by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
It may sound funny coming from a guy who absorbs a lot of music by cult acts like XTC, Big Star, Spoon, The Smiths, and Ryan Adams, but I can honestly say that if I were stranded on a desert island and could only have ten albums with me, I would quite seriously have to consider making 1982’s Picture This by Huey Lewis and the News one of those albums. Sure, it’s not exactly ambitious art. [At heart, the News was really an unapologetically fun-minded party-rock band, though its origins are much hipper than you would assume. Lewis and keyboardist Sean Hopper belonged to Clover, who served as the backing band on Elvis Costello’s debut album, while Lewis honed his chops on albums by new-wave icon Nick Lowe, Irish rock legends Thin Lizzy, and rockabilly revivalist Dave Edmunds.] Still, the album left me as impressed and completely speechless upon first listen as any record by the aforementioned cult acts, and for one simple reason: track for track, it is one of the catchiest post-Beatles pop albums I’ve ever run across. I’m not kidding. There is not one song on here that takes more than one listen to sink in and induce you into singing along. There are actually more hooks to be found on this disc than Sports, which takes a noticeable dip in quality in its second half, though “If This Is It” is good enough to mask that somewhat. The songs on Picture This are so hook-heavy that even their verses are just as catchy as the choruses, and the album is consequently one of the very few in my notoriously large record collection that I’ve loaded onto my iPod in its entirety.
The very first thing you notice is just how improved the group’s own songwriting has become. Whereas the group’s entirely-self-penned debut suffered from too much forgettable filler, the originals showcased here are all fantastic, particularly the album-opening sweeping pop of “Change of Heart,” which is much more melodically memorable than the similarly-named Tom Petty hit single from the same year. The equally strong “Tell Me a Little Lie” finds the band adopting a slight hint of ska to surprisingly good results, while the band is at its most rousing on the harmonica-driven rocker “Workin’ for a Livin.’” (For an even better version of the latter, check out the band’s intense live performance – with a newly-added guitar solo from the wildly underrated Chris Hayes – on the ‘80s sketch-comedy show “Fridays.”)
“Is It Me,” arguably the group’s greatest self-penned ballad, is a rare glimpse at the band in a more acoustic setting, while the sunny pop of the hook-heavy “Whatever Happened to True Love,” calls to mind Pablo Cruise. (Fittingly enough, that band not only shared a manager with Huey Lewis and the News and would recruit Huey himself to co-write the title track of their next album, but they would also provide him with several future members of the News in John Pierce and Stef Burns.)
While they clearly have grown by leaps and bounds in the songwriting department, what also helps to make this album a huge improvement on their debut is that the band has opted to incorporate an equal amount of outside material. (Why more bands lacking particularly prolific or strong songwriters don’t also do this, I have no idea. It goes an incredibly long way towards clamping down on the amount of filler on an album.) The band shows a real knack, too, for selecting great cover material, never picking anything too obvious or overly familiar but still making sure the songs sound potentially hit-worthy.
A perfect example of this is the well-placed second-side opener, “Do You Believe in Love.” Originally recorded in 1979 (as “We Both Believe in Love”) by the little-known British band Supercharge, the song hails from the pen of the then-unknown Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who’d later go on to co-write and produce many a hit for the likes of Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, and Shania Twain. The band revises some lyrics and tones down the hints of R&B from the original version to give the song more of a polished and pop-oriented sheen and succeeds wildly. It not only became the definitive version of the song - and one of the most well-crafted pop-rock singles of the early ‘80s - but provided the band with its first Top 40 and Top 10 hit.
The band sounds like it’s having even greater fun on its first-rate covers of “Giving It All Up for Love” (an obscure cut from a solo album by Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott) and the Hollywood Flames’ ‘50s tune “Buzz Buzz Buzz,” a fittingly playful and lighthearted ending to a very fun album. Perhaps the best of all the outside songs is “Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do,” penned by Mike Duke from ‘70s Southern-rock band Wet Willie. The track swings from Tower of Power brass solos to tender verses to a rousing, handclap-laden, sing-along fade-out. The combination shouldn’t work, but the band pulls it off brilliantly, and the song remains a much-requested concert staple for the band to this day. (Jimmy Kimmel has even gone on record as dubbing it one of his all-time favorite songs.)
While this album may not have yielded nearly as many hit singles as its massive-selling follow-ups Sports and Fore! (“Hope You Love Me …” was the only other single from the record besides “Do You Believe in Love” to reach the Top 40 and just barely managed to do so), there are few albums from the ‘80s that boast quite as many “should-have-been-hits” as this album does. It’s arguably not only the most consistent album the band ever made but one of the most surprisingly consistent mainstream-pop albums of the entire decade.