George Orwell’s dark dystopian masterpiece 1984 envisaged a future world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control- all presided over by the totalitarian ruling party Big Brother. The future has a funny way of playing out- in actuality the year 1984 would be dominated by a rather different set of characters than O’Brien and Ingsoc- an American pop rock band from San Francisco: Huey Lewis and the News.
Sports was the third album by the band, released in 1983- self-produced and recorded quickly after the modest breakthrough success of the band’s second album Picture This. After release it engaged in a steady ascent up the Billboard 200 charts before reaching the top spot in June 1984 and somersaulting the band to stratospheric levels of international fame. That Huey Lewis and the News ruled the airwaves and the hearts and minds of male and female alike is testified by the fact that five of the nine tracks on Sports were massive hit singles around the globe. Bret Easton Ellis famously satirised the success and reach of the band in his 1991 novel American Psycho, when his serial killer antagonist- in an effort to blend in to the conventions of the time- legendarily talked about how they were one of his favourite bands (“….their early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in ’83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically. .”)
The Heart of Rock ‘N’ Roll sets the tone with its riotous roll call of American towns and its memorable chorus. Heart & Soul is a mesh of pounding guitars and punchy lyrics, whilst Bad Is Bad shows off the band’s smooth harmonies. Walking On A Thin Line tackles the serious subject of Vietnam veterans dealing with returning from the war, but does so in a way that is not self righteous.
All nine tracks are here- digitally remastered in a process overseen by Mr Lewis himself- but the real gem is the accompanying bonus disc, which holds a live version of every track on the seminal release. If you haven’t heard Sports, then as an album it’s a real pleasure to listen to- as long as you leave your pretensions at the door. It’s down to earth all-American rock (often bringing in elements of blues and soul) and– unlike the albums that came before it -laden with infectious feel good hooks and eerily perfect harmonies. The lyrics are simple and unpretentious- stories of falling in love and of growing up- and sometimes laugh out loud funny. I Want a New Drug is the album’s showpiece, ironically probably the greatest anti-drug songs ever written (“I want a new drug, one that won’t hurt my head/ One that won’t make my mouth too dry, or make my eyes too red…”)
All in all Sports is a classic 80’s album that really should form part of any serious rock fan’s collection. Unless you’re a serial killer…
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