Okay, so I have a bit of a confession to make: I really dig Huey Lewis and the News.
Yeah, I know, they’re about as hip as a shattered pelvis, but I can’t really help myself: I’m a sucker for dad rock.
And really, no one does dad rock better. Hell, Huey Lewis looks like he could be your dad (or someone’s dad, anyway), and he does those embarrassing things to try to sound cool and hip (even playing a song called “Hip to be Square,” which, for those of you born after 1985, is a reference to the fact that “squares” were boring, dorky people, so he’s really saying that it’s cool to be uncool, which I think we can all agree is not the case). But I love the band anyway, possibly specifically because of Lewis’s earnestness and gosh-shucks dad charm. He’s an Everyman, a guy with a bit of gravel in his voice, singing fairly uncomplicated songs about working, trying to have a decent adult relationship, and the daily crap we all have to deal with as we grow up. This is music with a mortgage and car payments, a baby seat in the backseat of the sensible four-door sedan, a receding hair line, and a desire to cut loose on the weekend, maybe drink a beer or two, and have some fun with the guys. It’s music with a beer gut and a 9 to 5 job, but it doesn’t ever try to pretend that it’s younger than it is or cooler than it is. This is comfortable, fun music, and it doesn’t get any better than the Sports album.
Oh, others may espouse the wonders of Fore!, or hold up the band’s 1985 masterpiece “The Power of Love” from the movie Back to the Future, but I know the score: Sports is the perfect distillation of what Huey Lewis and the News were all about. There’s plenty of loud guitars, cheesy keyboards, brassy horns, and doowap-inspired vocal harmonies.
The album opens with “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” a tune that is as much a statement of purpose as anything the band ever recorded. With it’s city-checking lyrics, subtle organ, and heartbeat-simulating kickdrum, it’s just fun. It’s followed by “Heart and Soul,” with its unmistakable riff and simple message of love (or at least lust). Next up is “Bad is Bad,” a song that pummels ’80s slang and points out that, sometimes, “bad” (which again, for those of you born after 1985, meant someone was cool or hip and didn’t care about authority) means “bad” (as in “not good”). It’s clever and funny and features some great backing harmonies. “I Want a New Drug,” of course, is the song Ray Parker, Jr. “borrowed” for the Ghostbusters theme song, but it’s also an extended metaphor about wanting to find a drug that feels as good as being with the one you love.
The back half of the album doesn’t quite live up to the awesomeness of that first side. “Walking on a Thin Line” is good if not exactly remarkable, and “Finally Found a Home” is just downright boring. “If This is It” is one of those sing-along love songs you know even if you don’t really know it. “You Crack Me Up” is uptempo but ultimately forgettable; “Honky Tonk Blues” is a fun cover of the old Hank Williams, Sr., tune (and really, you can’t go wrong with a little Hank Sr.).
And that’s it for the album. It’s short (only 9 songs long), but there’s a lot of power in that short list. Sure, not everything on second side lives up to the sheer awesomeness of the first side, but it’s a tall order to top such great songs. Honestly, if you only listen to one pop-rock record from the mid-80s, make it Sports.