It makes sense that San Francisco sextet Huey Lewis & The News were one of the most popular American bands of the 80’s.
Huey (real name Hugh Anthony Cregg III) was good looking in a dumb guy-next-door way, a rock & roll Dobie Gillis, and his band could appear to play hard even if they neglected to generate any intensity,
In the early-70’s, Cregg met up with Clover, a soft-rock/country collection of longhairs who left Fantasy Records after recording two albums. He had known some of them since school, and was officially drafted into the band around 1972.
The group slogged it out on the same circuit of clubs for several years until their luck changed in 1976 when members of Dr Feelgood – who were in Los Angeles to play at a CBS convention – cruised into the Palomino Club one night with their manager, Jake Riviera, and their guitar roadie, Nick Lowe, in tow. Riviera was impressed and coaxed Clover into coming to the UK.
Nick Lowe got Clover (minus Hugh) to back Elvis Costello in the studio on his first LP, My Aim Is True, and the band wound up recording two more albums in England. But the UK was in the throes of the punk maelstrom and not interested at all in Clover’s chicken-funk offerings. The albums bombed and Clover broke up on their return to the USA.
But Hugh bounced back, organising a weekly jam session at a Marin County club called Uncle Charlie’s, which attracted some first-class players (John Colla had played with Sly Stone and Van Morrison) who gradually became Huey Lewis & The News.
Partially via their connection to Jake Riviera and Nick Lowe, Chrysalis UK signed the band to a record deal and released their self-titled debut album in 1981. While the album sold poorly, the follow-ups Picture This (1982) and Sports (1983), established Huey Lewis & The News as a chart-topping concern.
The band was responsible for several empty-headed Top Ten hits – among them I Want A New Drug (1984), The Heart Of Rock & Roll (1984), The Power Of Love (1985) and Stuck With You (1986) – but those annoyances were merely bland compared to Hip To Be Square (1986), which was genuinely malevolent, popping up everywhere from college marching band halftime shows to Las Vegas showrooms. It was also big at weddings.
Musically, Hip To Be Square was marginally more interesting than what Lewis and company usually conjured up: the fast beat was agreeable enough and the band sounded less reined-in than usual by the group’s inevitable drum-machine taskmaster. Lyrically, however, this was a perfect anthem of rationalisation for uneasy sell-outs.
The narrator of the song has cut his hair, scored a “good” job, and realised that, yes, its hip to be square, because in this context “square” means financially successful.
We’ll leave you by saying that Hip To Be Square was a pox on rock & roll in the late 80’s, and to draw your own conclusions about the fact that Huey Lewis and The News were eulogised by psycho-killer Patrick Bateman in the book American Psycho.