping quality as a studio set, like it only really exists in the context of the action, when it’s soundtracking something. That eerie dead space is created pretty much entirely by the echo on the percussion: I guess it could also be filled by crowds of people singing along, which is why arena rockers took to this kind of song.

Listened to alone there’s a discrepancy between the size and effort of the sound (colossal) and the emotional take-out from it (pea-sized) that tips me into laughter when Starship try and go up a gear leading into the guitar solo. Maybe if I’d put more hours in with Grace Slick’s earlier work I’d find it in me to despise Starship but for all its vacuous, leaden bigitude, deep in its tiny heart this is affable enough to be harmless.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    punctum on 9 Mar 2010 #

    Taken from the abysmal 1987 rom-com Mannequin, in which Andrew McCarthy builds a dummy which turns into Kim Cattrall (and a young, wary James Spader keeping his countenance in the background), “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” – not to be confused with Samantha Fox’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now,” which was in the top ten at the same time – is the archetypal slushy, bombastic AoR song suitable for such glossy sub-entertainment, composed by time-serving pros Diane Warren and Albert Hammond, and there would be little point in going any deeper into its shallow pond of artistry were it not for the immense sorrow of the knowledge of whom Starship once were.

    Perhaps the saddest moment of the whole song (and its video) is the point where Grace Slick enters with her Morticia Addams cackle of “Let ’em say we’re cra-ZAY!” and does that regrettable leer and finger-twirl at the camera. There are two ways of interpreting this; either Grace is signalling to us: “Hey, we know this is shit, but we need a hit, and y’know, underneath the gloss it’s still us!” or (the worse and likelier option) they are trying to shanghai us into thinking that nothing has changed, that this is the way Jefferson Airplane would eventually have flown in any case.

    Not surprisingly, you will search the archives of the British singles chart for “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love” in vain, and in truth the Airplane’s records – Surrealistic Pillow, After Bathing At Baxter’s and all the rest of them – never lived up to their reputedly titanic live reputation. The strangeness and stridency of the 1967 Grace Slick helped lay the path for the Siouxsie Siouxs and Kristin Hershes of subsequent decades; and I suppose it’s a comfort of sorts that twenty-one years after “Delicate Colours,” Hersh has not approached Warren for a singalong moneyspinner. But to see Slick, Kantner and Balin prostitute themselves so gladly on the Reaganite catwalk – “We Built This City” may have been a terrible record, but at least bore the ghost of rebellion with its “corporation games” – is like viewing reformed Communists being paraded at bayonet point before the cameras, forced to recant their past ideological “sins.” Thankfully, this is about as bad as 1987 number ones get.

    Or is it?

    (Postscript to the above: it would appear that Grace Slick had similar views and quit Starship not long after this record. Jefferson Airplane evolved gradually into stadium rock Jefferson Starship as the seventies wore on but so did Slick’s alcoholism; she eventually cleaned up for the eighties which may explain her subsequent, as it were, slickness.)

    (PPS: Mannequin may or may not be based on Jonathan King’s novel Bible 2.)

  2. 32
    thefatgit on 9 Mar 2010 #

    I thought Mannequin was some sort of dumbed down pre-feminist take on Pygmalion.

  3. 33
    LondonLee on 9 Mar 2010 #

    Not quite as offensive as I remember it but that’s probably the distance of time and me getting more mellow in my opinions in my dotage. The tune is actually OK but it’s sunk by the Mr. Sheen production and bombastic cigarette-lighter waving quality of the chorus.

    I haven’t looked ahead to see what’s coming up in the charts (I like the surprise) but is this the end of the 80s? It does sound like the nadir of that sound to me.

  4. 34
    Erithian on 9 Mar 2010 #

    The outstanding feature of this song is Grace Slick’s vocal. On the likes of “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”, she elevates a couple of fine rock songs into some of the most compelling music of the era; here, she elevates something pretty mediocre into something rather more passable, but as the consensus on here goes, it does sound like she’s wasted on it. But it’s one of the songs and the movies that the late 80s are remembered for, albeit by people mainly younger than me!! – and if these survivors of a golden era of US rock became corporate, I guess it’s a fate very few have escaped.

