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Popdose Flashback 1983: Huey Lewis and the News, “Sports”

Flashback

Personal maturity is not necessarily about leaving behind the stuff of youth. It is most often about embracing the stuff of youth and having the confidence and sense-of-self to say, “I don’t really care what you think of my choice with this. I like it and I’m not afraid to say it.” Such is the nature of the “guilty pleasure” and the eventual personal evolution whereby you recognize that if it is a pleasure, it should never make you feel guilty.

Huey Lewis and the News’ third album Sports debuted September 1983, in case you were wondering where I was going with this.

Sports was not a make-or-break-it album. That would have been the previous Picture This. Before that, their eponymous debut went nowhere. Picture This had to perform, and thanks to the lite rock/bar rock standard “Do You Believe In Love?” the band was made. All the next album had to do was not screw it up. It didn’t.

As a matter of fact it is hard to imagine a better alignment for Lewis and company. They were the right band at the right time, with an edge in their sound that was just a step up from the Mellow Gold of the 1970s so you could conceivably blast a Huey Lewis track from your car and not feel like a doofus. At the same time they were not threatening either, so their everyman persona allowed that aforementioned Mellow Gold audience to ride along. It wouldn’t be long before both sides would start inching away from the band, but during the periods of Sports and follow-up Fore! it was a great time to be an unassuming, affable rock star.

Think about what is actually on Sports for a moment. Six of the record’s nine tracks are immediately recognized by name: “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” “Heart and Soul,” “Bad Is Bad,” “I Want A New Drug,” “Walking on a Thin Line,” and “If This Is It” all still cycle through the Muzak circuit, even though that distinction is a dubious one. From the start people bought into the blue-eyed-soul and rock sound, and any single album that can launch so many songs into the collective consciousness has to have something going for it.

In between Sports and Fore! came the lightning strike that was the Back To The Future phenomenon and “The Power of Love” which, in retrospect, might have sown the seeds for the later discontent the public had with The News. At this moment the band was doing what they did best, and wasn’t too concerned about changing the formula. For a time that was a good strategy as it did no damage to their career momentum. By the time Back To The Future hit home video, and after the singles from Fore! made the rounds, I can only imagine the audience was experiencing the same sort of fatigue I was feeling. They were everywhere. I was getting really sick of Huey and the boys. Small World came out and I could not have cared less, even about the single “Perfect World.”

And so it was for a decade and a half. I and a large part of the population had rejected the notion that it was hip to be square and rejected Lewis’ schtick. It was uncool to listen to them and so I didn’t while, at the same time, I harbored no animosity toward the songs themselves. You know how, at times when you get older, you can learn to hate old songs from your youth. Things that passed by unnoticed — awful lyrics with an equally awful message, uninspired musicianship, overall douchiness that once didn’t bother you because you were kind of douchy then too — now were unmistakable and irreconcilable. I never felt that way about Lewis’ output, and Sports in specific. I just didn’t want to listen to it anymore, and I didn’t want to explain myself to friends if I did listen to it.

Six years ago I was given an opportunity by a family member to go see Huey Lewis and the News live. At first I balked, aided by the twin negatives of “Eew, why would I go see them” paired with the stigma of supporting another act on the seemingly endless oldies circuit. Eventually I came around and agreed to go. The ticket was free and I hadn’t anything else going on that week, so better that than sleeping early another night. Strangely, it was one of the more enjoyable shows I went to that year. The band, derided though they may be, played the hell out of those songs. The all-or-nothing atmosphere in the room, sparked by a band that made clear there was nowhere else they wanted to be, doing the thing they still loved doing, was contagious. The songs, even though many were as simplistic as remembered, worked a treat. There may be a dozen, or a hundred, bands that are better at what they do on a regular basis, but on that night, in that moment there was no one who advertised the spirit of rock as vibrantly as Huey Lewis and the News…and you could tell they were still a bunch of nice guys too.

So I went back to Sports, and it was as good as I remembered it. “I Want A New Drug” doesn’t really do it for me anymore, but the collection is the nicest kind of easy listening. It puts a smile on your face. It does have a bit of soul to it and wouldn’t be out of place next to a record from late-’80s Hall and Oates, another maligned collective. It is everything one could hope for from an uncomplicated pop-rock record.

Maybe this is maturity talking, or maybe I’m just an old fart that glorifies anything that is as old as I am, just out of hand. But I challenge the readership to go back to something they once enjoyed, then left behind. I think you’ll be surprised and, if not, you can at least say your disinterest is justified and based on your personal refinement rather than some lame criterion of what is socially acceptable within your circle of acquaintances.

Guilty pleasures are a crock. Sports is a good record. Huey Lewis and the News is a good band. I don’t think I need to explain myself any farther, do you?

 

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  • linkst3r

    Side 1 of “Sports” is a perfect album side. Hard to find in pop music.

  • http://jabartlett.wordpress.com jabartlett

    I second what you say here, particularly about “the right band at the right time.” I was a Top 40 DJ at the height of the Lewis era, and there was something exhilarating about playing their songs on the air, a rush that I didn’t get from any other band. (I still get it when I play them today, although I really don’t need to hear “If This Is It” again.) In an era when a lot of bands went out of their way to be chilly and inaccessible, Huey Lewis and the News were regular guys you’d run into at the grocery store. Nowadays they seem to be having more fun than a lot of bands on the oldies circuit–and maybe that’s why they still sound as good as they do. They’re not cashing in as much as they’re doing it for the pure hell of it.

  • Brendan Noone

    Don’t underestimate the impact videos and MTV had for Huey and the News in the mid-80s. They could be cool, looking good in a suit, getting the girl. They could touch on the summer love/boardwalk thing and play up their humor by singing background harmonies while buried in the sand. They could play the nostalgic working-class-good-time-rock n roll-band card, playing and name dropping your town in a song. They took the medium seriously and it paid off for them. They knew they had the goods with that LP and they made the most of it dressing it up, making it look like an interesting 8.5.

    When I think of Sports I think of that perfect side one like linkst3r mentioned and I hear/see the videos in my minds eye.

  • http://www.popdose.com/ Ted

    I really liked Picture This because of “Workin’ for a Livin’ ” but Sports, while undeniably good pop music, kind of left me miffed. It wasn’t anything about the band, it was more about me liking a band and then becoming huge (damn MTV!), so they stopped being “my band.” Not that I considered Huey Lewis and the News my band, but I felt like I was an early adopter of their music before they got more national attention.