When Huey Lewis Recruited 49ers Stars as Backup Singers
Most frontmen enjoy having powerful backing singers, but in 1986, Huey Lewis boasted arguably the strongest lineup of vocalists on record: members of the San Francisco 49ers.
Though Lewis was born in New York, he grew up in San Francisco and - after a stint at New York's Cornell University - ended up back in the Bay in the early days of his music career. Huey Lewis and the News would break out in the early ‘80s, right around the time the 49ers were becoming an NFL powerhouse led by star quarterback Joe Montana.
“The first time I met Dwight [Clark] and Joe was because they came to the Bay Area Music Awards,” Lewis recalled to NBC Bay Area decades later. The men hit it off, forming a fast friendship that led Huey Lewis and the News to suddenly become part of the team’s inner circle.
“[Head coach Bill Walsh] invited us to be on the airplane, to go to the Super Bowl," Lewis remembered. "We traveled on the team plane, Huey Lewis and the News did, on a couple of occasions.”
At some point, Clark - the wide receiver forever known for "The Catch" - made a simple suggestion to Lewis: “Let me sing on one of your records, and we’ll let you take a few snaps.”
See 49ers Players in Huey Lewis and the News' 'I Know What I Want' Video
The rocker took him up on the offer and recruited other members of the team to join as well. The 1986 album Fore! featured players on two tracks: “Hip to Be Square” and “I Know What I Like.” Both singles peaked in the Top 10, helping spur Fore! to multiplatinum sales.
“On ‘Hip to Be Square,’ we got Joe, Dwight, Ricki Ellison and Ronnie Lott to sing ‘Here, there and everywhere,’” Lewis recalled, noting the players’ contributions. “And then we triple-tracked it, and it sounded like a hundred people. And then we put harmonies over it.”
Clark, more than the others, proved to have substantial musical talent.
“We found out in the studio that Dwight can really sing,” Lewis admitted. “I mean he really could sing. And so we let him run a little bit. And if you listen to the record today, the last ‘Hip to be square’ is Dwight on there. I sing it about three times, and then the very last one before the fade is Dwight.”
''Dwight's the singer,'' Montana confirmed to The New York Times in 1987. ''I think they turned my mike off.''
''It must have taken us 1,000 takes to get it right,'' added Ellison. ''We had to do it until they liked it. Dwight's the singer. Joe's shy. I was just yelling.''
Watch Huey Lewis and the News' 'Hip to Be Square' Video
The Niners’ contributions weren’t limited to the recording studio. On Dec. 31, 1986 - while the team was still in the midst of a playoff run - the players joined Lewis and the band onstage during a show at the Oakland Coliseum. Less than a week later they’d suffer the worst playoff defeat in franchise history, falling to the New York Giants 49-3.
Lewis maintained a friendly relationship with the team over the ensuing decades, performing at numerous 49ers games and events. Clark, with whom the rocker remained especially close, died in 2018 following a battle with ALS. Lewis was among the guests paying their respects at his private funeral.
Two years later, Montana was among the celebrities to appear in the music video for Huey Lewis and the News' 2020 single “Her Love is Killing Me."
“They used to say, athletes and musicians, well, we have a lot in common,” Lewis once joked, reflecting upon his friendship with the players. “We hang out in coliseums, and we take a lot of showers together.”
See Dwight Clark Performing With Huey Lewis and the News in 1989