Popcorn Noises

Sean R. Nyffeler lives in Brooklyn, NY and writes about music.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Huey Lewis & The News
"Heart and Soul"
Sports (1983)

This is a song that hasn’t quite decided what to be yet. The chorus part, with its chug-a-lug guitars and cowbell, is the kind of thing you tend to expect from The News (and maybe 80s rock in general), but the way the keyboards take over hook duty around the verses feels like a new style is being imported. It’s Latin and lounge-y. It sounds more like what I imagine Huey Lewis to be when the blues affectations are stripped away: a guy in a suit with neat hair who’s comfortable among shiny, glass-covered office buildings. “Heart and Soul” is white collar, near-executive rock, cheesy in its sincerity but disarming in its lack of portent.

It starts to come together when you realize that the entire song and every instrument—guitars, keys, etc.—is that one little dinky riff traded around the band. Bum-bum-bum-bum-ba-BADA-baaaa! The off-beat syncopation of it is what conjures the shoulder pads and pink flamingoes, but that slide between chords lays out the song’s emotional resonance. All the guitars linger over it, the keys accent it, and when words fail him, Huey mimics it in a tortured, sandpapery wail. The song is constantly slipping down a whole step, and to my ears it complements the veiled sense of dejection in the lyrics.

Ostensibly, “Heart and Soul” is about being used, though I can’t say Huey sounds all that inconvenienced by the late-night calls of this mystery woman. The song paints her as manic (possibly depressive?), an unknowable sexual tooth fairy who visits late at night and leaves long before you wake up. When Huey says “I let her steal the night away from me,” and “I let her take advantage of me,” is he secretly wishing for a relationship? Passing blame off on her so he doesn’t have to face his own complicity? Or is he simply smitten with her in that very Hollywood way where he doesn’t realize how entitled he sounds? The chorus—“She’s heart and soul / she’s hot and cold / she’s got it all”—mostly serves to obfuscate further. It doesn’t provide enough justification for his actions to really be part of the story, but it’s also so vague that you don’t always believe his infatuation. At the heart of it, he seems confused, unable to navigate between desire, consequence, and control.