Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[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
Not 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.
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.