If you were a budding pianist back in 1986, there was one song on the radio that you wanted to play. Bruce Hornsby and The Range’s The Way It Is became a global hit and inspired countless people to jump on the keys and learn its distinctive riff.
Now, Hornsby has provided further evidence of The Way It Is’ timeless qualities by performing it in BBC Radio 2’s Piano Room alongside the BBC Concert Orchestra. It’s a stripped-back, sensitive rendition that, in light of the song’s subject matter and current world events, comes loaded with pathos.
An ode to the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 and, more broadly, a criticism of a thoroughly iniquitious society, The Way It Is reminds us not to simply accept the status quo and accept that “some things will never change”. And, as Hornsby told Radio 2 host Vernon Kay, the lyric is born out of personal experience.
“I wrote it in my garage, in my house in California, based on growing up in a smaller Southern town where narrow-minded attitudes did prevail,” he explains. “Remembering that, ruminating on that led me to write this song, so I guess my memories, the memories that inspired it, were not particularly fond memories.
“I was the only white guy in the high school basketball team, so I had serious soul brother friends, and still do in my town, where I live again. It was a charged environment, quite often. But look, it led to this song, which led to Tupac Shakur recording it and having, in a sense, in certain worlds, a way bigger record than it was for me.”
The Tupac version that Hornsby refers to, Changes, uses The Way It Is' musical backing to highlight what the rapper perceived as the ongoing racism in American society. On a rather more trite note, the song was also interpolated by Don Diablo in his 2019 hit Never Change.
Prior to Hornsby’s own orchestral take on The Way It Is, Cory Wong also gave it the big ensemble treatment in the company of Cody Fry and Metrople Orkest.
“It’s amazing how much impact one song can have,” Bruce Hornsby told MusicRadar when discussing The Way It Is in 2020. “More people know about you, so more people buy your records. Your face is on TV. Suddenly, this unknown guy from Williamsburg, Virginia is getting invited to the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. Overnight, my life was completely turned upside down.”
The success of The Way It Is, it turns out, also led to one unusual celebrity interaction when Bruce Hornsby and The Range appeared on Terry Wogan’s UK chat show.
“I was sitting in my dressing room and I heard this voice coming down the corridor. ‘Bruce Hornsby. Where the fuck is Bruce Hornsby? I want to see him.’ It was the most surreal moment of my life. Elton John burst into the room wearing a Tina Turner wig. He threw his arms around me and told me how much he liked my music. Elton John is a fan! I couldn’t believe it.”
You can check out Hornsby’s new performance of The Way It Is above. During his set he also played Cast-Off, a 2019 song that was co-written and performed with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and The End Of The Innocence, Don Henley’s 1989 single, which Hornsby co-wrote and played on.
Hornsby is also part of of BrhyM, a collaboration with experimental chamber ensemble yMusic. Their new album, Deep Sea Vents, will be released on 1 March.