By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
BRUCE HORNSBY AND THE RANGE – THE WAY IT IS (1986)
It has always seemed strange to me that Bruce Hornsby and the Range had such a stellar out of the gates start to their career with their debut release and yet for all intents and purposes never came close to duplicating their success with any of their future releases. I know that sales are not the only determining factor for the quality of an album but I always wondered how this album could go triple platinum in the US and then nothing else that the group released seemed to strike the same chord with listeners.
I was even more surprised to learn that when doing a bit of research for this piece, the album pop music listeners heard was actually the second version of the album. The Way It Is was apparently originally marketed towards the New Age market and the album had different artwork along with a couple songs having different versions that didn’t make it to the remixed edition that most people who actually bought the album ended up hearing.
The strength of the album’s success is found in three songs that found success as singles. This would include the all-time classic title cut. The song “The Way It Is” (which hit #1) is one of the first pop music tracks I can recall hearing that had what is now referred to as “socially conscious” lyrics. Of course, there are probably many songs from earlier days that would fit this description but this is the first one that comes to mind for my own personal experience. And there is no doubt that it is a great song. Even now when it comes on the radio station I listen to at work, I still find myself humming along to the song.
There was also the song “Every Little Kiss”, a more uptempo track that broke the Top 20 at #14. And though it wasn’t quite as successful as the title track, the #3 charting “Mandolin Rain” is my favorite song from the band. Though I have to make sure others aren’t in range of my terrible singing voice, whenever I get the chance to listen to the song, I sing along…badly, but I sing along.
Now, those are the songs that I can honestly recall from listening to on the radio back in 1986. I never actually owned the album, so I was happy to note that there were a few other tracks I really got to enjoy as if I was hearing them for the first time. The album opener “On The Western Skyline” is a real fast paced song that is likely one of the group’s more rocking numbers and it kicked things off in a grand fashion. I vaguely recalled the chorus for “The Long Race” but couldn’t tell you why or where I’d ever heard it before.
The second side of the album had a couple of songs that hit like a thud for me but then you had “The River Runs Low” which featured a slightly spare musical arrangement to accompany Hornsby’s remarkably assured and smooth singing. Also, the band got a little fiery in their performance for the song “The Wild Frontier” another rocking cut.
The funny thing about this album is that I’d been looking to add it to my music collection on CD. I was finally able to get it when I was offered a copy of it from a fellow member of a group I belong to on Facebook for fans of the compact disc. But then I discovered I’d purchased a cassette version of the album and forgotten all about it. So I was pretty happy to pull it out of the big box I store the albums for this series in. Pure happenstance but when you get to listen to a remarkable sounding collection of tunes like those on The Way It Is, owning two copies doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
NOTES OF INTEREST: The band won the Grammy for Best New Artist on the strength of this album.
Huey Lewis produced three of the songs on The Way It Is. They were “The River Runs Low”, “The Long Race” and “Down The Road Tonight”. The latter song also featured Lewis playing harmonica and making a vocal appearance as well.