1988 Countdown #59: Huey Lewis and the News, “Perfect World”


A jaunty beat, a bunch of white guys on a peach-colored rooftop, and a closeup on a pair of zebra-print shoes: why, it’s Huey Lewis and the News! Huey Lewis was still having hits in 1988? Apparently so–and this wasn’t even his last top-forty single. Unlike countdown last-gaspers Pat Benatar and Kenny Loggins, he had four more hits, extending all the way through 1993.


After the footwear closeup, we get some establishing shots of the band before turning our attention to Lewis. He’s got a jacket, a white shirt with oversized clasps, and a chin that looks like the child-size portion of Jay Leno’s. At age 38, his hairline’s starting to recede, but he’s marching in place like he owns that rooftop. With a triumphant fist pump, Lewis struts up to the microphone stand and sings, “Everybody’s looking for that perfect world.”

This song’s relentless mediocrity sent me back to the News’ greatest hits, to see if they were any better. (I listen so you don’t have to.) I liked Sports when I was a kid, and it’s better than “Perfect World,” but none of it holds up very well. The songwriting was the group’s strongest suit: at their best, they delivered catchy, well-crafted pop-rock songs. Lewis was a generic vocalist prone to husky shouting. The News were an okay bar band, and some of them get rock ‘n’ roll merit badges for playing on Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True. As far as I can tell, Huey Lewis and the News got over on regular-guy bonhomie.


“What you going to do when one and one makes three?” Lewis sings. He sells the hell out of this not-very-good lyric, flashing up one finger and then three, and looking alarmed by what he finds on his right hand. It’s genuinely amusing; Lewis wasn’t a very talented lead singer, but he did a good job as frontman, and his shrugging and mugging played well on MTV.

Lots of shots of the News–there’s five of them plus Lewis, all looking like middle management, or maybe grocery-store-owners. In the background, we can see rolling green hills, probably in the vicinity of the Bay Area. Lewis waggles his finger at the camera and then changes into a black polka-dot shirt, now appearing in the foreground so he can do some more finger-waggling. We cut to a sideways shot of Lewis and the two guitarists, stepping back and forth from their microphones–the angle that was pure accidental poetry for the final minute of “Found a Job” in Stop Making Sense. Here it’s more forced, an effort to do a white-man soul revue.


At this point, a full minute and twenty seconds into the video, the MTV “Top 100 of 1988” logo appears in the upper left-hand corner, along with the #59 placement. This is supposed to appear at the same time as the credits block in the lower left-hand corner; i.e., about five to ten seconds after the clip starts. Somebody in MTV production (a) was asleep at the switch (b) couldn’t be bothered to roll the tape again to fix it.

A stray piece of newspaper flies across the set and onto the bassist. He heroically plays on. The keyboardist is rocking some crazy fringe on a black leather shirt. Lewis waggles his finger again! This time he’s looking into the camera as he sings “They’ll talk about you.” I would rank Lewis as #2 on the list of lead singers most reliant on hand gestures, behind only Cy Curnin of the Fixx, who always looked like he’d rather be doing a puppet show.


More newspaper flies onto the set, this time landing on Lewis. Now he goes up to the lip of the “roof,” and we get an over-the-shoulder camera angle, revealing that he is actually singing to a vast garbage dump. Let’s give the band the benefit of the doubt and assume this wasn’t meant to be an expression of contempt for their fans. It’s a carefully groomed dump–lots of trash, but nothing too specific or unappetizing. Ah, a simpler time, when environmental concerns were more focused on waste disposal than global warming.

More trash flies at the band, and I wish we could see the production assistant who’s dropping the flotsam in front of a giant fan. Lewis ducks and gamely pretends to be surprised. We rotate through more shots of the band; this time around, there’s always a sea of trash in the frame. Lewis throws his microphone from one hand to the other and spins on his heel.


A bulldozer plows through the trash. A band member (a New?) has switched to trumpet: actually, he’s playing two trumpets at the same time, and has four saxophones slung around his body. The lead guitarist grimaces as he plays the solo. The camera pulls back, revealing that the garbage is now dwarfing the “roof” that rests on top of it. The band sings merrily on top of a pile of trash, and then rides the bulldozer into the sunset, waving at the camera.

