This song is based on the true story of Lela and Raymond Howard, an elderly couple from Salado, Texas who drove to the annual Pioneer Day festival 10 miles away in Temple and didn't return. She had Alzheimer's disease and he was recovering from brain surgery.
When they disappeared, a reporter from the Austin American-Statesman wrote a series of articles about the missing couple. Fastball bassist Tony Scalzo came up with the idea for the song after reading the articles (the band is from Austin). "It's a romanticized take on what happened," he said. Scalzo pictured them "taking off to have fun, like they did when they first met."
Thirteen days after the Howards went missing, they were found in Hot Springs, Arkansas, about 400 miles from their destination; they were still in the vehicle (an Oldsmobile Delta 88), which had veered off the side of the road and was hidden in brush. Scalzo had finished writing the song when he learned that the couple had died.
The couple vanished on June 28, 1997. The song was released in February 1998 as the first single from Fastball's second album, All The Pain Money Can Buy. The band was little known at the time, so it took a few months for the song to catch on, but by the summer of 1998 it was getting lots of airplay. The song wasn't released as a single (a ploy to sell more albums) but it made #5 on Billboard's Airplay chart on June 20, 1998, almost a year after the the Howards went missing.
The keyboard figure that plays throughout this song was made with a Casio keyboard Tony Scalzo had. It was processed to loop around itself, creating a distinctive, but lo-fi sound.
The song opens with the sounds of an analog radio going up and down the dial, briefly tuning in stations amongst the static. When "The Way" starts, it's as if the listener has found a song he likes and is going to give it a listen. For the first 40 seconds, the dynamics are restricted to simulate the limited frequency of a radio signal. At the line, "they drank up the wine," the full range comes in.
The band didn't put much thought into the radio collage: they simply put a microphone in front of a radio and turned the dial. The result is a sampling of Los Angeles radio in the summer of 1997. Most of it is indistinguishable chatter, but you can pretty clearly hear a split second of "Foolish Games
" by Jewel in the mix - part of her line "in case you failed to notice."
In a Songfacts interview with Tony Scalzo
, he talked about writing this song while the Howard saga was unfolding. "I didn't think it would be anything but an abstraction of their story, so I wasn't really thinking about that," he said. "Also, I wasn't expecting it to be this massive song that everybody liked, so I was unfettered by any of those concepts."
Guitarist Miles Zuniga is a big fan of '50s music and drew inspiration from the hit "Secret Agent Man
" for his solo.
This is a rather unusual song with a retro feel and lot of little sound effects incorporated into the mix. "There was this brief moment in time when people were having hits with really weird stuff," Miles Zuniga said. "We got lucky that we came around at that time. Even two years later was too late."
This was Fastball's breakout hit, but it came on their second album. The group was signed to a major label, Hollywood Records (owned by Disney) and in 1996 released their debut, Make Your Mama Proud. It tanked, in part because the label was in disarray and gave it little promotional support. This story usually ends with the band getting dropped, but there was so much turnover at Hollywood Records that there was nobody to drop them, and they got to record a second album in the summer of 1997.
Once the album was recorded, there was no guarantee it would be released. One of the reps at the record company felt very strongly about "The Way" and took it to radio stations, which got lots of positive feedback from listeners when they played it. The song was clearly a hit, and about six weeks later the album was released.
In America, "The Way" wasn't sold as a single, which was a ploy to force listeners to buy the album. It worked: All the Pain Money Can Buy sold over a million copies in the US.
This was a big song in the summer of 1998. It peaked on the Billboard Airplay chart at #5 on June 20 that year.
This song proved quite enduring, selling over 500,000 copies by 2014 after it was released digitally in 2003.
The music video was suitably abstract, with no allusion to the tragic story that inspired the song. It shows the band driving into the desert, arriving at a camper where dancers emerge, performing as the band plays the song.
It was directed by McG, who before directing films like Charlie's Angels and Terminator Salvation did music videos, mostly for bands around his stomping grounds of Orange County, California. He also did most of the videos for Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth.