Monday, May 20, 2013

Sports at 30

Found!  Thank you, Best Buy in the Poughkeepsie Galleria - May 18, 2013 (RA photo)
You remember certain things.  You know where you were, the date, and other details.

Of course there are the big events - the life-changing ones.

Then there are much smaller, impactful events. Take, for instance, music that blew my mind.

It was 1984. February or March, as I recall. Because we didn't have MTV, I had to record "Friday Night Videos" on VHS every week.  The first show I recorded it featured "Heart and Soul" by Huey Lewis and the News.  I hadn't thought much of them before this.  I knew they did "Do You Believe in Love" back in '82.

The song grabbed me.  Not long after, I was in my room one afternoon when a new song came on WHCN out of Hartford.  The song was called "The Heart of Rock and Roll."

Officially, I was hooked.  I had to get a ride to the Jefferson Valley Mall to but the album (we had our choice - Record Town or Record World).  I went to Record World and bought the cassette.

How could it go wrong?  I already liked two songs, plus "I Want a New Drug." And the title, perfect for a 15 year-old kid who had one thing at the top of the list of things he loved.


This band was my kind of group.  Considering everything on the pop/rock scene at that time, they were like a sonic boom.  They had a rock edge but a pop sensibility.  They were old school, embracing the origins of American rock, but also stayed true to the current times.  They seemed like regular guys.

They made great songs.  I would eventually buy their whole catalog, and find rarities, bootlegs, etc.

My siblings fed The Beatles to me.  My sister helped make me a Billy Joel fan.  My brother brought me Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Jazz and big band came from my dad.  My mom had all of the pop smarts from Sinatra forward.

These guys were mine.  This album, which I soon acquired in multiple formats, was mine.

Here it is, almost 30 years after its initial release (which happened on September 15, 1983).


New York, New York, isn't everything they say and no place I'd rather be...

The opening line of the album.  The city near where I call home.  A harmonica, good back beat, horns, even a playful video that pays tribute to rock's past.  "The Heart of Rock and Roll" has become a line that we use when talking about the very lifeblood of the genre.

Sports writer Jon Wetheim once called it one of the 10 worst songs ever.

Jon Wertheim is dead to me.  You think I'm kidding?

As I listened to it yesterday, in both the original (remastered) and live (on the included second disc, a recording from 1988 in Cleveland) still sounds great.  It still rocks, and should be played on rock stations (find some guts, radio programmers).  It's still my favorite song.

And Huey Lewis wrote it (along with guitar and saxophone player Johnny Colla) after a concert in Cleveland because he discovered, well, the heart of rock and roll really was in Cleveland, as surprising as that seemed.

By the way, where is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame located?  Yeah...there.

Two o'clock this morning. If she should come a-calling.  I wouldn't dream of turning her away...

"Heart and Soul" is actually a cover song. I didn't know that until much later.  But I found that Exile had recorded the song in 1981.  Huey's version, which rocked it up more, became a big hit.  In fact, all of side one of the cassette/record are songs that most people know.  Beyond that, six of the nine tracks on the album got a lot of radio play. The video was fun also, featuring a party that, well, was interesting.

Back uptown to see Marie.  Nobody home, I open the door with my key. "I love you Huey" was the note I read.  But there's a strange pair of shoes...underneath the bed...

"Bad is Bad" wasn't a single.  Interestingly, they made a video for it, but didn't make one for "Walking on a Thin Line."  Again, you remember things.  I remember seeing the video for the first time at my friend Scott Wilson's house.  Scottie wouldn't be known as Huey fan, but he knew I was.

Huey and keyboardist/bass vocalist Sean Hopper wrote this along with the other members of their band Clover, a country-rock-blues outfit with bad timing.  Punk hit big in England when they were trying to make it big there.  But the seeds for the News were laid here.  The song had multiple iterations.  Dave Edmunds recorded it as a blues tune, which is the way Huey would sometimes play it live (and still does).  Phil Lynott gave it the same treatment (with Huey on harmonica).

On Sports, they took the drum sticks out of Bill Gibson's hands and had him program a drum machine.  Again, take the old and meld it with the new.  It worked for 1984.  I still love it - either way it's played.  They both have their place.

For the 30th anniversary CD, Johnny Colla (who headed up production) chose a great version, recorded in 1987 (on the Fore! tour) in Boston.  It stays true to the record, and Huey plays it up by inserting "clam chowder" where "soul stew" should go.

