On ‘Sports,’ Huey Lewis pushes the funk and creep dials to 11
Huey Lewis and the News was at their peak on their 1984 album, “Sports” The album, the band’s commercial breakthrough, is funky and youthful. It’s full of memorable guitar and synth rifts. As a listening experience, the album is pleasant. However, it is an album written by a 34-year-old man for an audience that seems to be much younger than himself, and that creates some cringy moments. In 1984, Huey Lewis already had dad face, dad vibes and dad problems. There’s no good reason for him to be crooning over teenage problems. It creates an underlying vibe of desperation that puts a damper on some of the songs. Overall, it’s still an acceptable album, but that creep factor is a big yikes.
The album starts with “Heart of Rock and Roll.” The song gives off a fake cool vibe, like the dudes from “Weird Science” would like it. I can tell they really thought they snapped on this and, to the harmonica player’s credit, his solo is banging. I can see why Blender Magazine once called it the sixth worst song ever. I can also see why 40-year-old men sing it in the shower.
Next up was “Heart and Soul.” This is the point in the album where the listener gets their first indication that Huey Lewis can’t sing. He sings like Red from “Us.” I appreciate that he’s trying, but his husky baritone grates on the ear. Like Lewis, the rest of the band tries too hard to be good on this song. The guitar solo is useless. I didn’t like the synths for most of the song, but when the heavier guitar came in over them, I forgot about how much I disliked the synths because holy s— this song didn’t need heavy guitar. If you have to listen to this album and you get two songs to skip, this should be your second skip (see “Honky Tonk Blues” for the first skip).
“Bad is Bad” slows down the pace of the album, which could have been good. Lewis has a kind of bluesy vibe that really works with this kind of song. Unfortunately, the lyrics are absolutely asinine. “Cool is a rule but bad is bad” makes “ah-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit Doo-wop” look like Shakespeare. It also ends on the most cliche and annoying note possible. Still, it’s much better than the first two songs.
The first song on the album that I enjoyed with no asterisks is “I Want a New Drug.” It’s fun and flirty. The first guitar solo is good, though the second one is unnecessary. I could see myself walking down the street rocking a leather jacket, listening to the song to be ironic and getting a little bump in my step.
The band took the great energy from “I Want a New Drug” and wasted it with “Walking on a Thin Line.” The chorus features the line, “Don’t you know me, I’m the boy next door. The one you find so easy to ignore. Is that what I was fighting for?” This was a cringy line because Huey Lewis was 34 when he said it. He’s the creepy older man next door, not the boy. That creepiness is compounded by the fact that the song is actually a tribute to Vietnam veterans, who he’s comparing to himself trying to smash teenage girls. I was okay with this song at first, but upon further reflection it is rather troubling.
“Finally Found a Home” sounds funky, but not overwhelming. The song is a microcosm of what makes Huey Lewis and the News a salient band for baby boomers. They’re making music for middle-aged men who want to believe that they’re still in their prime and that their best years are still ahead of them, instead of writing serious reflections about what it means to be in their thirties. This is not a song about young love. It’s a plea for a fairy-tale ending.
The only Certified Banger on the album is “If This is It.” One of the most of the accepting break-up songs ever. Very straightforward: We know it’s over, but you have to say it. Obligatory guitar solo isn’t painful. Lyrics were age appropriate for the band.
“You Crack Me Up” hit me like a brick. I was wildly f—– up two nights ago, and I was very much so obnoxious and messy as hell. Lewis didn’t need to dunk on me like this. This fantastic song about watching your train wreck of a friend stumble through life is a great soundtrack to finals season. It gains another layer of desperation when you consider that Huey is talking to his fellow 34-year-olds who are still partying like their livers function perfectly.
Last and least is “Honky Tonk Blues”: You don’t need to listen to this song. If you got to the end of the album and you still are enjoying it, stop while you’re ahead. It’s not good rock. It’s not good blues. It’s not good country. It’s bad music. Every time Huey says, “Howowonky tonk,” I want to chop off my ears. Or even better, put on some Hank Williams. If you had to listen to this album all the way through, but you got to skip one song, skip this one.