HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS
Now, name alone isn’t what gives Huey his rock ‘n’ roll street cred, heavens no. Huey’s also packing the News. What’s the News? Huey’s minions are the News. Doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, it’s the fuckin’ News jack. And the News is made up of musicians who are all probably better than most of the stuff that gets plugged in Flash Metal Suicide kingdom. Honestly, when was the last time you heard anyone cover a Huey Lewis and the News song? Believe me, I’ve tried. I’m into cheese, no matter the flavor. And whether or not it’s Raven, Ratt or Huey Lewis, they just don’t write ’em like that anymore.
There’s too much going on to cover a News track. You would need six guys, all of which who could sing their asses off and play a variety of instruments. No one sounds like Huey Lewis and the News except for Huey Lewis and the News. The classic lineup consisted of Huey on harmonica and vocals, Johnny Colla on sax, guitar and backup vocals (which I’ll elaborate more on later), Bill Gibson on drums and backup vox, Chris Hayes on guitar and backups, Sean Hopper on keyboards and backups, and the greased-up bassist that looked like a cross between Emilo Estivez and Patrick Swayze in “The Outsiders,” Mario Cipollina. The News was, and still is as tight a band I’ve ever seen (Yes, I’ve seen the spectacle live). It sounds like six different bands at once, but somehow behind the signature Huey vocal stitches together like some sort of Member’s Only jacket with rhythm.
Perhaps the ballsiest moves of all are the names Huey gives his albums. “Fore!,” and “Hard at Play” come to mind. But the album I’m going to focus on for this here piece is the one and only “Sports.” “Sports?” How in Christ’s name did they think up “Sports” as an album title? That would be like calling your album (insert random noun here) and totally sticking it to the world by going multi-platinum with it. It’s exactly what Huey did. All this in the same decade that brought us Bananarama, Flock of Seagulls, Billy Ocean (who’s song “Loverboy” is boss, by the way), Debbie Gibson, Spandau Ballet … the list goes on. Simply put, Huey could call his album whatever the hell he wanted because even though he had numerous No. 1’s on the Billboard charts, he was unlike anything or anyone at that time or even now, and he’ll forever earn respect from musicians and MILF’s alike for actually playing instruments (sans a drum machine or two in the studio) and putting on one hell of a live rock show.
Let’s delve in, shall we? Opening this 80s pop rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece is perhaps Huey’s most famous and recognizable tune of all time, “Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
“The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll is still beating, in Cleveland.”
I’m from just south of Cleveland so I don’t know that I agree with that. But what Huey says is the fuckin’ News, so who am I to argue?
This song is just plain sick. It’s a drum machine and a bass line, with accented guitar, saxophone, keyboards and harmonica. There’s no main riff line here. Huey’s vocal carries it. For all you rock bands out there. Try to play this song. I dare you. It’ll blow your mind. There’s rock, rhythm and blues, jazz and pop all going on at the same time. How does it work? I don’t know, but it does for the News and it’s a damn swinging rocker if I ever heard one.
“At two o’ clock this morning, if she should come a calling, I wouldn’t dream of turning her away.”
“Heart and Soul” was Huey’s first big hit, although the Hue and co. didn’t pen it. It was written by Mike Champman and Nicky Chinn, whose resume included Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Mud and Smokie. What starts off as a cheesy keyboard line, turns into Flash Metal riffdom. Listen when the guitar kicks in. Again the main base of the song is drums, keyboards, bass and Huey. When Hayes does come in on guitar, he doesn’t fuck around – just hits a thunderous A to D chord progression that knocks you into next week.
“Went uptown to see my cousin, play his guitar sound like a chainsaw buzzin,’ in the crowd I see his mom and dad, I say hey, hey uncle, man your son is bad. Cool is the rule, but sometimes bad is bad.”
Huey’s the shit, and he knows it. If you suck, he’ll tell you. If your stew sucks, he ain’t eating it. And if you, dare I say it, cheat on the Hue, he will thwart you in this song.
“I want a new drug, one that won’t go away, one that won’t keep me up all night, one that won’t make me sleep all day.”
I’m sure Huey got his fair share of tail in the day. Hell, still probably does. Clearly an ode to sex, “I Want a New Drug” was so catchy fuckin’ “Ghostbusters” ripped it off for its theme. Huey won the court battle for it though, so suck on that Ray Parker Jr. Dick.
“Sometimes in my bed at night, I curse the dark and I pray for the light, and sometime’s the lights no consolation… Labeled as freaks, lose on the streets of the city.”
My personal favorite Huey Lewis track, “Walking on a Thin Line,” is pretty much nothing but bass and drums, but damnit if Huey didn’t pull it off with his vocal lines again. This is catchy as all hell, but like many Huey songs, doesn’t cross the path of unbearable pop music.
Granted, the Hue has put out a lot of tracks written for him that are pretty God awful (“Doing It All For My Baby,” “Stuck With You,” “Do You Believe in Love” – which was actually written by the one and only Mutt Lange), but though with his best songs he’s always close, he does manage to walk that thin line – just slightly on the side of rock ‘n’ roll where he belongs.
“Everybody needs a place, even if it’s on a stage, everybody needs a race, something to help them turn the page.”
The Hue gets a little preachy in “Finally Found a Home,” but you wouldn’t know it disguised under the upbeat acoustic guitar, driving bass and accented riffs. Not one of the albums strongest tracks, but no one in the 80s did a full album that was good.
“You been thinking, and I been drinking, we both know that it’s just not right.”
If other Flash Metal acts can have their ballads, so can Huey – and “If This Is It” is his crooning masterpiece on “Sports.” Huey takes a shot at his female fans. A bit of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” advice. Okay, so this is total pop, a bit nauseating even. But the over/under on how much ass Huey got for writing this song is in the thousands. I’ll take a hundred on the over, please.
“You should see yourself in the mirror, with your leather lips and snakeskin shoes.”
“You Crack Me Up” is filler on an album that four songs ago already went platinum. Although the keyboard leading the way on here is pretty funny. I doubt this one ever made the live set. It’s pretty much pure 80s cheese, but again, Huey’s brand of cheese.
“Hey lord I’ve got ’em, I’ve got the honey tonk blues.”
This song makes no sense to me other than I think Huey said piss on everyone, I’m going to put an upbeat country song to close this thing out. By this point, everyone had pretty much stopped the cassette, fast forwarded and flipped it over. This song sounds like it should be in “Bull Durham” when Kevin “Crash Davis” Costner and Tim “Ebby Calvin Laloosh” Robbins are riding on the bus. At least it’s only about three minutes long.
I’ve been called many things for my liking of Huey Lewis and the News. None of which have been particularly flattering, but I will say this. A while back on one drunken night I busted out “Sports” at a party and cranked the motherfucker to 10. Chicks love a guy with a sense of humor, and Huey’s had it right all along. That’s the News folks.
- The strangely unembarrassed BJ Lisko