Chrysalis Records, 1983
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/11/1997
How fickle is the finger of popularity in the rock world. In 1984, San Francisco-based Huey Lewis & The News were riding the crest of hipdom with their third release Sports, sharing the spotlight with such artists as Michael Jackson, Prince and Bruce Springsteen. Nowadays, Jackson holds onto the dream he is still the "King Of Pop," there technically is no more Prince (having changed his name to the symbol), Springsteen no longer is a mega star and has turned into the Dylan of the '90s. But while the sales may no longer be there, Huey Lewis & The News have basically stayed the same.
What was it about these guys who worshipped the doo-wop style of the '50s? What made them top the airwaves with cuts like "I Want A New Drug," "The Heart Of Rock & Roll" and "Heart And Soul"? Simple: they took a no-bullshit, no Spandex-and-leather approach to their music and presented it the way it should be. Most of all, they believed in it - something I don't think you can say many bands do these days.
And though it peaked 14 years ago, Sports still maintains a fresh sound - the tunes have hardly aged, and are still enjoyable to listen to. (Editor's note: Since this review was written, a re-mastered version with bonus tracks has been released.)
Having first cut his teeth with the local band Clover (trivia:
what band did Lewis back up in the late '70s? Answer: Thin Lizzy),
Lewis was an experienced veteran of the rock scene.After The News'
debut album met with consumer apathy, they came back strong to get
the public's attention with
Picture This (spawning two hits, "Workin' For A Livin'" and "Do You Believe In Love").The band was obviously primed to hit big - and they smashed into the mainstream with the first single from Sports, "Heart And Soul."
But this wasn't your typical rock band. While they had a competent guitarist in Chris Hayes, the solos often went to saxophonist Johnny Colla - "The Heart Of Rock & Roll" showed off his talents on the reeds. With a backbone of Mario Cipollina on bass, Bill Gibson on drums and Sean Hopper on keyboards, Lewis was freed up to be not only the frontman of the group but also the personality of the band. His roles in videos from this album, such as for that of "I Want A New Drug," were in no small part a main reason why this band did so well. With MTV still in its infancy, the group was ready to take advantage of the new medium and use it to their advantage. And, truth be told, Lewis was very much a "pretty boy," though this worked to the advantage of the band. Here was a "ladies' man" who could actually do more than pose - kind of like the antithesis of Lucky Vanous.
But if the music wasn't as strong as it is, this band would have been another trivia question on the lines of Rockwell. You still occasionally hear "The Heart Of Rock & Roll" and "Heart And Soul" on the radio. Their doo-wop tribute, "If This Is It," stays true to the style of the artists of the past, while "Walking On A Thin Line" has The News carving out their own style and sound unlike anything they had done prior. However, other attempts, such as "Finally Found A Home" and "You Crack Me Up," fail to hit the mark. Their two efforts at blues, "Bad Is Bad" and "Honky Tonk Blues," are not bad efforts, though the latter is more of a shuffle.
Despite the fact this album stayed on the charts for three years, it's hard to believe that none of the singles made it to the coveted number one slot. (That honor came courtesy of an appearance on the Back To The Future soundtrack, "The Power Of Love.") The band also found themselves on the delivery end of a lawsuit - word of advice, don't invite Lewis and Ray Parker, Jr. to the same party. 'Nuff said.
I still believe that Sports was the swansong of this band - how do you top an album this good? To their credit, their follow-up Fore! continued their good-luck streak. And while the hits began to dry up in the late '80s, Huey Lewis And The News have continued to slug it out on their own terms.
It's a little harder to find this album these days (though I found a vinyl copy for a dollar in the bins of my local haunt earlier Sunday afternoon), but the search is very much worth it. While many groups of the MTV-era rock world have come and gone, Sports is excellent proof that something good came out of that time period.
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