Not many bigger names in the 1980’s than Huey Lewis and the News. Multi-platinum album sales and Grammy Awards. They were a big deal. During the decade, they ruled radio, primarily with hits from Sports, Fore! and Back to the Future.
Huey Lewis and the News were an affable, blue-eyed pop-soul group, perfect for the vibe of the more clean-cut and conservative 1980’s. They had that R&B groove that was still very pop infectious. They were able to stay on the charts through the decade, which is an eternity in the ever-changing music industry.
When Pepsi signed Michael Jackson to a multi-million dollar endorsement deal, Coke came after Huey Lewis and offered a comparable amount. But Lewis turned it down.
This was the lineup during their heyday:
- Huey Lewis – lead vocals, harmonica (1979–present)
- Sean Hopper – keyboards, backing vocals (1979–present)
- Bill Gibson – drums, percussion (1979–present)
- Johnny Colla – guitar, saxophone, backing vocals (1979–present)
- Mario Cipollina – bass (1979–1995)
- Chris Hayes – lead guitar, backing vocals (1979–2001)
It started with their 1980 album, Huey Lewis and the News (1980), which didn’t gain them national traction but it coupled the with producer Bill Schnee who had worked on many Grammy nominated albums by folks like Boz Scaggs.
In those days, record labels were a bit more patient with artists to allow them to build an audience. The group wrote a fair amount of their own material but looked to established writers as well.
Picture This, followed in 1982, and gave them their first chart hit, “Do You Believe in Love,” and produced several other songs that didn’t do as well, but got the band noticed. Even though Picture This was produced by the band themselves, they had the formula and sound in place. A number seven Billboard ranking, the album stayed on the chart for 35 weeks.
Sports arrived in 1983 and catapulted the band into the big time. Sports sold around 10 million albums and provided four top ten hits and five charting singles in all. “Heart and Soul,” “I Want a New Drug,” “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” “If This Is It” and “Walking on a Thin Line.” That is a lot of airplay.
In 1985 there was a little film called Back to the Future that featured “The Power of Love” which reached number one of the charts. Another song they contributed to the film, “Back in Time,” was not released commercially.
Fore! (1986) did something Sports had failed to do, it went to number one on the Billboard chart, and two singles that went to number one, and five singles in the top ten. For almost a year, The News were all over the radio with “Stuck with You,” “Hip to Be Square,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” “I Know What I Like” and “Doing It All for My Baby.”
Small World (1988) reached number 11 on the charts and “Perfect World” reached number 3 on the singles chart, the album was a significant letdown from Fore! Competing with your own mega-success is almost impossible. Small World was a very good album but not on the same plane as Sports or Fore!
Hard At Play (1991) “Couple Days Off” and “It Hit Me Like a Hammer” were top forty singles. Producer Bill Schnee was back to help with production.
Four Chords & Several Years Ago (1994) was an album of R&B cover songs. It reached number 55 on the chart and none of the singles were very successful. Founding member and bassist Mario Cipollina left the band after the album’s release.
Plan B (2001) The album only reached 165 on Billboard and featured no hit singles. Founding member and guitarist Chris Heyes left the band. Plan B wasn’t working too well.
Soulsville (2010) This was an album of R&B cover songs, peaking at 121 on Billboard. It was the last release of new material from the News.
Even when they didn’t have new product or big radio hits, the band was a popular concert draw. When they did take time off from touring, it seemed to only make them more popular when they got back on the road. Even though their big decade was the 1980’s, their music is timeless, it is not tied to a particular genre and their music wasn’t dated by production techniques of the time.
In 2018, a hearing problem forced Huey Lewis off the road. While he’s still dealing with the hearing issue, the band has signed a deal to release an album of new songs this year. Whether his hearing issue clears up enough for concerts, it’s yet to be seen.
“No plans as yet because I can’t hear enough to sing, so we have no gigs booked. I hope I can get better,” he said.
Maybe there’s a new drug that will help? Hope so. If not, maybe we can get the flux capacitor to go back in time.