    Funnily enough I don’t remember Mannequin being such a big hit as a film as to warrant the spinoff single being at number one for a month, but there you go. I’ve seen it a couple of times and will always spend an undemanding hour or two watching it if it turns up on TV – though not for the plot, the writing or the borderline-offensive gay stereotype. Let’s just say that what Agnetha Faltskog was to the 70s, Kim Cattrall was to the 80s. And judging by her recent “Who Do You Think You Are?”, what a charming and warm personality to go with it. (drifts off into reverie…)

  5. 35
    pink champale on 9 Mar 2010 #

    what an awful record, though at least it’s not quite as bad as the ear bashing, vom inducing ‘we built this city’. starship has got to be pop’s worst ever comeback hasn’t it? presumably what they had in mind was something like the tasteful eighties-isation fleetwood mac were doing at about the same time, or even leonard cohen’s extraordinary ‘i’m your man’ reinvention, but it really, really, doesn’t come across like that – even to someone who doesn’t like JAs sixties stuff all *that* much this is the sound of dignity going for a low price.

    they showed that extraordinarily tense and depressing film of altamont on bbc4 recently (“gimme shelter”, I think), featuring the early JA bravely trying to stand up against hells angels invading their stage and getting smacked in the face for their troubles. i won’t make the obvious gag, but it barely seems credible that they were the same bunch of people as this crowd of poodled imbeciles.

  6. 36
    wichita lineman on 9 Mar 2010 #

    Punctum – I suggest that ‘Let ’em say we’re crayzeh’ is the ONLY worthwhile moment of NGSUN, ie memorable, silly,, and worth using as a punchline every so often.

  7. 37
    MikeMCSG on 9 Mar 2010 #

    #31 To answer your rhetorical question Punctum there is one worse coming up and British to boot. Think Grace Slick’s daughter.

  8. 38
    will on 9 Mar 2010 #

    Yet another mid 80s monstrosity to go in the ‘I can laugh about it now but at the time it was terrible’ file.

    But yes, the ‘Lettum say we’re crayzeh!’ bit is fantastic though, isn’t it?

    By the way, was this Starship’s last hit? I don’t recall them troubling the Top 40 again.

  9. 39
    Matthew H on 9 Mar 2010 #

    Back then, with taste filters way out of whack (or more honest? Nah, way out of whack), I sort of liked We Built This City. The shrillness, the almost robotic voices and the synthy sheen appealed. Can’t have liked it enormously, otherwise I’d have bought it along with most of the other records in any given Top 40, but I’d give it a listen.

    This, however, was always a trudgy lump.

  10. 40
    swanstep on 9 Mar 2010 #

    but is this the end of the 80s?

    There’s a bunnyable Belinda Carlisle track coming up in Jan 1988 that’s essentially just this record again. And, at least if you were in the US there was all manner of stuff from ‘Waiting for a star to fall’ to all of Def Leppard’s hysteria hits coming right up over the next year or two. So, no. No end in sight!

    Thought about small differences (perhaps unfairly) making a big difference: Heart’s hair-pop 80’s hits such as Alone, These dreams, and even What about love? (w/ members of starship doing back vox I believe) are pretty acceptable guilty pleasures by comparison to NGSU and WBTC. I’m not sure I can really defend my different responses: slightly better arrangements? Ann Wilson’s voice just slightly more human (while retaining paint-stripping power)? But I suspect that my basic reactions are typical.

  11. 41
    Elsa on 10 Mar 2010 #

    Sorry to harp on this, but “mambo” is hot latin music, whereas a “mamba” is a poisonous snake. It’s hard to believe a professional songwriter of many years experience made that mistake or that a professional singer with similar experience plus a stylish perm could’ve stumbled like that.

  12. 42
    anto on 10 Mar 2010 #

    Agree with Punctum about both film and song.
    Mannequin is indeed desperate in spite of having a guest appearance from the wonderful Estelle Getty.
    The song is boring. We seem to be in a phase where the production of number one hits is either glistening and appealingly superficial or just utter schlock such as this.

  13. 43
    Elsa on 10 Mar 2010 #

    As for the Airplane’s career, it’s amazing to me how errant their commercial instincts were. After scoring two huge hits featuring the soaring & distinctive vocals of Grace Slick how do they follow it up? With the shouty group vocal of “The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil.” And then? With the single “Watch Her Ride” featuring PAUL KANTNER on lead vocal. Oh, and they had another great singer in the group called Marty Balin – where was he at this time? I wonder if this has anything to do with the hippie ethos the group were supposed to represent… it’s almost like they were making some kind of anti-capitalist statement.

  14. 44
    logged out Tracer Hand on 10 Mar 2010 #

    “If the world runs out of lovers, we’ll still have each other” is a pretty grim sentiment in a certain light.

  15. 45
    Patrick on 10 Mar 2010 #

    Grace Slick was the only Surrealistic Pillow-era member left by the time they did NGSUN (Paul Kantner lasted until 1984).

