Monday, August 22, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Huey Lewis & The News - Sports (1983) and Fore! (1986)

To be sure, Huey Lewis & The News were not my thing back in the '80s, nor can I say listening to their two big albums from the '80s have made a fan of me today. However, I found their music interesting if only because it so unlike any current pop music. They were purveyors of a sort of “macho” pop-rock sound. The kind of band that could play in a bar but also score top 40 hits. And score many they did--the group had 12 top 10 during the '80s, including three #1s, most of which were the singles from these two albums.

They broke out big with their third album, Sports, and continued that success with the following album Fore!, between which they scored a #1 hit with “The Power of Love,” which was prominently featured in the film Back to the Future. Between the two there were lots of hit singles: four US top 10 hits from Sports and five top 10s from Fore!, including two #1 hits, “Stuck with You” and “Jacob’s Ladder.”

Sports begins on a typically upbeat note with “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” the album’s third single. It’s guitar-keyboard-drum melody, while not exactly original, is quite inoffensive. “Heart and Soul,” the album’s first top 10 hit, is similar in tone and sound but has a better hook. “Bad Is Bad” aims for a more bluesy sound but misses before getting back on track with “I Want a New Drug,” which sounds suspiciously like Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters”—enough so for Huey Lewis & the News to sue. “Walking on a Thin Line,” the album’s fifth single and only one to miss the top 10 has a pulsing bass line under its synths and guitar chords, as does the bracing “You Crack Me Up.” “Finally Found a Home” starts with good guitar and bass interplay but then dates itself once those signature keyboards start up. “If This Is It,” which was the album’s fourth consecutive top 10 hit, has warm, retro flavor.

Unsurprisingly, Fore! is pretty similar to Sports. “Jacob’s Ladder” strikes a confident pose with its amped guitars and plodding drums. “Stuck with You” has a little more heart, even if its lyrics about a couple considering divorce but deciding it’s not worth it are ridiculous. “Whole Lotta Lovin’” has a ‘50s melody and a bit of doo-wop (an obvious nod to Back to the Future). “Doing It All for My Baby” tries to be sincere but comes off sappy. Yet maybe that’s okay for a band who’d put out a song called “Hip to Be Square” as a single (and see it reach #3). The song sounds a lot like “Power of Love.” “I Know What I Like” has a nice groove with a warm melody.

Some ‘80s music ages well and, even it sounds dated, is still quite fun, especially that which sounds like the ‘80s-leaning sounds that are so popular these days. This sound is not one of those, so unless you were a Huey Lewis fan back in the day (which I wasn’t), this doesn’t have much to offer, other than a chance to scratch your head and wonder why this was such a big deal 25 years ago.

Sports Best: Heart and Soul, I Want a New Drug, This Is It
Fore! Best: Jacob’s Ladder, Hip to Be Square, I Know What I Like

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