|Anatomy of a Song: "The Power of Love"
In 1984, Huey Lewis and the News had eight Billboard pop hits but none cracked the top five. .
Then came an offer to write a theme for the movie "Back to the Future." Mr. Lewis nearly passed
He feared a song with that title would make the News sound retro and dated. So he went with the "Power of Love." The
single became a No. 1 Billboard pop hit in 1985 and was nominated for an Oscar.
Recently, the song's co-writers - Mr. Lewis, guitarist Chris Hayes and guitarist/saxophonist Johnny Colla - looked back
at making the hit . . .
When my manager, Bob Brown, and I met with the Amblin Entertainment team in Los Angeles in 1984, they told us about
a film they had just written called "Back to the Future." They talked about a kid who was the lead character, Marty McFly,
and said that if he had a favorite band, it would be Huey Lewis and the News. They asked me to write and record a song.
At first, I didn't want to write a song called "Back to the Future." The News wasn't about looking backward. I also told
them I had no idea how to write for a film. "That's OK," they said. "We don't care what you call it. We just want a Huey
Lewis and the News song." By then, we had a bunch of strong hits, including "I Want a New Drug,""The Heart of Rock &
Roll" and "This Is It.".
I said, "Let me have a think and I'll send you the first new song we write." They said, "Fine." When I got back to my house
in Santa Venetia, Calif, up in Marin County, I remembered the cassette demo our guitarist Chris Hayes had given me with
his chord progression for a new song.
Whenever I had a song idea for the News, I'd sit in my home study in Petaluma and first try to find a good series of guitar chords.. I had an Akai MG1212
mixer/mult-track recorder combo unit. It didn't create good-sounding demos, but it was good enough to get a song down on tape.
On this particular day, I created a verse by strumming a rhythm-guitar part. I monkeyed around and pounded on it until I came up with something that sounded cool.
The melody and the rest fell together pretty quickly. My favorite part was the bridge. I'd always been a jazz player, so I came up with a series of jazz chords. I liked the
bridge so much I used it twice in the song.
For the demo, I recorded two versions backed by a drum machine. The first was an instrumental and the second was the instrumental with me scatting so Huey could
have the vocal melody. Then I dropped off the tape with Huey, who lived about 20 minutes away.
Back home from L.A., I popped the tape into my Walkman and went for a run through nearby China Camp State Park on San Pablo Bay. As I ran, I listened over and
over, and thought back to the 70's, when I was in the rock band Clover. Back then, I wrote songs with guitarist Alex Call. I somehow remembered him doing
something with the phrase "the power of love." I was thinking of my family. I had married a year earlier and we had out first child, Kelly in '84. Austin was on the way. I
was no longer a bachelor. The power of love keeps you home at night.
So I used that phrase as a springboard for the lyrics I came up with during my run listening to Chris' melody: "The power of love is a curious thing / Make one man
weep, make another man sing / Change a heart to a little white dove / More than a feeling, that's the power of love."
I loved Chris' bridge on the song. It had a completely different, relaxed feel, so I needed a sweeter lyric: "They say that all in love is fair / Yeah, you don't care / But
you know what to do / When it gets hold of you / And with a little help from above / You feel the power of love."
Holding the words in my head until I got home to a pad and pen wasn't hard. As a performer, I memorized lyrics for a living. Rock 'n' Roll songs are like haikus. They
have certain boundaries. At my house, I wrote out what I'd been singing over and over. I also sang the lines to get the phrasing right. Then I called Alex to ask if he
had written a song called. "The Power of Love." Alex said, "No song, just the title." I asked if I could use his title, and I gave him a percentage of the song.
Once the lyrics were set, I overdubbed a demo vocal on top of Chris' instrumental and sent the tape down to Bob Zemeckis, the director of "Back to the Future," for
Bob felt the song wasn't peppy enough. So Huey suggested that Chris get together with me, since I was the designated "finishing" guy on News songs. I had an
eight-track recorder in my extra bedroom in Novato, Calif. Chris came over and we listened to the demo tape, which had him playing these cool guitar chords in his
First, I suggested we rearrange the song and drop one of the two bridges. Mostly, though, I suggested we open the song with a sharp synthesizer stabs on the 4 and
1 beats. I wanted them to sound like a horn section to give the song the wow effect Bob Zemeckis had wanted.
The stabs would become a signature part of the song and sort of a call and response to Huey's lead vocal. On the revised demo Chris and I recorded at my place, I
played the stabs on a Roland D-50. I used them on the chorus, too, and added them on top of Chris' catchy guitar riff to widen the sound and give the song some
urgency. Chris put a scat vocal on the demo-a lot do-do-do's and wop-bop-bah-dah's - as a melody guide.
We passed the tape to with two versions to Huey. He added his vocal to the instrumental version and sent the cassette down to Bob. We got the green light to record
the song for the film. We went into the studio in May '85.
The News rehearsed and then started to record the basic rhythm track at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, Calif. We all pitched in on producing. Next, we recorded the
overdubs at the Record Plant in Sausalito. Keyboardist Sean Hopper used a Roland Jupiter-8 synthesizer with a horn setting for the keyboard stabs, which drove the
song along with the beat.
I improvised my guitar solo. I used a '57 Fender Stratocaster Sunburst played through a Marshall amp. I was alone in the studio, so I cranked up the speaker. We
rolled the tape and I blew on the solo until we had a take Huey liked. Then I punched it up by adding that four-bar riff at the end. My inspiration was Chuck Berry
blues-scale guitar riff. But I wanted more of a Stevie Ray Vaughan bluesy feel rather than a rock 'n' roll sound.
Once we had the instrumental parts recorded, I added my lead vocal on top in Studio C at the Record Plant. My lyrics pretty much stayed the same, but the phrasing
and melody were fine-tuned.
We mixed "The Power of Love" at New York's Hit Factory with Bob Clearmountain, who by then had mixed Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.," David Bowie's
"Let's Dance," the Stone;s "Miss You" and many other great recordings. Three additional mixes of the song were released after the single came out - a movie
soundtrack version, the version in the movie video, and a 12 inch dance version by John "Jellybean: Benitez.
Take a ride in Doc Brown's DeLorean in the motion picture "Back to the Future" and feel "The Power of Love"