In my ninth grade “Intro to Computers” class, I sat next to a somewhat strange but nonetheless cordial red-headed kid with a crew cut named Joe. Our in-class assignments were menial and took nowhere near the 90-minute time allotted in our block schedule, which meant much of the class was spent browsing the internet on cubic tan-colored PC’s running Windows 98. This was pre-YouTube, mind you, so Joe and I would spend our time on Flash-based gaming sites or making each other laugh by drawing pixely male appendages in MS Paint. Joe introduced me to two things that year: 1. Newgrounds, a site that blurred the lines between harmless webgames and shady, promiscuous content (neither of us had any business being on there), and 2. Huey Lewis & the News. Only the latter was of any lasting importance.
Joe had a mix CD that he had compiled and burned onto a blank CDR which included the song “I Want a New Drug” by Huey Lewis & the News, a band who I had previously known only as “the guys who did ‘Power of Love’ on Back to the Future.” Joe said he liked this particular song because it sounded like the Ghostbusters theme, then went on to tell me the notorious story of how Ray Parker Jr. had “totally ripped it off from Huey Lewis.” I realize now that his version of the story was exaggerated and wildly erroneous, but I liked the song anyhow.
Not long after this, I came across a copy of the band’s third and most successful album, Sports, on CD at Goodwill. It included the track Joe had shown me and the disc was in good shape, so I figured I’d risk a few bucks and give it a try.
In those days, I was driving a white 1994 Chevrolet Celica that was an old enough model to have only a tape deck built into the dash. I would keep my Sony Discman in the glove compartment and play CDs while driving around using one of those clunky auxiliary-to-cassette tape adapters, an apparatus long since obsolete that would surely draw blank or puzzled stares from the youth of today. The stringy cable was always getting tangled and half the time the tape would get jammed or eject itself in the middle of a song, but these were small inconveniences to endure since listening to a CD in the car felt like such a luxury.
It was in this way that I had my first real, in-depth experience with Huey Lewis & the News.
Sports’ opening track is a strong one, “The Heart of Rock & Roll.” This is easily one of the band’s most recognizable and beloved songs (that also peaked at #6 on the Billboard charts in ‘84), but it was completely new to me on the day I put the album in and listened to it on the drive home. From that very first song, I got the impression that I was not going to be disappointed by my purchase. “Heart and Soul” came on next, then “Bad is Bad,” both of which were fun and solid tracks, and only confirmed that I had really discovered something good here. The album carried on steadily, one strong track after another, until it finally petered out a bit after “If This Is It,” but overall it was a very enjoyable front-to-back listen.
Being fifteen or sixteen at the time, I did not have the familiarity or context for 80’s music that I do now (this was the very first time I’d bought a record released earlier than 1992), and while the the album felt overly gushy and almost silly at times to my young ears, it was also fun and endearing in a way that conveyed innocence and a shameless playfulness. In a musical landscape in which my peers were blaring Slipknot, Evanescence, Nickelback, or even crummier groups, the music of Huey Lewis was a breath of fresh air. His songs had no hint of the depressed, moody, angry-at-the-world attitude that was so prevalent in lyrics from contemporary artists. No, Huey sang about simple things: love, work, life, youth. And while it is a cliché to say this, Huey’s felt like music from a better, less complicated era in which life was not so complicated.
Sports stayed in my Discman and I listened to it on repeat for the next month or two, then transferred it to the Case Logic zip-up binder with the rest of my CDs until I was ready to listen to it again, which was fairly often. It had become a staple to my music collection, and remained fresh to my ears even after many listens. I tried to introduce the album to a few friends (who primarily listened to things like Sum-41, Flogging Molly, or Chevelle at the time), none of whom took to it well, citing it as being “corny eighties music,” or simply, “dumb.” I didn’t mind. I enjoyed it, and enjoyed even more feeling as if I had uncovered something secret and special; a nugget of auditory gold from a past era, unknown or of no interest to my peers.
At some point that year, the Chevy Celica was broken into and my CD binder was stolen, and Huey Lewis & the News quietly and inexplicably faded off of my musical radar for nearly a decade.
Jump to early 2012.
