The "drug" that Lewis sings about in this song is women. They don't have the side effects most drugs do: dry mouth, red eyes, make your face break out, etc.
Huey Lewis offered this explanation in a Rolling Stone interview: "The whole meaning of 'I Want a New Drug' is that drugs aren't a part of life. They're just superficial. They're nothing about life. Life is love. Love is the answer, man."
Lewis wrote this song with his guitarist, Chris Hayes. They were the primary songwriters in the band along with multi-instrumentalist Johnny Colla.
This was one of five hit songs from the Sports
album, an '80s landmark that sold 7 million copies in America. It was one of just five #1 albums in 1984, claiming a week in a year dominated by Thriller
, Born in the U.S.A.
, Purple Rain
and the Footloose
None of the five hits were huge, but they were each released about three months apart, starting with "The Heart of Rock & Roll
" in late 1983 and ending with "Walking on a Thin Line
" late in 1984, keeping Huey Lewis & the News on the charts and on the air for well over a year with a single album. "I Want a New Drug" was the second single, peaking at #6 in March 1984.
When the Sports
singles ran out, the band released the biggest hit of their career: "The Power of Love
," a #1 smash in 1985 from the movie Back To The Future
Lewis sued Ray Parker Jr. for stealing the melody from this song on his hit "Ghostbusters
." They settled out of court, but Parker sued Lewis in 2001 after Lewis revealed in a VH1 Behind The Music
special that Parker paid him as part of the agreement.
In the video, Lewis wakes up bleary-eyed from a hangover, gets dressed, and drives his sports car to an awaiting yacht. He then takes a helicopter to a concert where he's performing. The joke is that Lewis was never into the hedonism available to a rock star such as himself. Where he finds happiness is on stage, performing his music.
MTV was three years old at the time and had become a crucial marketing vehicle. Huey Lewis & the News understood its influence and made videos for all their singles, becoming one of the most popular acts on the network. The iconic shot from "I Want A New Drug" is the one where Lewis sticks his head in a sink full of ice water and we see him from below with his eyes open, singing the song while submerged. Who needs special effects!
Huey Lewis explained in the book Playing Back The '80s: A Decade Of Unstoppable Hits that "I Want A New Drug" came to him, understandably, in the midst of a hangover. "I had a long night, shall we say. I woke up and I had an early appointment with Bob Gordon, my then-publishing attorney, at like nine in the morning. I got up and I remember I had a headache. I drove to his place and I had the idea on the way. I walked in and I said, 'Bob, do you have a pen and pencil?' I wrote down most of the song."
Lewis also explained in that book about the struggles that the band had finding the right feel for the song. "I shared it with some of the guys. We made a couple false starts with the song, to be honest with you. People thought it was gonna be OK, but I didn't. I remember really believing in the lyric, and thinking this song wasn't good enough. So I finally got up the nerve to tell the guys that I didn't think that we were going in the right direction. Finally, I remember I was at home and Chris Hayes (the News' lead guitarist at the time) called me up on the phone and he said, 'I got it. 'I Want A New Drug,' I got it. I got a great riff.' I said, 'Come on over.' So he came over and we had a little cassette player, he played it and I sang it and that was it."
Weird Al Yankovic did a parody of this song titled "I Want A New Duck." When Al appeared in a parody of American Psycho
, he is killed by Huey Lewis, who exclaims: "try parodying one of my songs now, you stupid bastard."
Matthew - Milford, MA
The movie Back To The Future went into production with "I Want A New Drug" as a temporary track until a more suitable song was written, which turned out to be "The Power of Love."
An animated variation of the video appears in the 2005 episode of The Simpsons, "Midnight Rx" when Marge and Lisa visit a shady prescription drug manufacturer and watch a video with this voiceover:
The mighty Amazon river. The natives had a word for it. Then we got rid of the natives and no one remembers that word. But here are some words everyone remembers by Huey Lewis & the News.
At this point, the "I Want A New Drug" video comes on, offering a pleasant distraction from the realities of the prescription drug market.
According to Lewis, his record company was wary of the track's title. "They were afraid of it, the record company, because it had the word 'drug' in it," he told Jim Beviglia. "I remember we played Roseland Ballroom in New York City and the label came out and everybody went crazy to that song. Because of that, I convinced them to make it the second single. But they insisted on the record, on the little 45, and I still have one, that it's called 'I Want A New Drug (Called Love).'"
Lewis has a special affinity for "I Want A New Drug" because of how it showcases the News. "It was a band song," he said. "It's all about the band. There's no way a bunch of LA songwriters write a song like that for somebody. Whoever sings that song, wrote it. That's what was so good about it for us. It didn't fit a hit single formula."