“Perfect World” went all the way to #3 on the Billboard charts. You can watch the video here.

posted 4 February 2010 in 1988 and tagged . 4 comments

4 Comments on 1988 Countdown #59: Huey Lewis and the News, “Perfect World”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    Huey v. Cy “puppet show” reference for the win.

    I’d half-agree with you that Sports doesn’t hold up tremendously. But the album you don’t mention here — the transition between that breakthrough and this ’88 mediocrity — was 1986’s Fore!, the one where they really became a punchline. If Sports contains a couple of their least embarrassing hits – I still have a soft spot for synth-rock bootyshaker “Heart and Soul” and Ray Parker Jr. roadmap-to-a-hit “I Want a New Drug” – Fore! is so bland and lousy, it practically begged Bret Easton Ellis to invent Patrick Bateman for the sole purpose of making fun of it.

    Fore! was HL&tN’s X&Y, the moment where a hardworking if limited-talent act capitalizes massively on gradually increasing fame. If the Billboard album chart had made No. 1 debuts as easy back then as they are now, it likely would’ve debuted there; as it was, I think it shot to the top in just two or three weeks, a virtual No. 1 debut. And the lazy, truly awful single “Stuck with You” rode to No. 1 on the Hot 100 so fast, it was clear radio program directors weren’t thinking much before cashing their summer ’86 payola checks/coke shipments. The album spawned five Top 10 hits, almost none of which you could sing a line of now — except maybe “Hip to Be Square,” again thanks to the immortality of über-Lewis fan Bateman. Everything that was wrong with ’80s music was encapsulated on Fore!

    I bring all this up because “Perfect World,” by the time it limped onto the charts, was basically a card-puncher for Lewis et al., a victory lap after a lazy album that did absurdly well relative to its musical merits. Arguably, the lite/white-reggae beat of this thing is Lewis trying — it’s about as much effort as he/they needed to put into a hit at that point. So I guess we should…thank him? for breaking a sweat, however modest.

    For some reason, this was my Dad’s favorite Huey Lewis song. I think he asked me to put it on a mixtape for him once, and I recall complying. But then, HL&tN were Dad-rock pretty much from the start, right?

  2. azul120 Says:

    I’d encountered many a left corner MTV video bumper thingy faux pas in my day, and they’d come in all shades, so that one is of little surprise. Not to mention that the moment you mentioned second most reliant on hand gestures, I knew Cy of the Fixx would be the first, if only because of that VH1 100 One Hit Wonders (or was it Songs?) of the ’80s special.

    From a copy of this video that was on Youtube a couple years ago that was taped when this video was new, I know that this video was an MTV exclusive. That, along with the placement on this countdown above other videos that did well when they were on MTV, and that it didn’t place quite as highly on the Billboard year end Hot 100, suggests a likely top 3 peak on the MTV top 20. What’s somewhat jarring, or perhaps telling, is that from their next album on, none of their videos would receive noticeable rotation on MTV, and this was starting in spring ’91 with “Couple Days Off”. They’d been relegated to VH1, pretty much.

    Still, they had a pretty good run in the ’80s. (I have a soft spot for “Heart And Soul”.) And this is at least one of two acts on this countdown played on the TV show “Chuck”. (Hint: Another one was played a few weeks ago on the season premiere.) In one of the early season 2 eps. (can’t look up the title right now, unfortunately), “Hip to Be Square”, “Power of Love” and “Do You Believe In Love?” were all played at key moments. It’s been said that Huey Lewis pointing to Josh Schwartz at a concert the latter attended in the ’80s was formative on the influence of music in his writing, so there you go.

  3. Rob Says:

    I’m surprised to see this one so high. I guess Hu was one of the era’s great masters at the “pulling your shades halfway down your nose to check out the ladies” move. Your Cy Curnin analogy is perfect!

    If I’m not mistaken, Sean Hopper was the only one of the News who played on the Elvis Costello album (he was one of a half-dozen keyboardists) but my favorite New was the goth bassist who brought snakes to the beach.

    was “The Power of Love” ever on an actual Huey album? wasn’t that their best by a mile?

  4. Gavin Says:

    Further research suggests you are correct about who gets the Elvis Costello merit badge.

    That bassist, Mario Cipollina, was also the vampire in the “Heart and Soul” video.

    I would say the two best HL&TN songs are “Heart and Soul” and “The Power of Love,” and at the time, you couldn’t get that last one on any album except the soundtrack to Back to the Future. (Now it’s on various News hits packages, of course.)

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