Saturday, June 29, 2013

Huey Lewis and other 80's flashbacks

Steven Hyden's profile of Huey Lewis is another home run in his Grantland portfolio.  It's partly the proverbial trip down memory lane, and partly a subtle reminder that the "winners' history of rock and roll" still has a few unfinished chapters.  Where was the chapter about the hair metal bands who can play nostalgia shows to thousands of people from now until forever without ever releasing another new album?  Huey Lewis and the News had more top ten hits than almost any other band currently playing the so-called nostalgia circuit, so they're probably good to keep touring from now until forever and a half.

Lewis doesn't say anything particularly insightful in the interview, but he clearly understands his niche in the music industry.  He still plays up the same hard working bar band image that worked for him in the 80's and he knows how to play that role perfectly to the tune of filling concert halls with 2-3K happy concertgoers in medium sized towns basically any time he wants.  That kind of drawing power is nothing to sneeze at, almost indie bands would kill for that kind of steady income.  His little speech about making a new record -- "I don't know what a new record is anymore," Lewis says. "I think what we have to do is record it, and video the recording and make a YouTube clip." -- comes off a bit like granddad going on about those crazy kids these days and their internets.  But you can't claim that the man doesn't know exactly who he is and where he belongs in music in 2013.

The article mainly focused on the success of "Sports", but "Fore!" was huge as well.  It spawned five top ten hits, one more than "Sports", which is a remarkable number for any album in the 80's or any other decade.  They had a solid five year run as one of the top bands in pop music, which doesn't even include "Small World" and its few minor hits.  The synths on the title track were an obvious rip off of Prince's "1999" and "Perfect World" tried to be reggae (and fairly successfully too!), but at least they were trying something new and not standing in place like so many other 80's bands did as that decade came to a close.  However, it's not true, as Lewis claims, that rock stations wouldn't play their album in 1991 because grunge was breaking through and they couldn't be less cool.  Huey Lewis and the News were never cool.  They always looked totally out of place.  They were the hard working bass-drums-guitar-sax band who wore suits on the beach in their videos and always looked out of place (and a little bit too old to be there).  They never fit the mold of the plastic, image driven 80's band, it's just that their songs were generally too good to ignore.

An unexpected side effect of Hyden's article was my rediscovery of the "We Are the World" video, which I hadn't seen or heard in a million years, and has now been inexplicably stuck in my head for the past two days.  From there, I simply had to re-watch the Canadian famine relief record, "Tears Are Not Enough", and ... wow.

First of all, even South Park couldn't come up with a charity record parody as good as this one.  Out of all the charity records I've seen, I don't think any of them manage to piece together this kind of motley crew of oddities, pseudo stars, and people that look like they were beamed in from other planets to appear in the record.  In the latter category, Neil Young looks like he's in his own dreamworld separate from the rest, with his skullcap, long hair, sunglasses, and thin, reedy voice on a song that demands the corniest drama possible. Who convinced underground artists like Carole Pope and the famously reclusive Jane Siberry to show up?  You've got SCTV alumni, Paul Schaeffer, a few token lyrics in French, and Geddy Lee and Bryan Adams getting their vocals specially reverbed just for them.  "We Are The World" featured the biggest superstars in music at the time, but "Tears Are Not Enough" leads off with Gordon Lightfoot, Burton Cummings, and Anne Murray.  Lightfoot is and will forever be awesome, but you'll be hard pressed to find three more quintessentially Canadian cultural icons/punchlines.

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