When Huey Lewis agreed to call Metro at 8 a.m. yesterday, we couldn’t help but imagine the 63-year-old singer sticking his face in a sink full of ice to wake up, like in his iconic video for “I Want a New Drug.” A lot has changed since then. For one, he doesn’t do the ice routine.
“I pinched that off of Paul Newman in ‘Harper,’” says Lewis. “I don’t recommend it. It’s shockingly cold!”
But a lot has stayed the same, as he is taking his backing band, The News, on a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of the album that included that hit, “Sports.”
As part of the celebration, Lewis promises, “If you were born in ‘83, which is when the album came out, you get in free!” For specifics on that offer, scroll down to the bottom of the story.
METRO: It’s been 30 years. How has it been to revisit all of these songs and play them in order?
Huey Lewis: It’s fun. It’s also interesting revisiting the period. There were no cell phones, no Internet, no jam bands, no personal computers, no CDs. The world was a completely different place. In our world it was still audio-driven, until the mid-’80s. MTV even, they were only playing the radio hits.
This was our third album. The first one stiffed up, the second one broke even, this was our third record and we produced it ourselves because we wanted to have everything be on our own terms. So we aimed a bunch of these tracks right at radio. And now when I listen back to it and contemplate it, I realize that “Sports” was a record of its time in that it was a collection of singles.
I think all of our subsequent albums flow much better, but everybody used to ask why we called the album “Sports,” and it was kind of funny and paradoxical. But now I realize we called the album “Sports” because shouldn’t an album called “Sports” have a lot of hits?
Ahhhhh. Ha ha.
[Mocking] Ahhhhh. Ha ha.
You say that you were definitely aiming this music right at radio and making a concerted effort. Did you go as far as to hire a stylist? The colorful suit with the T-shirt and Ray Ban sunglasses was a pretty iconic look.
I’d been in England when I was with Clover [Lewis’ previous band] and we supported Thin Lizzy. And [Lizzy singer] Philip Lynott took me under his wing, man. And he dressed me out of his closet a few times and gave me a sense of all this stuff that I had never had before. And I dressed the boys a little bit. We had it articulated, sort of. One guy was a Western kind of thing, and we were very much an American band, so we expressed those elements with our wardrobe.
You had the advantage of being a little older than a lot of the other pop stars of your era. Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince were all in their 20s. You were in your 30s when the album came out. You seem to have been a little bit more level-headed.
Not that we didn’t experiment! But we weren’t spring chickens. I had seen it before, with Lizzy and all of these bands, and I recognized what was happening to us. This was our time. We even had a little band meeting and said, “Let’s enjoy this. It doesn’t get any better than this.” You only go from obscurity to No. 1 once! And from that moment on, what is there?
You seem to also have a healthy perspective on your own career. You don't seem afraid to make fun of yourself, like you did for Funny or Die with "Weird Al" Yankovic, parodying the scene that mentioned you in "American Psycho."
Well, "American Psycho," that's its own story. I read the book, and clearly the guy was a fan, and a good fan. He understands our band pretty well. He understood Phil Collins and he understood Tina Turner. He was a big fan of pop music in the '80s and was a discerning fan as well. And so, they go to make a movie, and they ask us if they can buy the song. We say sure, it's got Willem Dafoe. It's an artistic thing.
I knew it was controversial. I didn't give a shit. I'm an artist. So they make the thing and then on the eve of the release of it, literally with a week to go, they announced the premiere and everything, they say, "We want to have a soundtrack album." So my manager calls me. I'm on the road, and he asks what I think. And we'd had real bad experiences with soundtrack albums. We put "Power of Love" on a soundtrack album for "Back to the Future" for MCA and it sold under 500,000 units, while our "Sports" record sold 10 million. So soundtrack albums weren't happening yet. There was no "Dirty Dancing" yet. The soundtrack to "Back to the Future" has "Power of Love," "Back in Time" and then a bunch of scores on it.
So I asked what the soundtrack was going to be like, and they said it would have "Hip to be Square," some Eric Clapton song and a bunch of source music. So I asked if we had to do it, and our manager said no. So I said, "Well, politely decline." So we politely declined, and literally the night before, they sent out a press release that said "Huey Lewis had seen the movie in advance and it was so violent that he pulled his tune from the soundtrack." Completely made up! It just pissed me off so badly, and this was after the "I Want a New Drug" controversy, which I can't talk about. It just shows Hollywood to be the ugliest place in the world. These people in show business don't care.
Regarding that controversy, you mentioned. I know you can't talk about it, but I always wondered if you got to see a nice royalty check every November, since the song that may have borrowed from "New Drug" is so closely associated with Halloween.
Yeah. We get publishing for it.
I have a copy of the single for “I Want a New Drug” and it says on the sleeve “I Want a New Drug (Called Love).” What the hell is that?
Isn’t that great? They were so worried about the single. They didn’t want to release it and I said, “There’s your f—ing single!” But we played that song in Roseland in New York and it went over great, but the record company guys were like, “We’ve got to add ‘Called Love.’” Isn’t that great?
So to backtrack a little, you seem to have made your peace with the ugliness of the industry; I mean you've at least made your peace with "American Psycho" enough to parody it.
I had no problem with the movie, at all. Other than that thing. But I boycotted the movie, because of all this. So now I see the movie because we're going to lampoon it. Funny or Die called and asked if I wanted to do something, and I said, "Well, OK. What have you got?" And the best one was this "American Psycho" thing. And that was the first time I had seen that scene, by the way. And I watched some of the movie. And the movie is exactly what the song is talking about, in a way. It's about how these bohemian tastes end up dropping back in and become the bourgeois.
There's a book called "Bobos in Paradise" that's about this exact phenomenon that "Hip to be Square" was supposed to articulate. Some people thought it was an anthem for square people, but it wasn't. It was written in the third-person, originally: "You used to be a renegade/You used to fool around." So it was meant to be kind of funny. But not everybody got the joke. But the point is, the movie was kind of articulating the exact phenomenon.
Is the heart of rock ‘n’ roll still beating?
Of course. It always will be, although it won’t beat as strongly, maybe.
Huey Lewis and the News ‘Sports’ 30th Anniversary Tour
Bank of America Pavilion
290 Northern Ave., Boston
Free (if you’re 30) $70, 800-745-3000
From the band:
Huey Lewis and The News have had a long and special relationship with the City of Boston. For their "Sports" 30th Anniversary Tour concert on Aug. 28 at the Bank of America Pavilion, they are offering a wonderful opportunity for their younger fans.
To celebrate with anyone who was born the same year the album was released, Huey Lewis and The News are offering a unique way to obtain a free ticket to come to the show. It is called "Born in '83, Get in Free."
Anyone who was born in 1983, can reserve a free ticket from the box office while supplies last, and pick it up on the night of the show by showing their ID confirming their age. It's that simple!