Sunday, December 23, 2012

There Was More I'd Forgotten . . . Huey Lewis Ruled The 80s With Sports.

The Good: Excellent voice, Imaginative retro-musical backing, Some astonishingly good lyrics
The Bad: Moments seem dated, Expanded edition is more of the same
The Basics: Generally strong and smooth, Sports remains an enjoyable listening experience to this day and with more tracks it's now a better value.

A couple of months ago, I reviewed the Huey Lewis and the News album Fore! (reviewed here!) and was pleased to discover that it was a solid album and an enjoyable listening experience. It inspired me to pick up the remastered version of Sports, the first smash album for the band. If the liner notes for the disc can be believed - and given the quality of the four singles involved - the album spent three years on the charts.

For those who remember the 1980s, Sports is the album that features such popular Huey Lewis and The News songs "The Heart Of Rock & Roll," "Heart And Soul," "I Want A New Drug," and "If This Is It." Huey Lewis and the News defined the early 80s pop rock sound with mellow backing vocals, a diverse range of instruments and forthright and articulate lead vocals.

The surprise of listening to Sports now is to hear how much Huey Lewis and the News actually ROCKED! The guitars on "Heart And Soul," for example are tight. They are strong electric guitars that exemplify how that instrument is played still. For a band whose works are now relegated to the easy listening stations, it's fun to hear what the band actually produced because while a lot of it is pop, there is also the whole rock side to it that is neglected. While I am not much of a fan of "Walking On A Thin Line," the drums in it are solidly rock drumming.

Huey Lewis's vocals sound as good now as they did back in the early '80s. Lewis's baritone is smooth and articulate. He gets easily around such lyrics as "I want a new drug / One with no doubt / One that won't make me talk too much / Or make my face break out" (“I Want A New Drug”). It's easy to listen to his voice and just feel mellowed out. He sings remarkably well and the ease with which the lyrics he sings roll off his lips seems effortless.

Perhaps that is because he wrote or co-wrote six of the nine original tracks on Sports. The other three tracks are written by people who aren't even in the News (the final track on the original release is a cover of Hank Williams's Honky Tonk Blues). The writers of "Heart And Soul" clearly have the "sound" of the band. Lewis and his team write well, though with some nicely unpredictable rhymes, like "You should see yourself in the mirror / With your leather lips and your snakeskin shoes / Do you have to shout in my ear / Do me a favor, just stop talking for a minute or two" ("You Crack Me Up").

The only truly limited track, in terms of lyrics, is "Finally Found A Home." The refrain to the song uses very predictable rhymes, like "belong/song" and the rest of the song does such things as rhyme "up" with itself, which is generally a pet peeve of mine.

On the extended version there are previously unreleased versions of "The Heart Of Rock & Roll," "Walking On A Thin Line," "If This Is It," "Heart And Soul," and "I Want A New Drug." These are a fun addition and basically covers how short the original album was, making it a better value. The disappointing aspect of the album then becomes that it is more repetitive than it ought to be. I would imagine the single versions of the four songs released as singles had b-sides. Those might have been a better value than the live or "session take" (demo) versions of the songs that were the band's big hits.

Then again, they are wonderful songs and it's always nice to hear the alternative versions along side their originals. This album, then, mostly suffers from the length and the weakness of some of the non-hit tracks. The marketing team behind Sports and Huey Lewis and the News wisely released the best tracks on the album and in retrospect it is not surprising the album did so well.

Huey Lewis and the News creates a new-sounding rock and roll sound by recreating a 50s sound with emphasis on vocal harmonizing and the instrumentals. So, for example, on "Honky Tonk Blues," there are guitar and piano solos that are virtually unheard of on current pop-rock tracks. And it's refreshing to hear the emphasis on instrumentals even now.

The best track is either the rock-heavy "Heart And Soul" or the vocally-strong "If This Is It." The weak track is the predictably-rhymed "Finally Found A Home."

For contemporaries of Huey Lewis And The News, please visit my reviews of:
Words & Music - John Mellencamp
Aladdin Sane - David Bowie
Break Every Rule - Tina Turner


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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