Huey Lewis and the News is an American rock band based in San Francisco, California. They had a run of hit singles during the 1980s and early 1990s, eventually achieving 19 top ten singles across the Billboard Hot 100, Adult Contemporary, and Mainstream Rock charts.
Their most successful album, Sports, was released in 1983. The album, along with its videos being featured on MTV, catapulted the group to worldwide fame. That expanded when the song “The Power of Love” was featured in the hit film Back to the Future. “The Power of Love” was nominated for an Academy Award and reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
The News combined a rock backing with soul and doo-wop harmony vocals and Lewis’ distinctive voice.
In 1972, singer/harmonica player Huey Lewis and keyboardist Sean Hopper joined the Bay Area jazz-funk band Clover. Clover recorded several albums in the 1970s, and in the middle of the decade transplanted themselves to Britain to become part of the UK pub rock scene.
Without Lewis, they eventually became the original backing band for Elvis Costello’s first album My Aim Is True. Lewis also worked with Irish band Thin Lizzy, contributing harmonica to the song “Baby Drives Me Crazy,” recorded onstage for the Live and Dangerous album. Thin Lizzy bassist/vocalist Phil Lynott introduces Lewis by name during the song. The band returned to the Bay Area by the end of the 1970s.
Clover’s main competition in the Bay Area jazz-funk scene was a band called Soundhole, whose members included drummer Bill Gibson, saxophonist/rhythm guitarist Johnny Colla, and bassist Mario Cipollina. Like Clover, Soundhole had spent time backing the famous singer and recording artist, Van Morrison. After getting a singles contract from Phonogram Records in 1978, Huey Lewis joined Hopper, Gibson, Colla, and Cippolina to form a new group, Huey Lewis & The American Express.
Although they played gigs under this name, in 1979, they recorded and released a single simply as “American Express.” The single, “Exodisco” (a disco version of the theme from the film Exodus) was largely ignored. The B-side of this record, “Kick Back,” was a song that had previously been performed live by Lewis and his former band, Clover. In 1979, the band was joined by lead guitarist Chris Hayes and moved to Chrysalis Records, which occurred after their demo tape was heard by Pablo Cruise manager Bob Brown, who helped them land a record deal with the label. Chrysalis did not like the name American Express, fearing trademark infringement charges from the credit card company, so the band changed their name.
Later in 1980, the band released their first studio album, a self-titled LP, Huey Lewis and the News. It went largely unnoticed. In 1982, the band released their second studio album, the self-produced Picture This. The album turned gold, fueled by the breakout success of the hit single “Do You Believe in Love,” written by former Clover producer Mutt Lange. Largely because of the single, the album remained on the Billboard 200 album chart for 35 weeks and peaked at No. 13. The follow-up singles from Picture This, “Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do” and “Workin’ for a Livin'”, followed, with limited success.
Due to record label delays on the release of their third studio album, Sports, Huey Lewis and the News was back to square one in late 1983, touring small clubs in a bus to promote the record (eventually known as the “Workin’ for a Livin'” tour). The new album initially hit number six in the U.S. when first released. However, Sports slowly became a number-one hit in 1984, and went multi-platinum in 1985, thanks to the band’s frequent touring and a series of videos that received heavy MTV airplay. Four singles from the album reached the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100: “Heart and Soul” reached number eight, while “I Want a New Drug,” “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” and “If This Is It” all reached number six. The album has sold over 10 million copies in the U.S. alone.
At the beginning of 1985, the band participated in the all-star charity single “We Are the World,” with Lewis taking a solo vocal. The song topped music charts throughout the world and became the fastest-selling American pop single in history.
Their song, “The Power of Love,” was a number-one U.S. hit and featured in the 1985 film Back to the Future, for which they also recorded the song, “Back in Time.” Lewis has a cameo appearance in the film as a faculty member who rejects Marty McFly’s band’s audition for the school’s “Battle of the Bands” contest. As an inside joke, the piece the band plays is an instrumental heavy metal version of “The Power of Love” (Lewis’s response: “Hold it, fellas … I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud”). “The Power of Love” was nominated for an Academy Award.
Following the success of “The Power of Love” and Back to the Future, Huey Lewis and the News released their fourth studio album, Fore!, in 1986. Fore! followed the success of Sports and reached number-one on the Billboard 200. The album spawned the number-one singles, “Stuck with You” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” as well as the mainstream rock hit “Hip to Be Square.” In all, the album had five top-ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified triple platinum.
The band continued to tour throughout 1987, and released Small World in 1988. After the previous two multi-platinum albums, Small World was considered “noticeably weaker,” peaking at number 11 and only going platinum. The album had one top-ten single, “Perfect World,” which reached number three on the pop chart.
At the end of the Small World tour in 1989, the band took a break from recording and heavy touring, and parted ways with Chrysalis Records. In 1991, they released Hard at Play on the EMI label in the USA and Chrysalis in the UK, which went back to the R&B/rock sound of their earlier albums, and released the hit singles, “Couple Days Off” (number 11) and “It Hit Me Like a Hammer” (number 21). The album was certified Gold (eventually hitting the one million sales mark) and the band headlined another world tour in support of the release, which would be their last album of new material for a decade.
In 1984, Ray Parker Jr. was signed by the producers of Ghostbusters to develop the film’s title song. Later that year, Huey Lewis and the News sued Parker, citing the similarities between the “Ghostbusters” song and their earlier hit “I Want a New Drug.” According to Huey Lewis and the News, this was especially damaging to them since “Ghostbusters” was so popular, rising to number one on the charts for three weeks. The dispute was ultimately settled out of court. Lewis has stated that his experiences with the producers of Ghostbusters were indirectly responsible for him getting involved in the 1985 movie Back to the Future.
In the 2001 Behind the Music special, Huey Lewis stated: “The offensive part was not so much that Ray Parker Jr. had ripped this song off, it was kind of symbolic of an industry that wants something – they wanted our wave, and they wanted to buy it. … [I]t’s not for sale. … In the end, I suppose they were right. I suppose it was for sale, because, basically, they bought it.” As a result of this statement, Parker filed a suit against Lewis, claiming he violated the settlement’s confidentiality agreement and sought an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees.
An issue of Premiere magazine would later feature an anniversary article about the movie Ghostbusters. In that article, the filmmakers at Columbia Pictures admit to using the song “I Want a New Drug” as temporary background music in many scenes. They then said that they had made an offer to Huey Lewis and the News to write the main theme, but the band declined. In a 2001 Behind the Music special, Lewis said that the band declined the filmmakers’ offer because the band had a prior contractual obligation to do a long concert tour to promote the hugely successful Sports album, which had just been released at the time, and didn’t have time to write a main theme for a movie. The filmmakers gave film footage – with the Huey Lewis song in the background – to Ray Parker Jr., to aid Parker in writing the theme song.
80s Studio Albums
- Huey Lewis and the News (1980)
- Picture This (1982)
- Sports (1983)
- Fore! (1986)
- Small World (1988)