1983 going into 1984 was a great time for pop music. I was lucky enough to be a kid with an open ear to what was going on at the time. You had pop stars in the making, such as Madonna and Prince. There was Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which was unstoppable. You had greats from the previous decade making a comeback or were finally making it truly big thanks to MTV, such as Hall and Oates, Genesis, ZZ Top and Tina Turner. Then somewhere in the middle you had some bands that were just ordinary joes with talent that were thrust into the video world at just the right time to be noticed. Huey Lewis and the News was one of those lucky bands. While the members had all been in bands throughout the 70s, their 1980 self titled album barely got noticed, and their followup Picture This had a couple breakthrough hits in “Do You Believe In Love” and “Workin’ For A Livin'” In late 1983, it was do or die time.
Sports has held up extremely well for being 30 years old. It plays like a greatest hits album. Six out of nine tracks were either singles or videos. In fact if you have the Huey Lewis and the News Greatest Hits album, you’ll find that a fourth of the collection is from here (minus, inexcusably in my opinion, ‘Bad Is Bad”). However a couple of the songs are shorter single edits. That’s no fun. The hits from this album started off in 1983 with “Heart and Soul”, then came “I Want A New Drug”, “The Heart of Rock and Roll”, “If This Is It”, “Walking On A Thin Line”, and “Bad Is Bad” which received a lot of MTV airplay, but was oddly only released as a b-side to one of the Back To The Future singles. The album was on the charts so long those just bled together.
So this reissue makes the 4th copy of Sports I have owned. There’s the regular US repressing from the 80s, which I got rid of long ago, the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs 1988 gold disc version, the 1999 Expanded Edition, and this, the 30th Anniversary Edition. Let’s look at how they compare. Using the MFSL, ’99 Expanded Edition and the 30th Edition, I did an A-B-C comparison on several key tracks. What I found was this. The MFSL version sounds bright and clean. It’s a very good remaster. The ’99 remaster has good clarity on the quiet sounds (the percussion on “Heart and Soul” stands out), but the low end is a bit too heavy and out of balance. It has a heavy thump to it that doesn’t feel right and weighs down its shine. Then I popped in the 30th Edition, and it was like someone took out a layer of murk. This mix is bright and sparkles with detail. I really had my doubts about repurchasing the album this time around, but I have to say this is the best mix I’ve heard so far.
Now for the perks. What else does this offer in comparison to the old versions?
The 30th Edition comes with a second disc, made up of live versions of each song on the album in sequence. There is good and bad to this. The tracks are from 1983 to 1989, depending when they recorded the songs live. Fortunately if you don’t look you probably can’t tell the difference by performance, as the band sounds great throughout. What is out of place is that “I Want A New Drug” is fourth in the sequence (segued by audience to sound continuous), but it is the revved up final song of that concert so the band intros and goodnights are all part of the track. But the performance is good enough to overlook it. Since “You Crack Me Up” and their cover of Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonk Blues” were not ever recorded live, the band recorded new live versions in 2012 at a small venue called The Troutfarm for sake of being complete. It is strange that only “Walking On A Thin Line” is from 1983. All the rest were recorded on the Fore! tour or the Small World tour.
This doesn’t mean you should throw away your 1999 Expanded Edition just yet. That version contains versions of “If This Is It”, “Heart and Soul” and “I Want A New Drug” live in 84/85 on the actual Sports tour. It also contains alternate “session take” versions of “The Heart of Rock and Roll” and “Walking On A Thin Line”.
How does the packaging stack up? The 30th Anniversary Edition has plenty to look at. You get the photos that were made into a composite for the cover, along with notes from the photographer. You get a decent length essay about the album from Gary Graff. And you get lots of pics of memorabilia from that time. What you don’t get though are the lyrics. So save the 1999 Edition for that, as that version’s liner notes did an expanded replica of the original album inner sleeve in multi-page form.
The bottom line is if you love this music, you can’t go wrong with the new 30th Anniversary edition. The sound is as better than it has ever been, and they did a really good job putting this together. This is it. And I’m letting you know.
Here are all of the videos that came from this album:
“Heart and Soul”
“I Want A New Drug”
“The Heart of Rock & Roll”
“If This Is It”
“Walking On A Thin Line” (Live at Rockaplast 1984)
“Bad Is Bad”