26 February 2010

Huey Lewis & the News: The Heart of Rock & Roll

So i was thinking that i ought to post a song with really excellent lyrics, after Mariana raised the idea in response to my last post. So i got started looking for possibilities, filtering through them (do i like Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” because the lyrics are good, or because of the emotional content? is Yes’s “And You and I” too obscure? is Berlin’s “The Metro” too purposefully intense to really fit the bill? would choosing an instrumental like Herbie Hancock’s “Actual Proof” be cheating?), coming closer and closer to a decision…and then this song came on the radio, making my choice for me through its sheer awesome horribleness.

So let me take you back to the days of my youth…1983, to be exact.

1983 wasn’t really one of the greatest years on record. Not only were there semi-obscure but horrifying events like Able Archer 83, but Microsoft Word was first released. Need i say more?

Against this backdrop, the release of a ridiculous song doesn’t seem so bad—but, i must say, it certainly doesn’t help.

Anyway, for good or ill, that was the year that Huey Lewis & the News released “The Heart of Rock & Roll”, which immediately became one of the most overplayed songs of the year. Of course, a song being overplayed often results in a backlash (though not for the great ones—two of the songs from that year were Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Prince’s “1999”, which never got old), but sometimes the backlash turns out to be unwarranted—yeah, we heard too much of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and the Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another”, but we got to rediscover how good they were after they had lain fallow for a few years.

“The Heart of Rock & Roll”, though…One might think that it started to sound ridiculous because it got overplayed, but no, it started to sound ridiculous because it’s ridiculous. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s look more closely, then, shall we?

New York, New York is everything they say
And no place that I’d rather be
Where else can you do a half a million things
All at a quarter to three?

Well, what about Paris? Or Chicago? Or Miami? Or London? Or Berlin? Or Frankfurt? Or Tokyo? Or Shanghai? Or…well, pretty much any big city with any sort of nightlife scene, really.

Not to slap New York down or anything—i mean, it’s bigger than me, and could probably beat me up in a fair fight—but it’s not like nothing ever happens in the wee hours of the morning anywhere else in the world.

(Also, the way the first line of this song is delivered, for a long time I thought it was New York, New York isn’t everything they say. vaguely confusing, given what follows.)

But anyway, it appears that this is going to be a song of praise to New York, and that’s fine—there’s a long history of fixating on New York in literature. So let’s hear what else Mr. Lewis has to say about New York.

When they play their music, ooh that modern music
They like it with a lot of style
But it’s still that same old back beat rhythm
That really really drives ’em wild

I like to focus on the lyrics of songs in this blog rather than the videos, mainly because there were so many mindblowingly stupid videos done in the 80s even for decent songs. But i do have to mention that if you haven’t already, you should take a moment to watch the video linked above for this song, where Mr. Lewis and his News use this moment in the song to ally themselves with New York’s punk scene. Um, no.

But you can see what they’re building here—all rock music is the same, it doesn’t matter if it’s the News singing a mash-up of doo-wop and 80s-pop or Minor Threat playing punk, it’s all exactly the same. Okay, whatever. Let’s just say that Minor Threat might not appreciate the comparison.

They say the heart of rock and roll is still beatin’
And from what I’ve seen I believe ’em
Now the old boy may be barely breathin’
But the heart of rock and roll, heart of rock and roll is still beatin’

So rock and roll is on life support? Apparently Mr. Lewis was worried about a resurgence of disco, and felt that we should be on guard against it. A reasonable stance, now that i think about it.

Also, from the true stories i probably shouldn’t admit about myself department: For many, many years i thought the third line of the chorus was actually Now the oboe may be barely breathin’. I don’t know what do with that fact, i just find it amusing.

L.A., Hollywood and the Sunset Strip
Is something everyone should see
Neon lights and the pretty, pretty girls
All dressed so scantily
When they play their music, that hard rock music
They like it with a lot of flash

Music from scantily-dressed women? I wouldn’t have guessed that Huey Lewis was a fan of Vanity 6? Well, i guess they have overproduced mindless pop in common, so it shouldn’t surprise me.

But it's still that same old back beat rhythm
That really kicks ’em in the

Oh, ho, ho! That clever and naughty but not naughty enough to get banned from the airwaves Huey Lewis! He has made us all think of buttocks by not completing the rhyme! Well, except that the uncompleted rhyme has to rhyme with flash, which means that it actually kicks them in the ash. Well, i guess you can’t have everything.

But now we emerge into the part of the song that actually seriously annoys me. I mean, up to this point it’s actually a pretty unobjectionable, though not great, 80s-pop piece. Here, though, we make a sharp turn into…Well, just follow along.

D.C., San Antone and the Liberty Town
Boston and Baton Rouge
Tulsa, Austin, Oklahoma City,
Seattle, San Francisco, too

Really? Could the pandering for audience applause at various stops on your next tour be more obvious? (Well, yes it could, but Sir Mix-a-Lot hadn’t yet perfected the art.) So Mr. Lewis, i’m kind of ashamed on your behalf—and i don’t hold the News unaccountable here, either, since y’all should’ve staged an intervention or something. You’re supposed to be professionals, and therefore above such tricks.

Everywhere there’s music, real live music
Bands with a million styles
But it’s still that same old rock and roll music
That really, really drives ’em wild

Somewhere out there, Minor Threat is arming themselves for the necessary smackdown.

In Cleveland

Hey, didn’t some rock singer do a song about Cleveland? That must mean it’s important for rock and roll, right?


And hey, Detroit has, like, a million people or something! If we pander to them, too, we can sell even more albums!

Heart of rock and roll

Rock and roll has heart, yes, but i’m unconvinced that Huey Lewis & the News are uniquely qualified to represent it.

On the whole, of course, this is clearly not the worst song i’ve covered on this site. Coming from the band that gave us the perfectly candy-coated doo-wop thrill that is “If This Is It”, though, this song is just sadly wasted energy.


  1. It certainly sounds like he's saying that Rock N Roll is on life support, doesn't it? lol

  2. ^_^ hai.. Sound ..i like Sound