KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Thirty Year Thursday – BRUCE HORNSBY AND THE RANGE “THE WAY IT IS”

[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]

Artist: BRUCE HORNSBY AND THE RANGE
Album: THE WAY IT IS

Bruce Hornsby - The Way It IsNot many artists burst onto the scene as fully-formed as Bruce Hornsby And The Range. At a time when the two big piano-playing rockers, Elton John and Billy Joel, were either nearing the end of, or just past, their creative peaks, this 30-something ivory-tinkler delivered an accomplished debut album that sounds like the work of a band that’s been playing together for years. For a few months after its initial release, Hornsby and his cohorts, along with RCA Records, must have thought they had a bomb on their hands. I was working at a record store during the summer of 1986 after my sophomore year at college, and my colleagues & I couldn’t get enough of The Way It Is, playing it nearly every day and wondering why it wasn’t a hit. Then a few months later, RCA reissued the album with a new cover and it climbed to #3 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart. Much of this success was due to the #1 single, “The Way It Is.” This title track, which bemoans the ongoing civil rights struggle in the guise of a bouncy, piano-fueled pop song, became Hornsby’s signature song, one that’s been covered & sampled by numerous artists over the years. Two more Top 20 singles followed. “Every Little Kiss” was actually the first single released from The Way It Is, but it didn’t become a hit until it was reissued the following year. The gorgeous midtempo ballad “Mandolin Rain” actually reached the Top 5, and is a perfect showcase for Hornsby’s incredible piano work and his vocal range, which often reminds me of Jackson Browne.

Bruce Hornsby - The Way It Is (Original Cover)

Bruce Hornsby And The Range – The Way It Is (Original Cover)

Although Hornsby is the star attraction, the record wouldn’t be as impressive without the contributions of his band, most notably the rhythm section of Joe Puerta (former bassist & co-lead vocalist for Ambrosia) and drummer John Molo, who somehow provide bounce & swing to even the most metronomic beats. The album may be best known for the three aforementioned singles, but it’s the deeper cuts that make it such a classic. The loping “Down The Road Tonight,” with its tasteful guitar motif, could/should have been a hit, and propulsive tracks like “On The Western Skyline,” “The Long Race” & “The Wild Frontier” were probably highlights of their concerts. Hornsby began his career as a studio musician, gaining some notoriety for playing with Sheena Easton (that’s him behind the mirrored shades in her “Strut” video), and has since explored a plethora of musical styles with countless musicians, including Ricky Skaggs and The Grateful Dead. His impressive discography all started with this wonderful debut filled with timeless performances and, other than the thin production and programmed drum sounds, it’s held up extremely well over the last 30 years. They certainly earned that Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

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17 comments on “Thirty Year Thursday – BRUCE HORNSBY AND THE RANGE “THE WAY IT IS”

  1. Vinyl Connection
    February 11, 2016

    Here is an album where I am entirely in your camp, Rich. This is a very fine debut indeed, especially for anyone with a fondness for piano. Terrific.

    (I’ve dipped into 1986 myself this week – hope there is no gazumping imminent!)

    Like

    • I’m pleasantly surprised by your response, Bruce. I figured this would have been too “pop” for you. Glad we’re on the same page. No worries about treading slightly similar territory. 1986 has enough room for both of us. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Vinyl Connection
        February 11, 2016

        Not only to I like this album Rich, but I followed him for the next four or five as well. Perhaps my fave is the double live album ‘Here Come The Noisemakers’ where he does a version of Bill Evans ’12 Tone Tune’. Fab.
        (My first 1986 entry over at Vinyl Connection is Rosie Vela’s ‘Zazu’)

        Like

      • I continued with Hornsby through his 3rd or 4th album but for some reason I stopped buying his records after that. For a completist like me, that was a surprising decision. Revisiting his debut for this post has rekindled my enjoyment of his music (his voice & piano playing are outstanding) so I will have to check out some of the albums I’ve missed.

        Your post about Rosie Vela has me intrigued. I commented over there. Will be adding that to my albums-to-check-out list. Thanks for that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Vinyl Connection
        February 11, 2016

        A pleasure.
        Add ‘Here come the noisemakers’ too – it’s really strong.

        Like

      • I think I had that album at one point but got rid of it in a purge. Will have to reacquire it at some point.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sarca
    February 11, 2016

    Wow, great write-up.
    My exposure to Bruce Hornsby was as a sixth-grader who took piano. The Way It Is just got its claws into me and wouldn’t let go. I got the album on cassette for my 12th birthday. No one around me was interested in this guy, but I didn’t care – he wrote beautiful music, and my musical tastes were quite eclectic. I bought the sheet music to The Way It Is, and was disappointed when it didn’t match what Hornsby played in the video (very basic, and just followed the melody). I would even listen to the song and try a-la-Suzuki method to play the song on piano. My ear training was under-developed, so that didn’t turn out so well.
    Thanks for the memory!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great story, Sarca. Sorry you were never able to master that song, but at least you were stumped by a truly great musician. Nice to know you had such discriminating musical tastes at such a young age. Thanks for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. DanicaPiche
    February 11, 2016

    Wonderful review, Rich! I’m going to have to seek out this album and pay closer attention to the piano. A collaboration with Ricky Skaggs is also quite intriguing.

    Like

    • Thanks, Danica. Hornsby’s piano was the first thing that drew me to his music, so hopefully you’ll love it whenever you hear this album. I haven’t heard his work with Ricky Skaggs but I have to imagine it’s really good.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. J.
    February 12, 2016

    I don’t know the album at all, but I’m very familiar with the title track. Great song. Reckon I’ll check this one out, Rich – great write-up and I reckon this album will be right up my street.

    Like

    • Since you think the title track is great, I wouldn’t be surprised if you love the entire album. I hope that’s the case. Thanks for the feedback, J.

      Like

  5. Jeff Kempin
    February 13, 2016

    Another great post. I bought this album when it came out and I still have it today. I never kept on with Bruce and the Range after The Way It Is, but there have been many great songs that he’s released since. Boy, you and I have the same tastes in music, Rich!
    Keep up the good work!

    Like

    • Thanks, Jeff. I’m glad we share an affinity for this Hornsby album. I stuck with him for a few more albums but then lost track of him. I’ll need to do some further exploring into his catalog at some point. I was just thrilled that The Way It Is held up as well as it did after all these years.

      Like

  6. cariboumarkt
    February 17, 2016

    This album was on my “must” list when rebuilding my LP collection last year. I was somewhat disappointed in the 1986 sound of the thing… I called it “overproduced”, but your description, “thin”, is probably a better fit. I’d love for this album to get a proper remaster/re-issue treatment. Here was my post: https://cariboumarkt.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/january-16/

    Like

    • Thanks for the feedback, Mark. I checked out your blog and it’s fantastic. I will be following it shortly. We also share a lot of music in common, and I’ll be joining you in the “50 club” in a few months. Loved your write-up on this album, and I’m impressed that you got to see the band at the time along with Huey Lewis. As for the sound of The Way It Is, you can’t escape some of the ’80s sonic choices (synths, programmed drums, etc) but Hornsby’s piano work & voice keep everything grounded.

      Like

  7. Pingback: Thirty Year Thursday – HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS “FORE” | KamerTunesBlog

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