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".
Rich from IndianaAccording to the actual interview article, Hornsby said that Hannity paid for the rights to use the song and he had no problem with it - even though he did not agree with Hannity's poliotics. He did not know if Hannity was still using it or not, but he knew he had the rights and had used it for years. Hannity may have stopped using the song long before Hornsby's interview was published.
Markantney from Biloxi, MsJul 2014, For "esskayess, Dallas Tx":
I bet Liberal Hornsby is aware it was Liberal Repubs and Democrats that got it passed (along with the Voting Rights Act), not CONservative Ones. Psst, maybe that's why he's Liberal?
"Not that there's anything wrong with that."
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 7th, 1986 'The Way It Is" by Bruce Hornsby and the Range peaked at #1 (for 1 week) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on Sept. 14th at position #86 and stayed on the Top 100 for 20 weeks... It also reached #1 (for 2 weeks) on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart and was #1 (again for 2 weeks) on the Canadian RPM Top singles chart.
Paul Marlo from Perth, Australia, -Beautiful, timeless, an old high school reminder.
Martin from Fresno, CaIt is a reminder not to use the excuse "That's the way things are done" but try to change things.
Esskayess from Dallas, TxI wonder if "liberal" Hornsby was aware of these facts about the '64 vote on the CRA:
The original House version: Democratic Party: 152-96 (61%-39%) Republican Party: 138-34 (80%-20%)
The Senate version, voted on by the House: Democratic Party: 153-91 (63%–37%) Republican Party: 136-35 (80%–20%)
Gerry from Houston, TxThis song makes me so sad. I remember hearing it years ago in the ghetto around the airport. Seeing planes come and go made it worse. They even had to make a sequel, The End of The Innocence!
I believe this song may actually have been produced by Flyte Time Records... coincidence? They produced Janet Jackson at the same time. Also note "Human" by The Human League! That was their "comeback" single.
Gary from Denver, CoI think what he's referring to is called the Circle of Life. Twenty some years later and the Circle has come around already!
The King from Tupelo, MsMark (from Tremonton, UT) is clueless. The "law passed in '64" is, indeed, referring to the landmark civil rights legislation passed in 1964. Mark's biases against people of color are quite evident, as he goes to great lengths to make this beautiful song into a screed about how lazy, shiftless, undeserving people collect and abuse the welfare system. Want to guess what race Mark thinks these "undeserving" people are? The "color bar" is certainly a reference to race, not an establishment whose main purpose is to sell alcohol, beer, and spirits. The line that ends, "...and still can't find a job" is clear proof that this song is about the struggles certain people face in this country. That these disparities and inequalities exist in this great nation is unfortunate, and it's not right. But, at the present time and until things change, that's just "The Way It Is."
Od from Atlanta, GaHornsby said himself, in an interview, that the song is about the civil rights era. The interview can be read at musicfordemocracy.org. Google "Bruce Hornsby" and "interview;" that's how I found it.
Vince from Salisbury, MdI believe Bruce Hornsby also briefly played with Bob Dylan, Don Henley, the Grateful Dead, Bob Seger, Crosby Stills and Nash, Stevie Nicks, Cowboy Junkies, Squeeze, Liquid Jesus, Bonnie Raitt (piano on the classic "I Can't Make You Love Me"), Shawn Colvin, Bela Fleck, Clint Black, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Scruggs, Willie Nelson, and produced end-title songs for two Spike Lee movies, Clockers (with Chaka Khan), and Bamboozled. Whew!
Sam from Lincoln, NeAt one time, Sean Hannity used an excerpt from "The Way It Is" on the intro to his radio show. For all I know, he still does (I'm not a regular listener to his show). I had read that Hornsby was displeased and made it clear that his preference would be that Hannity NOT use it.
Gerry from Glasgow, ScotlandBeing listening to this album now since it's release in '86 for some 21 going on 22 years, what an incredible piece of work, an amazing album to chill out to, make love to, dance to, in parts, go to a sound sleep listening to. Awesome
Michael from Indianapolis, InThe color bar is defined as follows: barrier preventing blacks from participating in various activities with whites
He ticked a lot of the older conservative southern whites with this song
Dylan from Port Orange, FlAnd keep in mind that Elton John first inspired Bruce to play the piano.
Mark from Tremonton, UtSorry to rock the boat here, but the "law passed in '64" does NOT refer to the Civil Rights Act. It actually refers to the Economic Opportunities Act of 1964, which greatly expanded services and entitlements for those on federal Welfare and other programs. "To give those who ain't got a little more." In this light, the subsequent line concerning people dodging employment by frequenting a bar makes much more sense.
Carly from Madison, WiI heard this song a lot through my childhood and adolescence. I hardly knew what the lyrics meant until I read about this song somewhere else. I do have a minor attraction towards Bruce Hornsby, yet I do feel jealous of him right now, but eventually I'll forget about that.
Nathan from From The Country Of, CanadaBruce will always be recalled for his natural songs but most certainly his creative right hand playing the melody on the piano as his left kept the tempo, great musician wish he came with more material/lasted longer.
Dave from Cardiff, WalesBruce Hornsby started his musical career as a pianist for Ted Turner's production copmany "20th Century Fox" in the late 1970s, before going on tp perform with his band Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Early hits included 1985's "Every Little Kiss" (later covered by Sara Evans) and "On The Western Skyline", before "The Way It Is" broke him worldwide. His other hits to date include the fantastic "Mandolin Rain" (1986), "The Valley Road" (1987), "Look Out Any Window" (1987) and his 1990 collaboration with Shawn Colvin ("Lost Soul"). He also wrote Huey Lewis and the News' 1987 #1 "Jacob's Ladder"
Dave from Cardiff, WalesI much prefer this version to 2Pac's, the piano sound is more organic than the hook used by 2Pac. "The Way It Is" only made No.15 in the UK on release in 1986, however it's use as the theme to the British documentary series "City Hospital" between 1996 and 2004 helped to consolidate the popularity of Bruce Hornsby's version, as did the reworking by 2Pac which came out in 1999
Johnny from Los Angeles, CaYes it is. Love the piano part, very creative.
Joey from Corpus Christi, TxI'm a real big fan of this, it's a really great song. Tupac Shakur also did a real good job of blending this song with his song "Changes"