In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
How do you describe the Huey Lewis character? Lewis was one of the people who figured out the branding power of MTV early, and his videos were all over the channel in the early years. Those videos are all light slapstick comedies built around Lewis’ affable and blandly handsome comic persona. But what is that persona? I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate it, and I’m not sure I’ve quite got it.
Those Huey Lewis And The News videos are all cartoonish fantasias — short-film peers to joke-a-minute absurdist ’80s comedies like Better Off Dead. But in those videos, Lewis isn’t a high-school kid like the one that John Cusack played for so many years. Instead, he’s a rich guy in his mid-thirties with a well-maintained tan and a butt-chin. The videos throw one ridiculous obstacle after another at Lewis, and he’s never afraid to make himself look ridiculous. But Lewis always seems to get the girl in those videos. He never loses.
Until I researched my column on “The Power Of Love,” the first #1 hit for Huey Lewis And The News, I didn’t know anything about the man’s history. He was partly raised by a beat poet. He spent time on the UK pub-rock scene, playing on Nick Lowe and Thin Lizzy records. He’s interesting. I didn’t know any of that. The only Huey Lewis I knew was the one I saw on MTV while on family vacations. (I didn’t have cable at home as a kid.) That Huey Lewis came off as a smirking symbol of yuppie self-satisfaction. This is probably why so many people heard “Hip To Be Square,” Huey Lewis And The News’ 1986 single, as a pro-conformity anthem, missing the irony that Lewis intended. In his videos, Lewis just seemed like someone who would think it was hip to be square. (“Hip To Be Square” peaked at #3. It’s a 5.)
I’m fixating on Lewis’ whole persona because I honestly don’t know how else to explain the success of “Stuck With You.” “Stuck With You” was the band’s first single after “The Power Of Love,” and it was also the first taste of Fore!, their follow-up to the massively popular LP Sports. (They called it Fore! because they were playing a lot of golf at the time and because it’s their fourth album. See, this is why people didn’t see the irony in “Hip To Be Square.”) So Lewis had everything lined up for himself. And yet “Stuck With You” has all the flavor of leftover white rice, microwaved and eaten straight out of the tupperware. Fun video, though.
Huey Lewis And The News had struggled with the pressure of following up a record as successful as Sports, which came out in 1983 and became the second-biggest album of 1984. (That year, only Thriller sold more.) After years of work, manager Bob Brown told guitarist and “The Power Of Love” co-writer Chris Hayes that the album still needed a hit single. Hayes went into the studio with a six-pack of beer and a mission to force out a hit. He came up with the tune for “Stuck With You,” and Lewis wrote the lyrics.
“Stuck With You” sounds exactly like the kind of song that a mid-’80s hitmaker might crank out at gunpoint. It’s basically a doo-wop song, but it’s the processed, digital version of a doo-wop song — a truly noxious combination. As a singer, Lewis mugs his way through “Stuck With You.” He sounds like David Lee Roth attempting to become Billy Joel. It’s not a good combination. The song isn’t distinctive enough to be as unpleasant as it looks on paper. Instead, it’s just there — a bland and airless little nothing.
“Stuck With You” has more personality in its lyrics than in its music, but it’s not a good personality. “Stuck With You” is a love song, but it’s the kind of love song that you might write if you don’t actually like somebody that much anymore. Lewis’ narrator spends the song shrugging, accepting the fact that he’s still in a relationship: “We thought about breaking up/ Now we know it’s much too late/ We are bound by all the rest/ Like the same phone number, all the same friends, and the same address.” On the chorus, Lewis sings that he’s “happy to be stuck with you.” He doesn’t sound very happy about it. (Lewis had gotten married three years before “Stuck With You” reached #1. His marriage ended three years later.)
So “Stuck With You” manages to be both musically forgettable and lyrically rancid. And yet I’m not altogether mad at the song. Mostly, that’s because I like the video. Lewis leaves a fancy party with a beautiful woman, promises her a ride in a yacht, and takes her out in a rowboat. She doesn’t seem to mind. They capsize, narrowly avoid a shark attack, and wash up on a tropical island, acting like castaways before stumbling into a beach party. (This must’ve been one of those silent beach parties.) Meanwhile, the News all go out looking for Huey, and one of them smokes a cigarette while scuba diving.
A video like this has exactly the right tone for a mid-afternoon MTV binge. Lewis might be smug, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he mostly seems to care about making something goofy and watchable. There’s charisma in his blandness, and there’s showmanship in his dedication to low-stakes silliness. Director Edd Griles had also made the videos for early Cyndi Lauper hits like “Time After Time.” (I’m pretty sure Griles muse Captain Lou Albano gets a beach-party cameo in “Stuck With You,” though I guess it could just be someone who looks a lot like Captain Lou Albano.) Griles also directed Lewis and the News’ similarly wacky video for the 1984 single “If This Is It.” He knew just what Lewis needed. (“If This Is It” peaked at #6. It’s a 5.)
Keely Shaye Smith, the lead actress from the “Stuck With You” video, does great work portraying someone who’s happy to be marooned with Huey Lewis. After that, she spent a year on General Hospital and then did a few seasons as the phone-center correspondent on Unsolved Mysteries. In 1994, she met Pierce Brosnan at a beach party that I imagine looking a lot like the one in the “Stuck With You” video. Smith and Brosnan got married in 2001, and they’re still together now. She bagged a Bond. Good for her.
Huey Lewis And The News did well for themselves after “Stuck With You,” too. They’ll be in this column again.
BONUS BEATS: “Stuck With You” is one of those huge hits that immediately disappears from the universe the second it falls from the #1 spot. I couldn’t really find any notable covers, samples, or soundtrack appearances. The best I could do is this: At the beginning of “360° (Natty Prep),” a 1986 track from the LA synth-funk group Timex Social Club, you can hear a quick second of “Stuck With You” through radio static. Here’s that song:
(Timex Social Club’s highest-charting single, 1986’s “Rumors,” peaked at #8. It’s an 8.)