I was twenty-four years old and had recently quit my job in Albuquerque (without another job lined up) so that my wife and I could move to Colorado. We were living in the windowless basement of a distant relative and paying a low monthly rent until we could get established on our own. For three cold, dreary, miserable months, I got up early every morning, made myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen upstairs, and spent most of the day on my laptop searching and applying for jobs. We had very limited space in the basement, so most of our belongings were packed away in a freezing storage unit several miles away, but I had managed to retain some essentials to keep in our bedroom: a box of paperback books, my record player, and a hardshell carrying case that held about thirty LPs.
Although my wife and I were hardly suffering in any real sense and were not in want of food or shelter, as many may know, looking for work is a tedious and life-draining drag. Listening to records was one of my few solaces in that period of life. And to cut to the chase, not one of those thirty LPs in my carrying case were Huey Lewis & the News… but it was during this time that they, from out of nowhere, emerged into my consciousness again.
From some obscure, far-off corner of my brain, the thought occurred to me one day that I had not heard “The Heart of Rock and Roll” in a really long time, and that I had loved that song. How could I have forgotten about one of my favorite songs—and records—from high school?
And sure, I could have bought it on iTunes for $0.99 right then and there or listened to it on Spotify for free, but (hold your breath for an eye-rolling Hipster-ism) that wasn’t my style. I wanted “The Heart of Rock and Roll” and all its counterparts. I wanted to hold Sports in my hands again, that fantastic album from high school that I had somehow overlooked for nine years. And I needed a break from job hunting, so I laid that aside for the day and made the thirty minute trek to Twist & Shout Records in Denver. I found Sports within five minutes of walking into the record store, a clean and well-kept pre-owned copy for $2.99.
I put the record on as soon as I got home, and while sitting there on the ugly tan carpet of a depressing basement, acutely aware that my already-dwindling bank account had just been docked another three bucks and that I still had no job prospects in sight, I should have been depressed and overwhelmed with concern for the future (and some part of me definitely was). But as the heart-pounding thump-thump thump-thump thump-thump beat that opens the Sports record swelled into my speakers, the heaviness in my soul was temporarily made light. That grooving, slinky guitar line; Huey’s punchy vocals with that slap-back echo; that commanding, joyous drumbeat; that wailing saxophone solo towards the end of the song.
Who could ever be truly heavy for long while listening to this music?
Similarly to my earlier assessment of Huey’s music itself, being reacquainted with Sports during a challenging period of life was a reminder of simpler times in my own history. I recalled a more straightforward life with fewer burdens; those long ago carefree days of high school when having a job, maintaining a marriage, and paying rent weren’t even on my radar. For fear of sounding overly cloying or sentimental, listening to Huey Lewis as a twenty-four year old was, in some ways, like reliving more youthful days. What a joy it was to revisit those songs and be enlivened once more with the excitement that I had upon first hearing them. It also served as a subtle reminder that all things do pass and that the discouraging season of early adulthood I was currently in would come to an end just as the vibrant days of my teenage years had.
At twenty-eight, my life situation has changed significantly (I have a daughter now, a house, a dog, and yes, thank God, a steady job), but my fondness for Huey Lewis & the News has remained the same, or if anything, has grown.
Naturally, I progressed on in my fandom to purchasing the rest of their discography, and while I maintain that their “Holy Trinity” of albums (Picture This, Sports, Fore!) is the band’s finest work, each of their releases has its own charms. I’ve had the incredible privilege of seeing Huey perform live twice in the past four years, and am holding out hope that I’ll get to at least once more before he reaches an age where he can’t continue to tour.
Undoubtedly, a good deal of my love for Huey Lewis stems from nostalgia and personal significance, but as my close friends know, I am quick to defend him as an artist whose contribution to American rock and roll is worthy of attention and praise. Those friends may still not care for Huey’s music (just like my high school friends didn’t), which is fine, but I don’t doubt that there are and will continue to be young people who stumble upon Huey Lewis & the News in inexplicable, curious ways, just as I did. I hope that their discovery is as full of delight and wonder as mine was, and full of that feeling of having unearthed a gem from days of music passed.
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