4 Songs You Didn’t Know Bruce Hornsby Wrote for Other Artists

Right after breaking out with his debut The Way It Is, and its hit title track, in 1986, Bruce Hornsby was a voice unlike any other in the ’80s. His distinction even earned him Grammy for Best New Artist a year later.

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Stepping in, mid-way through an era drenched in pop and a vigorous hair metal scene, there was Hornsby. Along with his band The Range, Hornsby presented his musicianship and compositions, which later push him into film and back out over the next 35-plus years, from working with The Grateful Dead—who he played more than 100 shows with from the late ’80s through 1992 — through Grammy-winning bluegrass work with Ricky Skaggs, and his more recent band The Noisemakers.

As a musician, songwriter, and composer, Hornsby has exorcised most of the genres he’s wanted to release—R&B, folk, bluegrass, pop, hip-hop, and more—with collaborations spanning from playing piano on Bonnie Raitt‘s 1991 hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me” to appearing on albums with Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, and Robbie Robertson, among other collaborations and projects.

Throughout his career, Hornsby has also composed and performed music for several films, including writing nearly 240 pieces of music for Spike Lee, from the 1995 drama Clockers, and the track “Love Me Still,” which was co-written with Chaka Khan, to his own “Shadowlands,” for Lee’s 2001 dark comedy Bamboozled. In 2022, Hornsby also reworked some of these past cinematic arrangements on his album, Flicted.

Adding to his extensive catalog, Hornsby also wrote for other artists along the way. Here’s a look at four of those songs.

Read our 2022 interview with Bruce Hornby HERE.

1. “Jacob’s Ladder,” Huey Lewis and The News (1986)
Written by Bruce Hornsby and John Hornsby

“Jacob’s Ladder” was originally for a Hornsby album that Huey Lewis was producing. Instead, “Jacob’s Ladder,” written by Hornsby and his brother John, ended up on Huey Lewis and The News‘ fourth album Fore! The song, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 follows the biblical story of Jacob’s Ladder and someone who is trying to get through life, one day at a time—step by step, one by one.

Fore! topped the Billboard 200, along with its other Huey Lewis and The News chart-topped “Stuck on You.” Hornsby later covered “Jacob’s Ladder” with his band The Range, for their second album, Scenes from the Southside, in 1988.

Just another fallen angel
Trying to get through the night

Step by step, one by one
Higher and higher
Step by step, rung by rung
Climbing Jacob’s ladder

Coming over the airwaves
The man says I’m overdue
Sing along, send some money
Join the chosen

2. “Nobody There But Me,” Willie Nelson (1987)
Written by Bruce Hornsby, John Hornsby, Charlie Haden

On Willie Nelson‘s 1987 album, Island in the Sea, one of his two singles, “Nobody There But Me,” was co-written with Hornsby. He later recorded the song himself for the soundtrack to the 1996 film Tin Cup, starring Kevin Costner and Rene Russo.

Hornsby also wrote and recorded the song “Big Stick” for the Tin Cup soundtrack.

I wish I could laugh when I look way back
Find out who stole all my dreams
Oh I wish it was easy to face the past
There was nobody there but me
And it’s hard not to smile when I’m back on high ground
And I’m wishing that someone could see
Then the sun comes up and the dreams die down
There’s nobody there but me

3. “The End of the Innocence,” Don Henley (1989)
Written by Bruce Hornsby and Don Henley

Tied to the end of an era of sorts for the baby boom generation, “The End of the Innocence,” was the title track of Don Henley’s third album and peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, co-written with Hornsby, who also plays the iconic piano opening, became Henley’s biggest post-Eagles hit and earned him a Grammy for Best Rock Male Vocalist.

Of their collaboration, Hornsby said that Henley called him in 1987 and asked to write a song with him. “I was really flattered by it, and I loved his solo work, especially,” said Hornsby in 2012. “I thought ‘Boys of Summer’ was just great and ‘Sunset Grill’ and ‘Dirty Laundry,’ so I was instantly in for this, and he was the first big shot who called me to write.”

He continued, “So he came over to my house, and we sort of instantly became friends, and I gave him this track that I’d had lying around. I’d written a song with this music but I didn’t think it was great, so I gave him the track and it seemed to spark something in him right away. He left the house and he was listening to the cassette in the car and I think he called me down the road. … ‘End of the Innocence’ is the outside collaboration that I’m the most proud of.”

Hornsby also released his own version of “The End of the Innocence” in 1994.

But I know a place where we can go
That’s still untouched by men
We’ll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass waves in the wind
You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

4. “Love Me Still,” Chaka Khan (1995)
Written by Bruce Hornsby and Chaka Khan

Spike Lee’s 1995 film Clockers, starring Mekhi Phifer, Harvey Keitel, John Turturro, and Delroy Lindo, was adapted from the 1992 Richard Price novel of the same name and follows the story of a drug dealer who gets pulled into a murder investigation.

For the soundtrack, Hornsby and Chaka Khan wrote the song “Love Me Still,” performed by Khan.

Here is my hand for you to hold
Here’s the part of me they have not sold
I’ve wandered far, I’ve had my fill
I need you now, do you love me still?

Only you have seen the hidden part of me
Call me foolhardy if you will
I loved you when, do you love me still?

So many smiles and lies surround me
Empty expectations, faceless fears
Sometimes this life is a bitter pill
I love you now, do you love me still?

Photo: Tristan Williams / Shore Fire Media

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