“I’m not a backward-looking guy, but this has prompted a look back,” says Huey Lewis of his decision to take his longtime band the News out on the road to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their best-selling album album “Sports.” “What’s interesting is that I see ‘Sports’ now as very much a record of its time; that is, a collection of singles. Because in its time everything was programmed, all there was was CHR [Contemporary Hit Radio], both AM and FM, and it was the only avenue to success. You needed a hit record, period.”
“Sports” was most assuredly a hit, selling 7 million copies, garnering two Grammy nominations, and spawning five top ten hits including “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” “Heart and Soul,” “If This is It,” and “I Want a New Drug,” sending the Bay Area-bred bar band into the upper echelons of pop.
Fortunately, the album — recently reissued with a bonus disc of live material, including a track recorded in Boston — is only 42 minutes long, so Lewis and the band will have plenty of time to play other hits they scored before and since, including “The Power of Love,” “Do You Believe in Love,” and “Stuck With You” when they hit the stage at the Bank of America Pavilion on Wednesday.
And if you were born in ’83 you’re in luck. “All you have to do is phone the box office,” says Lewis, when we catch up with the cheerful rocker, 63, by phone from his home in Montana. “When you show up, show them your license and they let you in free!” (Based on availability.)
Q. Is performing the album in its entirety helping to make it fresh for you?
A. Yeah and we re-arranged everything. We went back to the original arrangements basically. These songs have sort of morphed into other things and we brought them all back to the record again so it’s fun.
Q. Your songs still get a lot of radio play and even though they’re from the ‘80s, it’s not just on the classic rock stations.
A. They hold up, I would like to think, for two reasons. Number one, the song needs to be true. It can be about war, it can be about love, it doesn’t matter, as long as it rings true. The other thing musically is [it has] none of the ’80s [quirks]. Our stuff was anachronistic even then. Our thing is the old American pop song formula: you start in fours or 8 or 16 or 32, there’s an intro then the verse, the chorus, the verse, the chorus, the bridge, the chorus, and out. That’s been the pop song formula for American popular music since it began. Suddenly in the ’90s that wasn’t the formula anymore.
Q. So when you hear those songs on the radio do you turn them up or off?
A. I listen to them. It’s always interesting to me. They’re still collections of parts to me. I think “Wow, we sure used a lot of snare drum back in those days.” (Laughs.) That’s the ’80s, man, that big reverb-y snare drum. There’s no right or wrong to that stuff. The way I see it, our records get better as they go along. I really believe that, we’re still improving. We have a new song that we’re playing that’s fantastic.
Q. Does this mean you’re working on a new record?
A. We will, I guess. I don’t know how one does that yet. But we’ll figure that out. Do you need 12 songs? Do we do an EP? Twelve is awful tough. What I think you do is you record a song and you film yourself doing it and put it on YouTube. You don’t need a record today, you need a YouTube clip.
Q. What’s the title?
A. It’s called “While We’re Young.” Get it? (Laughs.)
Q. Is it autobiographical?
A. Oh yeah, absolutely, they all are. (Laughs.) Or they start that way and if the real story gets in the way I just change it.
Q. You recently allowed Jimmy Kimmel to sit in with you on his clarinet and the results were comically less than tuneful. Was that fun?
A. That was his idea. He did it once before. He played with us at the Forum. Kimmel’s a great guy. He [didn’t have time to] practice it at all. He kind of clams on it and it’s a measure of what a good guy he is, because we could’ve redone that or they could’ve even done an insert to fix him up, but he said “Ah it’s funnier this way, let it rip.”
Q. In terms of buzz you all experienced great highs, the regular cooling off, and then a darker time when it couldn’t have been less hip to like the square Huey Lewis. Like many groups it seems like a renewed appreciation is swinging around for you.
A. It’s happened. And we’ve totally noticed that this year. Our merchandising went from a dollar or two a head to eight dollars a head. I have no idea why that is, but it feels great.