Huey Lewis and the News are one of the quintessential all-American soft rock bands of the 1980s. They’re best remembered for performing the unforgettable theme song to one of the most beloved movies of the 80s, Back to the Future – but you might not have known that they also spent many years in a major legal battle over the theme song of another of the decade’s biggest hit movies. Read on for further details on that, and some other things you might not have known about the band.
20. They were originally called Huey Lewis and the American Express
The band that became Huey Lewis and the News were formed from the ashes of two rival bands: Clover and Sound Hole.
Both bands originated from the San Francisco Bay Area, although Clover enjoyed their first success thousands of miles away in Britain.
Whilst based in the UK, Clover served as backing band for Elvis Costello on his debut album My Aim is True.
Huey Lewis himself also worked in the UK, playing harmonica on a Thin Lizzy record. Rival band Sound Hole, meanwhile, had worked with Van Morrison.
When members of these two bands initially merged to back Lewis in 1978, it was under the name Huey Lewis and the American Express.
They were renamed The News due to concerns from record company Chrysalis that the American Express credit card company might take legal action against them.
19. They sued Ray Parker Jr. for ripping off I Want a New Drug with Ghostbusters
You’re probably aware that Huey Lewis and the News provided the iconic theme song for 1985 classic Back to the Future. You might not have known, however, that the band indirectly had a role in composing the theme song for Ghostbusters as well.
Their song I Want a New Drug was first released on the third Huey Lewis and the News album Sports in September 1983, then became a top ten hit single in January 1984.
Roughly six months later, Ray Parker Jr.’s single Ghostbusters was released, on the same weekend as the movie itself.
When you listen to the two songs back to back, it’s not hard to notice a distinct similarity.
Huey Lewis and the News proceeded to sue Ray Parker Jr. and studio Columbia Pictures for copyright infringement.
The matter was ultimately settled out of court, and as a condition of the settlement none of the parties involved have ever been allowed to publicly discuss it.
18. They dropped out of Live Aid over concerns about where the money was going
- Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Huey Lewis and the News were at the height of their fame in 1985, the year of the momentous Live Aid concerts.
Earlier that year, Lewis had joined one-off supergroup USA For Africa to sing on charity single We Are the World.
The single, penned by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, was a charity record intended to fund famine relief in Ethiopia.
It made sense, then, that Huey Lewis and the News would be invited to appear at the Live Aid events afterwards.
However, although they were initially on the bill for the Philadelphia show, Lewis and company wound up dropping out of Live Aid.
This was because Lewis had serious doubts that the money raised by the event would all be going to the relief efforts it was meant to be financing.
17. Back to the Future theme The Power of Love became their biggest hit
While the band were licking their wounds from the Ghostbusters situation, they had a huge movie-based success of their own.
We are of course referring to The Power of Love, their theme song to Back to the Future.
Not only did the movie itself become the biggest box office hit of 1985, but the single also became Huey Lewis and the News’ biggest hit.
The Power of Love topped the singles charts in the US, Canada, Australia and Japan.
It also made the top ten in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
We also can’t forget the band wrote and recorded another song specifically for the movie, Back in Time.
16. Lewis also cameos in Back to the Future, as the teacher complaining the song is “too darn loud”
Huey Lewis and the News’ involvement in Back to the Future didn’t end at The Power of Love and Back in Time.
On top of this, Lewis himself also makes a brief cameo appearance in the movie.
In a tongue-in-cheek move, the rock singer is cast as a stern school official watching the band auditions for the dance.
Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his band audition with – of course – a rendition of The Power of Love.
Lewis is the teacher who stops the performance by complaining into a megaphone, “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud.”
The singer joked at the time that filming the scene could easily have ended his career.
15. All copies of the original American Psycho soundtrack had to be destroyed because the record label didn’t have the rights to Hip to be Square
Outside of Back to the Future, surely the most famous use of Huey Lewis and the News’ music in popular culture is in American Psycho.
Both Bret Easton Ellis’ hugely controversial 1991 novel and the 2000 film adaptation starring Christian Bale feature a scene that heavily dwells on the band’s 1986 song Hip to Be Square.
The violent but darkly funny scene sees the deranged Patrick Bateman go into a verbose critical assessment of the band and their music, before brutally murdering his co-worker Paul (Jared Leto).
The soundtrack album to American Psycho was released by label Koch Records, and was originally set to include the song.
However, once it came to light that the label hadn’t secured the rights to the song, they were forced to recall and destroy 100,000 CDs.
Koch later claimed that Huey Lewis and the News had refused the rights because of the film’s violent content, but the band’s manager has refuted this.
14. They’ve sold upwards of 30 million albums
Beginning with their self-titled debut in 1980, Huey Lewis and the News have released ten studio albums.
On top of this, they have also put out three greatest hits compilations and one live album.
Collectively these have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, making the band one of the 200 highest-selling acts ever.
Their biggest selling album is 1983’s Sports, which was certified platinum seven times over in the US.
