When it comes to the Amoeba Music dollar bin, there are a lot of deals to be had. Last time, I talked about my love of Gordon Lightfoot, but there’s another gem I want to discuss today. I’m talking about Huey Lewis and that hard-rocking unit he calls “The News.”
I’m not going to delve into the rumors that the dude is hung like a mule (but I will say that he’s always rocking the smug smirk of a man with a 12-inch limp dick). Instead, I want to talk about how my copy of Sports is the best $1.99 I’ve ever spent on just about anything.
Few records can boast a solid, 100-percent streak of pure gold. Appetite for Destruction. ...And Out Came the Wolves. Boston’s self-titled debut. Sports. These are records packed from start to finish with nary a single track that doesn’t border on greatness. In the case of Sports, Huey and the boys are even able to throw in a Hank Williams cover and update it for the '80s without robbing it of its classic beauty.
To find the appeal of Huey Lewis & the News, you have to dig back to their roots in England’s pub rock scene. Pub rock was, along with glitter rock and American punk, a big influence on the early British punk scene. It was more a scene than a sound, encompassing everything from lazy country-rock like Brinsley Schwarz to driving rhythm-and-blues throwbacks like Dr. Feelgood. There’s a lot of great bands to be mined in this vein, and I highly recommend you spend a Saturday afternoon on YouTube doing so.
Before there was Huey Lewis and the News, there was Clover.. This band, originally from San Francisco but briefly based in England, was part of the pub rock scene and included Huey and keyboard player Sean Hopper, who later played on Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True, which you should now and forevermore credit to “Elvis Costello & the News.”
For his part, Lewis also played some harmonica with Thin Lizzy, whom Clover also opened for in the 1970s. Does that establish their rock & roll bona fides firmly enough, Mister “I’m a Cool Rock Guy Who Likes Cool Guy Bands Every Other Cool Rock Guys Likes?”
What the band is able to achieve on Sports so masterfully is walking the tightrope between watch-like precision and a loose, bluesy, rock & roll swing. This puts them in roughly the same category as Motörhead. It’s hard to play as tightly as Huey and the boys without degenerating into the soulless plod of a wedding band. Yet on Sports they achieve new levels of perfection in this regard, along with a slick studio sheen, without going too far overboard. It’s not hard to picture them playing any of the tracks at the 2 A.M. Club, the Bay Area bar in which they are pictured on the album’s cover.
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Like many other rock bands of the 1980s, the News' massive success wasn’t a formula for future artistic achievements. With apologies to Patrick Bateman, “Hip to Be Square” is a great track, probably the most sarcastically blithe ode to lifestyle fascism ever put to wax. The mechanistic backup vocals after Huey commands the News to “tell ‘em, boys!” is the most beautifully soulless sound this side of Boyd Rice's “Total War.” But there’s too much artistic self-seriousness on the rest of Fore!, the follow-up to Sports. (See: “Jacob’s Ladder.”) The album suffers from too much time in the studio and not enough time gigging in bars.
But for one brief, shining moment, Huey Lewis & the News made one of the few perfect rock & roll records out there. Any time you pass up this bargain bin classic, you’re fucking up.