This song deals with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The line in the lyrics that mentions "The law passed in '64" is the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law was supposed to prohibit discrimination in public places, the government and employment.
The lyrics in this song deal with the need to resist complacency and never resign yourself to racial injustice as the status quo.
This is a very unusual hit, lacking a big chorus, shifts in momentum, catchy hooks and most other elements of typical chart-toppers. With a consistent tempo and a jazz-inflected sound, it appealed to a more adult audience and added a welcome diversity to Top 40 playlists that were dominated by uptempo, synth-driven songs. It was a song grown-ups loved and their kids could tolerate, reaching the top of both the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts.
Hornsby grew up in Virginia, which isn't where you would expect a song about racial and economic tolerance to originate. He was raised with these values though. Hornsby told NME: "My mother came from the New England area, and she was a little more enlightened about racial subjects than a lot of people in the South. So I had a different attitude to a lot of my friends whose parents were more conservative."
He added: "When I was brought up, the vibe I got of Martin Luther King in my town was that he was a real evil man - just the vibe in the air, that he was terrible. And if you grow up in that environment you can't help but be affected by it a little bit. Luckily, I came from a family that guarded us against that conservatism, but sure, I grew up in the thick of all that bad feeling."
Hornsby had been working as a staff songwriter for years with no luck getting a record deal. With his attempts to appeal to popular taste falling short, he decided to make a demo of songs in his own style - ECM jazz - and included this track. He sent the demo to a new label called Windham Hill, which specialized in vocal groups. They offered him a deal, but so did some major labels that also got a hold of it. Hornsby signed with RCA because they offered him creative freedom. They were rewarded when this song and the album became huge hits.
The conservative radio host Sean Hannity used an instrumental portion of this song as his show's theme for many years. Hornsby, a liberal democrat, had vastly different political views, but there was nothing he could do about Hannity using the song as long as royalties were paid.
The rapper Tupac Shakur used this as the basis for his song "Changes
," which is a look at racism and urban life from a black perspective.
This was the second single released from the album, following "Every Little Kiss
." It was issued in the US in September 1986 and hit the top spot on December 13.
Hornsby and his band were not exactly MTV-ready, but the video for this song did well on the network. In the stark performance clip, none of the musicians ever stand up - some folks were surprised when they saw Hornsby in person and realized he was 6' 4".