In the category of unlikely #1 singles, “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby & The Range definitely maintains a special position. It was released in 1986, a time when the lyrics of the highest-charting hits tended toward the disposable and the music of those same songs skewed to the artificial. Yet here was a lament for social ills seemingly more suitable for an op-ed piece than the dance floor.
And yet “The Way It Is” rocketed to #1 upon its release in 1986. “I'm fairly cynical about all this, and I think of ‘The Way It Is’ as a ‘novelty’ hit, but in the best sense,” Hornsby tells American Songwriter. “I think it connected because it had a fresh sound that was pleasing and sort of went down easily. Novelty because it usually only works once. Then maybe people connected with the lyrical content.”
It helped that Hornsby assembled a band in The Range that could make just about anything sound dynamic. ”The Range was not at all trying to be a hit act,” Hornsby contends. “We were trying to be more of a modern version of The Band. Accordions, mandolins, fiddles and hammer dulcimers abounded in that first record (The Way It Is). But the sound that seemed to resonate, move people the most, was the piano-playing I was doing, and that became the sound for which we were known.”
Hornsby does play a nimble solo on “The Way It Is,” complimenting a set of lyrics about people who are being persecuted for circumstances beyond their control. Those waiting in a welfare line are berated by a rich man walking by; others are denied access to something simply because of the way they look. The... Sign In to Keep Reading