Thursday, October 13, 2011

Nostalgic News

On impulse, I bought Huey Lewis & The News' Greatest Hits last week. More than for the musical enjoyment, it was a nostalgia trip.

Huey Lewis & The News were an interesting flash in the pan. From 1983 to 1986 they ruled the charts, with two #1 albums, five #1 singles, and a dozen-ish top ten singles. It's interesting how quickly they rose through the charts, and then how quickly they fell, and how the rise and fall mirrored each other. All through only four albums.

In 1982 they released Picture This, which had one main hit, "Do You Believe In Love," and 2-3 other singles that charted. The album went to #13.

Then in 1983 through 1986 they released two studio albums, Sports and Fore!, which both had a string of hits and both hit #1 as albums. These albums were huge.

I listened to this album a hundred times as a teenager

Sports and Fore! featured hit studio songs like "Heart and Soul," "I Want a New Drug," "The Heart of Rock & Roll," "If This Is It," "Stuck with You," "Jacob's Ladder," and "Hip to Be Square." The band also had some hits from the soundtrack to Back to the Future, "Power of Love" and "Back in Time."

If you listened to any radio in the 80's, you probably recognize many of those songs. They also had a lot of entertaining videos on MTV.

This is the video I remember the most

In 1988 they released Small World, which was much like Picture This (1982) in that it only had one or two hits and went to #11.

Then they mostly faded out from the pop/rock music world.


It's a different phenomenon from a one-hit wonder, but it's interesting to me how a band can be so wildly successful for such a short time, then fade out so quickly. I never hear their songs on classic or nostalgia radio. Why didn't they have more staying power? Maybe this is simply the nature of the music business, but I can't think of any other examples of a band bursting on the scene so quickly, doing so well, then fading out just as quickly.

There probably are other examples of that, but none that I know so well. I was a huge fan of Huey Lewis. Their explosion in popularity coincided perfectly with my musical awakening. As a 15-year-old, I thought they were the coolest, raddest band ever. Their music reminds me of countless friends and events from my adolescence. But looking at it 25 years later, I wonder how good they really were/are.

I ponder what made them so popular. They were kinda bluesy at times, with lots of horns and pleasing harmonies, but they combined that with drum machines and synthesizers, the cutting technology of the day. (Listen to me sounding all like a music critic who knows what he's talking about.) I don't know enough about music to know how talented they actually were, if Huey was a good singer or if "The News" were technically proficient with their instruments. I do know, looking at it now, that their lyrics were pretty bad. To wit: "I like the sound of breaking glass/if you don't believe me/ why do you ask?"

But they certainly tapped into something from the mid-80's zeitgeist.


After listening to their Greatest Hits, I realize that today I'm not as interested in their big hits. Maybe I've heard them too many times to appreciate them. I still like "Stuck With You," but only one of their hits really gets my juices flowing. Interestingly, it's their very first hit, "Do You Believe In Love." (No question mark in the title, this punctuation stickler notes.)

Cheesy 80's video, great song. "Wee-ooh, wee-ooh, wee-ooh, do you believe in love?"

Three of my favorite songs on the CD are covers of old R&B songs recorded after their heyday: "It's Alright" (from Curtis Mayfield), "Cruisin', " (by Smokey Robinson, recorded as a duet with Gwyneth Paltrow for the movie Duets in 2000 and became a late #1 single for Huey), and "But It's Alright."

"It's Alright" is a cappella, or something like it, with lots of The News's voices standing in for instruments. It reminds me of one of my favorite songs from the band, from back in the day, that's not on their Greatest Hits. It was also a capella, called "Naturally."

I still love that song.

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