Bruce Hornsby – The Way It Is

Bruce Hornsby is an excellent musician. I remember him breaking out in the mid eighties. He also played keyboards for the Grateful Dead off and on in the early nineties after the Dead’s keyboardist Brent Mydland. died.

It’s a strange song to become a #1 because it doesn’t have a big catchy chorus…instead it has a jazz feel that carries the song. When I heard it a couple of times I loved it.

Bruce Hornsby said 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 song peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100, in Canada, #15 in the UK, and #23 in New Zealand in 1986. The song came off the album of the same name and it peaked at #3 in the Billboard Album Charts.  the album produced 3 songs in the top twenty.

Bruce Hornsby on growing up in Virginia: “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.”

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.”

From Songfacts

The lyrics in this song deal with the need to resist complacency and never resign yourself to racial injustice as the status quo.

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 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 Way It is

Standing in line, marking time
Waiting for the welfare dime
‘Cause they can’t buy a job
The man in the silk suit hurries by
As he catches the poor old ladies’ eyes
Just for fun he says, “get a job”

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them

Said, hey little boy you can’t go where the others go
‘Cause you don’t look like they do
Said, hey old man how can you stand
To think that way
Did you really think about it
Before you made the rules?

He said, “son
That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them”

Oh yeah

(That’s just the way it is)

(That’s just the way it is) well, they passed a law in ’64
To give those who ain’t got a little more
But it only goes so far
Because the law don’t change another’s mind
When all it sees at the hiring time
Is the line on the color bar, no, no

That’s just the way it is
And some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
That’s just the way it is, it is, it is, it is

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

18 thoughts on “Bruce Hornsby – The Way It Is”

  1. A very good song in every way, melodically, lyrically and the production. One of my faves of that timespan; “End of the Innocence” by Don henley with him on piano being another.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s hard for me to imagine Bruce playing with the Dead but he did live for over a hundred shows I think…his music is almost always perfect…The Dead didn’t rehearse much if at all. I read where he didn’t like that part…but of course he played great.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Same here, I was very surprised when I read that he was with them… but I also read that he liked to improvise his own tunes when in concert so maybe that aspect of the G dead did appeal to him? I’m not sure.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The Way It Is and Mandolin Rain are his two best songs. I discovered him when this album came out, and have continued to listen to those songs since. I first heard The Way It Is while driving from VA Beach back to Richmond where I lived for a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. he is a great musician…I’ll check out the live version

      Off topic… are you watching the World Series? I’m so hoping my Dodgers stay the course. 1988 was a long time ago.

      Liked by 1 person

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