    Their last hit was the ghastly “It’s Not Enough” (US #12 in 1989). The follow-up to NGSUN was the # 9 “It’s Not Over (til it’s Over)”, which was voted worst single of the year in Rolling Stone.

  16. 46
    MikeMCSG on 10 Mar 2010 #

    #44 The back story behind the song actually makes it a little (just)more appealing. Albert Hammond’s ex-wife had been obstructing their divorce for a number of years and he and Warren wrote it to celebrate finally being able to marry.

  17. 47
    Billy Smart on 10 Mar 2010 #

    “Not surprisingly, you will search the archives of the British singles chart for “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love” in vain” – Not quite! Such was the extent to which Starshipmania was sweeping the UK in 1987, that a rerelease of White Rabbit managed one week at number 94 that summer.

  18. 48
    MikeMCSG on 10 Mar 2010 #

    #47 As you probably already know Billy the “Bubbling Under” or “Next 25” sections have never officially counted as hits because from 75 downwards the chart was tweaked to exclude records going down and favour new entries. Almost certainly WR was not the 94th best seller that week. And it wasn’t Starshipmania that put it there but its featuring in the film “Platoon”.

  19. 49
    Jimmy the Swede on 10 Mar 2010 #

    This was grim cheese coming courtesy of an old gal who should have stayed home with her bunny, white, spoiler or whatever else. It’s rather akin to Tina Charles coming back and trying to groove today. Just wrong.

  20. 50
    Rory on 10 Mar 2010 #

    @49: Kate Bush was 47 when she released Aerial to great acclaim. I know the comparison with NGSUN doesn’t do Starship and Slick any favours, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with making music at that age.

  21. 51
    punctum on 10 Mar 2010 #

    #49: Please avoid casual misogyny, Jimmy.

  22. 52
    thefatgit on 10 Mar 2010 #

    Purely for the puropses of statistics, we have a bunnyable candidate for the oldest female to reach the top spot. Think post-punk wank fantasy.

  23. 53
    Billy Smart on 10 Mar 2010 #

    B-b-but we’ve already done Lieutenant Pigeon!

  24. 54
    thefatgit on 10 Mar 2010 #

    *Shakes fist* Curse you Hilda Woodward!

    Of course I meant female vocalist, Billy.

  25. 55
    Alan Connor on 10 Mar 2010 #

    Here’s something to cheer you up while you try and listen to NGSUN. My friend’s mum bought two copies: one to send to her partner (a liberation theology preacher in South America) and another one to get put onto tape (she had no record player). I take it everyone has listened to the superior cover We Built This Starbucks?

  26. 56
    Billy Smart on 10 Mar 2010 #

    There’s also Half Man Half Biscuit’s superior ‘We Built This City On A Trad. Arr. Tune’, of course.

  27. 57
    LondonLee on 10 Mar 2010 #

    Think post-punk wank fantasy

    Pauline Murray had a #1 hit I didn’t know about???

  28. 58
    Tom on 10 Mar 2010 #

    Enough of this grubbiness! To get back to the music, can anyone confirm/deny that After Bathing At Baxter’s is rubbish? I’m sure I’ve read “neglected classic” takes on it – though you can find neglected classic takes on anything if you look hard enough…

  29. 59
    Pete on 10 Mar 2010 #

    All I have to say is it comes from Knee Deep In The Hoopla and album which I believe manages worst album title / worst cover with ease:

    http://freakytrigger.co.uk/wedge/2004/07/a-disappointing-selection-of-album-covers-purporting-to-be-the-worst-ten-ever-made/

  30. 60
    Conrad on 10 Mar 2010 #

    Tom, After Bathing At Baxters is categorically not rubbish.

    In fact, it is the only album I have heard that truly crystallizes what I see as the ultimate haight-ashbury sound of west coast musicians jamming together and creating a psychedelic other worldliness. It is not as cliched ‘out there’ or as boring as a Grateful Dead record. It is far more inventive than the basic blues with a twist of Moby Grape.

    It is not keen but amateurish, like Big Brother and the Holding Company. And it is not a beautiful and luxuriant listening experience like Forever Changes.

    It is the sound of great musicians really trying to get to somewhere new and different. Do they make it? Sometimes. It’s hit and miss. It’s edgy, ambitious (one song attempts to precis Ulysses) sometimes – when everything comes together – quite brilliant. Don’t go looking for another White Rabbit or STL (neither were really airplane tunes anyway – Slick brought them with her from Great Society).

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