Huey Lewis and The News formed in the late 70’s and released their self-titled debut in 1980. After their sophomore album, Picture This peaked at number 12 on the billboard charts with the very successful single, “Do You Believe in Love,” the group hit the studio and quickly wrote and recorded material for a third release. Unfortunately, the record was delayed by complications on the part of the label. Finally, in September of 1983, Huey Lewis and the News released Sports.
The album is one of the most successful of all time. It’s certified platinum in four countries including diamond status in Canada and a seven time Platinum certification in the United States. It was also mentioned by Christian Bale in an iconic scene in the 2000 film, American Psycho. Lewis became an icon of the mid 80’s music scene and one of the best selling rock artists of all time. But is Sports really that good? The short answer is yes.
The album is a bombastic ride through the heights of 80’s pop-rock which is built one excellent bones and outlines. The lead guitar, for example, is extremely well played on tracks like the opener, “Heart of Rock n Roll,” and “Walking On a Thin Line.” In these tracks and throughout, the lead guitar takes charge with a commanding tone and great timing, creating some of the most memorable riffs of the era, and even gives way to a few killer solos.
The drumming is perfect as well, staying on cymbals and building on the explosive style of arrangements. Tracks like “Finally Found a Home,” and “You Crack Me Up,” are made infinitely better by strong drumming that highlights the choruses and holds to driving rhythms throughout verses.
Even the keys get a chance to take the lead a few times on the album, particularly in the closer, a cover of Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonk Blues.” Across the entire runtime, the keys are not only extremely well performed, but they’re used to great effect. The synth leads on tracks like “Heart and Soul,” aid in the Sports’ overall feel and would come to be a defining staple of the 1980’s.
Beyond the bare bones, there is also quite a respectable instrumental pallet from the wailing harmonica on “Bad is Bad,” to the bombastic horn section that pops up sporadically throughout as an impenetrable wave of power that adds something to every track. It’s this pallet and focus on booming arrangements which would be more influential than any other element of the band’s sound.
Above all this, though, Sports is most notable as a wonderfully enjoyable high point of the simplicity and indulgence which characterizes the vast majority of 1980’s pop culture. It’s no accident that two of Huey Lewis and the News’ biggest hits came from the soundtrack for Back to the Future. They are the perfect example of the most enjoyable aspects of the era thanks to excellent songwriting and ear worm hooks, elevated by great instrumentation. Tracks like “I Want a New Drug,” and “If This Is It,” are immortal classics for this very reason and they serve as fantastic highlights to an already awesome album.
Now, 35 years after its release, Sports is one of the most indelible in rock history. It’s a cornerstone of the pop-rock movement that characterized the majority of the 80’s and it served to move the music industry from the angrier, more thoughtful times of the 70’s to the glitzy, exciting times of the 80’s.
Sports is one of the most successful albums of all times and it only takes one listen realize why.