Runner up in the sales department is 1986’s Fore!, which went triple platinum in America and double platinum in the UK.
The Back to the Future soundtrack also went gold, which was no doubt in part due to the presence of two of the band’s songs.
13. They’ve been forced to stop touring because Huey Lewis has severe hearing loss
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In 2018, it was revealed that Huey Lewis had been diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease.
This is a disorder of the inner ear that has severely impaired the singer’s hearing, and there’s no known cure.
Huey Lewis and The News cancel all 2018 performances. See attached note from Huey. pic.twitter.com/FbWqDlGwnR
— Huey Lewis (@HueyLewisNews) April 13, 2018
Tragically, this means that is Lewis no longer able to perform live, effectively ending his career.
Lewis said in a Tweet at the time, “Although I can still hear a little, one on one, and on the phone, I can’t hear music well enough to sing.”
Huey Lewis and the News have released one album since this diagnosis (2020’s Weather, most of which was recorded before Lewis’ condition worsened), but it looks unlikely there will be any more.
The singer has admitted to falling into depression because of this, but says the support from fans has kept him going.
12. They recorded the theme song for Pineapple Express at Seth Rogen’s request
Huey Lewis and the News are well known for their contributions to movie soundtracks of the 1980s.
However, the band continued to make an impact on that front more than two decades later.
In 2008, they wrote and recorded an original composition for another movie, the action-comedy Pineapple Express.
The film’s star and co-writer Seth Rogen personally asked the band to provide the film’s title song.
It’s a fittingly upbeat track with a very 80s vibe, appropriate to the largely old-fashioned mood of the movie itself.
Disappointingly, Pineapple Express was never released as a single, nor was a music video ever made to go with it.
11. Huey paid homage to American Psycho in a Weird Al skit
Hip to Be Square, as we’ve established, never ended up on the official American Psycho soundtrack album.
However, Huey Lewis and the News show no signs of resenting the song’s association with the movie.
In 2013, Lewis appeared in a witty recreation of the iconic scene for Funny or Die.
Taking on the Bateman role himself, Lewis offers a similarly enthusiastic assessment of American Psycho.
Just to add another layer to the fun, the Paul role is taken by Weird Al Yankovic.
Among the prolific parody singer’s many comedy singles is a take on Lewis’ I Want a New Drug, retitled I Want a New Duck.
10. They won a Grammy for The Heart of Rock & Roll
As one of the biggest names of American music in the 80s, Huey and the Lewis were naturally up for some big awards.
Of course, in the music industry those awards don’t get any bigger than the Grammys.
- Credit: Inside the Magic/Flickr
The band have been nominated five times at the prestigious music industry awards show, but only won once.
Huey Lewis and the News earned the sole win at the Grammys for their single The Heart of Rock & Roll in 1985.
The song picked up the award for Best Music Video, Long Form. The previous year, the song had been nominated for Record of the Year.
The 1985 Grammys also saw the band nominated in two categories for The Power of Love, whilst in 1983 they’d also garnered a nomination for their earlier single Heart and Soul.
9. Ray Parker Jr. sued Lewis for discussing Ghostbusters in a 2001 interview
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Due to the legal red tape around the Ghostbusters/I Want a New Drug legal battle, official statements on the matter are thin on the ground.
In more recent years, it has come to light that Huey Lewis and the News had been approached before Ray Parker Jr with a request to write the Ghostbusters theme song, but the band turned the offer down.
- Credit: Ueli Frey
It has also been revealed that, whilst the movie Ghostbusters was being edited, the filmmakers had been using I Want a New Drug as temporary background music in various scenes, and that Parker was shown this footage.
However, no word was said publicly on the matter until 2001, when Huey Lewis finally addressed it directly in a TV interview.
In a VH1 Behind the Music profile, Lewis remarked “Ray Parker Jr. ripped the song off,” and described the situation as “offensive.” (His comments come around 32 minutes into the video above.)
Parker proceeded to sue Lewis over these remarks, as they were a breach of the confidentiality agreement from the original lawsuit. Again, the details of this further lawsuit are confidential, but Parker remarked afterwards that he “got a lot of money out of that.”
8. Huey Lewis was originally a harmonica player, not a singer
As the top-billed frontman of a popular band, Huey Lewis is known for his distinctive, powerful vocal style.
Back when he was first getting into the business, though, Lewis’ voice was not his chief instrument.
Initially, Lewis made a name for himself in the music industry as a harmonica player.
It’s not just a figure of speech to say Lewis ‘made a name for himself,’ as he also adopted his stage name at this time.
Initially he dubbed himself Hughie Louis, although he flirted with a number of variations of this before settling on his preferred spelling. He’s credited as ‘Bluesy Huey Lewis’ for his guest slot on harmonica on the Thin Lizzy album Live and Dangerous.
His actual birth name was in fact Hugh Anthony Cregg III (he’s the grandson of American lawyer and politician Hugh Cregg).
