Fastball – The Way

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 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. “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, which had veered off the side of the road and was hidden in the brush. Scalzo had finished writing the song when he learned that the couple had died.

The song peaked at #1 on the Billboard Alternative Charts in 1998. When I heard this band I thought they would be around for a while but I never heard much more from them. They did follow this song up with “Fire Escape” which I liked even better than this one.

From Songfacts

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 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

The Way

They made up their minds and they started packing
They left before the sun came up that day
An exit to eternal summer slacking
But where were they going without ever knowing the way?
They drank up the wine and they got to talking
They now had more important things to say
And when the car broke down they started walking
Where were they going without ever knowing the way?
Anyone can see the road that they walk on is paved with gold
It’s always summer they’ll never get cold
They’ll never get hungry, they’ll never get old and gray
You can see their shadows wandering off somewhere
They won’t make it home but they really don’t care
They wanted the highway, they’re happier there today, today
The children woke up and they couldn’t find ’em
They left before the sun came up that day
They just drove off and left it all behind ’em
Where were they going without ever knowing the way?
Anyone can see the road that they walk on is paved with gold
It’s always summer they’ll never get cold
They’ll never get hungry, they’ll never get old and gray
You can see their shadows wandering off somewhere
They won’t make it home but they really don’t care
They wanted the highway, they’re happier there today, today
Anyone can see the road that they walk on is paved with gold
It’s always summer they’ll never get cold
They’ll never get hungry, they’ll never get old and gray
You can see their shadows wandering off somewhere
They won’t make it home but they really don’t care
They wanted the highway, they’re happier there today, today

Author: badfinger20

Guitar, Bass, song writer,

16 thoughts on “Fastball – The Way”

  1. A great great tune but a sad story, which I soon learned when I relocated to the central Texas area. Perhaps my favorite “one hit wonder” of the 90s, even though they’re still around and could potentially add another hit some day! Saw them on the cover of a local magazine just a few months ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Don’t think I’d heard this before. Like it. I got used to the low fi sound at the start then the bass unleashes…bit strange eh. Like to see a return to this type of narrative song, you just don’t hear them anymore really

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This was pretty big around 98…The band had two songs I really liked…next one is tomorrow but yes you make a good point…. I tell people dynamics are important…and they use it well in this.

      Like

  3. This is one of those songs that I really liked a lot. I had just started listening to a station that played a lot of “alternative” music (Marcy Playground, Third Eye Blind, The Verve, etc…) I think the nostalgic feel of it is what really drew me in. I was unaware of the origin of the song until much later. I loved the way the song opened. Love how the full sound kicks in with the second verse.

    When listening to my iPod, there are songs I have to be in the mood to listen to. They are great songs, but some nights I just skip them. This is a song that I always listen to when it comes on. I know they had a second minor hit, but I really wish that there was more from this group.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea the minor one is coming tomorrow…I really liked it…callled Fire Escape…

      I like the dynamics in this song. it’s an interesting story also. Marcy Playground I liked a lot…Sex and Candy and Sherry Frasier…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I remember there being a lot of very cool and “unique” sounds around the time of this song. I remember songs like Sex and Candy, Are You Jimmy Ray, and How Bizarre all on that station. Quite the unusual playlist!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review, I heard this song on holiday in Florida and wanted to buy it in case it wasn’t released in the UK when I got back. So, as you say, I had to buy the album cos it wasn’t on single. Got back, it was released in the UK on single and hit 21 in the UK charts so I could have saved a few dollars 🙂 It hit a big 2 in my own charts, and they had another top 10 the following year with Out Of My Head.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you…I really liked this band…they had another song called “Fire Escape” I liked a lot also…I thought I would be hearing from them more.

      Like

  5. I did not like this song. It was so depressing to me.

    I didn’t know the back story. I moved to Central Texas in 2002 & no one mentioned it to me. Been to Salado. Went to a Marine Corps Ball there. Been to Temple many times.

    Sad story.

    Liked by 1 person

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