1980: The Year Huey Lewis Started Spreading The News

Celebrating 40 years of a most auspicious eponymous debut

Huey Lewis & The News 1980 press shot (Art: Ron Hart)

The band that would eventually gain fame under the name Huey Lewis and the News evolved out of a Bay Area band called Clover, a group that initially made its mark within the pub rock scene in the U.K.

It was there that they had the honor of serving as Elvis Costello’s backing band on the latter’s full length debut, My Aim Is True. That said, despite several albums recorded under that initial handle, their’s was a rather ignominious beginning, one that would win some critical kudos, but precious little in the way of mainstream success. 

Once they returned to the States, the band would take the unfortunate name “Huey Lewis and the American Express,” a handle that was short-lived due to the objections of Chrysalis Records, the label with which they were newly signed. While the banner might have been an attempt to assert their pride at being back in the States — or merely an attempt to flaunt any sort of corporate connection — the fear of being sued by the credit card company proved enough of an incentive to simply rebrand themselves as Huey Lewis and the News.

The band’s line-up, consisting of Lewis (lead vocals, harmonica), Mario Cipollina (bass), Johnny Colla (rhythm guitar, sax, backing vocals), Bill Gibson (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Chris Hayes (lead guitar, backing vocals), and Sean Hopper (keyboards, backing vocals), all took part in penning the songs that would eventually form their eponymous debut, released on June 25, 1980. It was a decidedly inauspicious introduction, given the fact that it didn’t produce any bonafide chart contenders. Not that it was handicapped by any lack of talent or ability; indeed, with hit producer Bill Schnee behind the boards in the same role he played for various albums by Boz Scaggs and Pablo Cruise, all the essential elements were in place. 

Huey Lewis and the News Huey Lewis and the News, Chrysalis 1980

All apparently, except for the songs. While the material was adequately polished, it obviously wasn’t of the quality needed to ignite widespread interest in an initial album. The reviews were mostly lackluster, and while Huey Lewis and the News did manage to reestablish the band as important players in the San Francisco music scene, wider recognition would have to wait. Not that they had to wait long; the group’s sophomore set, Picture This, spawned the massive hit “Do You Believe In Love.” Their third effort, Sports, boasted no less than four chartbusters — “Heart and Soul,” “I Wanna New Drug,” “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” and “If This Is It.” Subsequent singles “The Power of Love” and “Hip To Be Square” extended their reign of popularity into the early ‘90s.

Nevertheless, it all had to start somewhere, and if nothing else, Huey Lewis and the News helped establish a brand that came to be counted on. That in itself proved to be good news indeed.

 

 

 

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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