7. The Power of Love got an Oscar nomination
As well as winning a Grammy, Huey Lewis and the News have also been up for arguably the most celebrated award in the entertainment industry.
The band landed an Oscar nomination for their Back to the Future theme song The Power of Love.
The iconic track was up for the Best Original Song award in 1985 – but it sadly lost out.
The Oscar instead went to Lionel Richie for Say You Say Me, from the film White Nights.
In what must have been further salt in the wound for Lewis and company, Ray Parker Jr had been nominated for the same Oscar the previous year for Ghostbusters.
However, Parker also missed out on the award, which was given that year to I Just Called to Say I Love You, Stevie Wonder’s original song from The Woman in Red.
6. Huey had been a star pupil at school
A lot of the time, the big rock ‘n’ roll stars come up from humble beginnings and often minimal education.
This was not the case at all for Huey Lewis, who came from an affluent background with progressive and supportive parents.
His academic ability was recognised at an early age, as he skipped ahead a grade at elementary school.
Lewis then attended an exclusive New Jersey prep school, where he continued to perform impressively in academics.
Sitting his SAT aged 16 in 1967, Lewis got a perfect score of 800 on the math section.
He would go on to attend New York’s Cornell University to study engineering, but ultimately dropped out to pursue music.
5. A TV rom-com based around the band’s music is in the pipeline
It was announced in March 2021 that the music of Huey Lewis and the News will be the basis of a new TV show.
The as-yet untitled comedy drama series is the brainchild of seasoned TV producer Aaron Kaplan, and is written by Leila Gerstein (Hart of Dixie).
The idea is that the music of Huey Lewis and the News will form the backbeat of the show’s pivotal love story.
Lewis himself is actively involved in the show, having signed on as an executive producer.
Aaron Kaplan, who describes Lewis as a personal hero, pitched the show to the singer who immediately gave it his support.
Deadline‘s initial report on the show emphasises that the music of The News will “provide the inspiration for Season 1,” so it may be that subsequent seasons utilise the music of other artists (should the show prove a success).
4. Lewis admits his hearing problems left him “suicidal”
For any musician, their hearing is undoubtedly one of the most vital of the senses.
It’s only natural, then, that the loss of this sense is liable to send any musician into despair.
- Credit: Mike Shadle
Huey Lewis may have always projected a very upbeat persona, but he has admitted losing his hearing hit him very hard.
In a frank interview with Rolling Stone, the singer confesses that it left him feeling “suicidal.”
- Credit: Al Case, Ashland Daily Photo
There was literally a roaring tinnitus in my head. I just laid in bed. There was nothing I could do. I’d just lay in bed and contemplate my demise.”
Happily, Lewis was able to work through his trauma and adapt; he remarks, “It turns out you can get used to almost anything.”
3. Their music is the basis of a stage musical
In the past two decades, many hit stages musicals have emerged based around the songs of many beloved artists of days gone by.
Following in the footsteps of ABBA‘s Mamma Mia! and Queen‘s We Will Rock You is another ‘jukebox’ musical based around the music of Huey Lewis and the News.
The show is entitled The Heart of Rock & Roll, and centres on an aspiring rock star torn between his musical dreams and the struggles of real life.
The Heart of Rock & Roll premiered in San Diego in 2019, where it was met with a largely positive response.
Lewis and company have since been trying to take the musical to Broadway, but haven’t managed this yet.
Lewis said in 2020, “It’s an interesting game, Broadway. The theater owners own all the cards and you have to find the right one… It’s quite complicated, but we’re navigating all that.”
2. Huey also has many credits as an actor
Huey Lewis’ small role in Back to the Future marked his very first credit as a screen actor.
However, Lewis’ acting career is by no means limited to that cameo and the Funny or Die American Psycho skit.
As of 2021, the rock singer has 17 credits to his name as an actor.
These include roles in the movies Short Cuts, Sphere, Shadow of Doubt and Duets.
Lewis has also appeared in the TV shows One Tree Hill and Hot in Cleveland, and as a voice actor on The Cleveland Show and Puppy Dog Pals.
Unsurprisingly, he’s also played himself a couple of times, in The King of Queens and The Blacklist.
1. The line-up of The News has changed over the years
Huey Lewis and the News have been together since 1979, but there have been some line-up changes in that time.
Initially, Lewis was backed by lead guitarist Chris Hayes, guitarist and saxophonist Johnny Colla, keyboardist Sean Hopper, drummer Bill Gibson, and bass player Mario Cipollina.
- Credit: Howard Brier
Cipollina left the band in 1994, to be replaced by the band’s second bass player John Pierce.
Guitarist Chris Hayes also bowed out in 2001, at which point Stef Burns took over; guitarists Bill Hinds and James Harrah have sometimes played with the band as well.
- Credit: Paul Hamaker
In addition, in the band’s live performances they originally had backing from horn section Tower of Power, but in later years this changed to horn players Marvin McFadden, Ron Stallings and Rob Sudduth, dubbed ‘the Sports section.’