By the way, Clover was one of those acts who seemed to know people, including Elvis Costello.  Not many people know their music, but they had a small influence.

One that won't make me nervous.  Wondering what to do.  One that makes me feel like I feel when I'm with you...

"I Want a New Drug" was sort of misunderstood.  Sure, it said "drug" in it, but in the Nancy Reagan "Say No to Drugs" 80's, that was a no-no.  The British import said the title of the song was "I Want a New Drug (Called Love)."  Yep, avoid those nasty drug references.  The live version included for the 30th, recorded in Chicago before the album was released, even references that paranoia.

I really loved this song for a while, then I placed it a little lower on my list.  In fact, the band had begun playing it as a medley with the extremely underrated "Small World" (that featured jazz legend Stan Getz on the album in 1988).  But they recently performed it on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," and I felt the song pop again.

Plus Sean was humming it yesterday.  So that works for me.  The video might be - might be - their most famous.  I would offer that Huey putting his face in the sink full of ice is one the 80's more iconic video images.

Sometimes in my bed at night, I curse the dark and I pray for the light.  And sometimes the light's no consolation...

The boys didn't write "Walking On a Thin Line."  It did get released as a single - an ode to Vietnam War veterans. It was probably the most serious, and perhaps the most rocking song on the album.

It was also the only single to not go into the Billboard Top 10.

Used to make me so fed up.  People always asking me.  What are you now that you've grown up?  Exactly what I want to be...

"Finally Found a Home" is an album track.  They played it live, but it wasn't a single.  It's a good song, but it's one of those that the hardcore fans have a soft spot for.

The only video I could find for it was a live version from their "Rockpalast" Germany concert.

Now you're confessing, but I'm still guessing.  I've been your fool for so so long...

It took me a while to get to side two of Sports.  I played the hell out of side one.  In fact, Sports would be the first cassette that I would have to replace because I really did wear it out.  But it wasn't until I heard "If This is It" a little later in '84 that I really began to inhale the entire album.

It's a touch of a classic doo-wop, featuring the band's legendary harmonies, with a guitar solo by Chris Hayes and the pounding keyboards of Sean Hopper.

Again, the video was quite funny, despite the somewhat sad nature of a guy trying to find out if his relationship is really over.

So ends the hits.

With your sunglasses on.  Acting so young.  Only I know what you're really up to. You crack me up...

Track number eight, "You Crack Me Up", written by Huey and bassist Mario Cipollina, was and additional album track that referenced a friend that the two of them knew.  While I think the album is overall a timeless piece of work, this is probably the one track that sounds like 1983.

Apparently there wasn't a live version either, as the band recut the track live in 2012 at the Troutfarm.  It doesn't quite hold up as well.

I stopped into every place in town.  City life has really got me down. I got the honky tonk blues...

Looking back, as a musical historian, the recording of "Honky Tonk Blues" was a stroke of genius.  I say that because, as a band that looked to be a window to the past, playing a Hank Williams song was brilliant.

I don't mean Bocephus - Hank Williams Jr.  I mean his father - who wrote and recorded the song, a major hit, in 1952. 

That's some country music right there.

Charley Pride had a number one hit on the country chart in 1980 with the song.

HLN finished Sports with this track.  It's a quick song (just a little over two minutes long), and keeps the country edge, while still rocking, demonstrating how close the line is between the two genres, especially bluegrass and rock.  The HLN version adds a bridge of piano and changes the arrangement a bit.  It's a worthy successor to the other hit versions.  Huey's old friend (and Clover bandmate) John McFee plays the steel pedal guitar on it.

For the 30th anniversary, as with "You Crack Me Up", the band did a new live version.  John McFee shows up as well, and the song really kicks with some energy.  It's very reminiscent of the original Sports version but comes alive in a new way.  Newer Newsmen John Pierce (bass) and Stef Burns (guitar) step in for Cipollina and Hayes.


It's obvious how this album has had an impact on me.

I would go see them for the first time live in 1985 in Middletown, NY.  The live show only enhanced the fascination with the band.  Their energy, their approach, their musicianship, their lack of BS (they just played great music) and their sense of humor won me.

Their 1987 show at Madison Square Garden will, for several reasons, always be my favorite.  The place was rocking.  I felt on top of the world.

It was just one of those things.  That's the only way I can explain it.  The right album at the right time for the right kid.  It still holds for me after all of these years.  It's always on my iPad.  iPod.  On my phone.

It's always near me.  It will always be a part of me.

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