Huey Lewis and the News is a popular American rock band known for their catchy hits from the 1980s. They incorporate various musical elements in their music, including elements of jazz, blues, rock, and pop. The modal scale, Mixolydian mode, is featured in many of their signature songs, including “I Want a New Drug,” “Back in Time,” and “If This Is It.”
The Mixolydian mode is a musical scale often associated with a bluesy or rock sound due to its dominant tonality. It’s similar to a major scale but with a lowered seventh degree. In the key of C major, for example, the Mixolydian mode would have a Bb instead of a B natural and a C7 chord instead of Cmaj7.
“I Want a New Drug” Chord Riff
The chord riff played as the main theme of “I Want a New Drug” consists of the chords A, G, and D. These chords are 5, 4, and 1 out of the D major scale. Because the tonic chord in the progression is A, the music is in A Mixolydian mode. Mixolydian mode is created when you use a major scale but center on its fifth degree. When you renumber the scale starting with A, chords A, G, and D become 1, b7, 4. In “I Want a New Drug,” the chords are mostly played as root-and-fifth power chords, but they’re still based on the structure of the Mixolydian scale, which is 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7. The lead lines in the song are based on the A Mixolydian scale and the A major blues scale. The major blues scale is the major pentatonic with an added minor third that acts as a half-step chromatic passing tone. The A major blues scale is used in the fills between the changes in the main chord riff. In the examples below, you see a simplified version of the chord riff followed by what’s actually played in the song.
“Back in Time” Guitar Solo
The guitar solo heard at 1:55 in the song “Back in Time” is based in D Mixolydian mode. This means you use notes from the G major scale but center on its fifth degree, D. See the example below.
“If This Is It” Intro Lead
The lead guitar line heard at the beginning of “If This Is It” uses a composition technique called modal mixture or modal interchange. In this case, you go back and forth between G Ionian, which is the plain major scale, and G Mixolydian mode. This ties directly into the underlying chords, which use the major 7th, F#, in G major for the G and Bm chords, and the b7th, F natural, for the Dm chord. You see a portion of this solo in the tab video below.
While Huey Lewis and the News’ music is more commonly associated with straightforward rock and pop, it draws on influences from various genres and emphasizes modal scales and complex harmonic structures, leaving no doubts about the music theory knowledge of the band’s members.