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Reissue Theory: Bruce Hornsby and The Range, “The Way It Is”

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Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we look back at notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. Exactly 25 years ago today, a classic pop album was released, with a sound that was totally different from what was the norm at that time. Now, we look back at the debut of Bruce Hornsby, and why a deluxe version would be a good idea.

There were plenty of great songs to top the Billboard charts in 1986, but only one had any sort of conscious reflection behind it. Only one dared to look past your giving love a bad name, your extra time and your kiss, your rocking Amadeus, your sledgehammers and your invisible touch. That one was “The Way It Is,” the first single by Bruce Hornsby and The Range, which topped the Hot 100 for one week in December 1986.

“The Way It Is,” regardless of its heavy lyrical content (a look at America’s advancements – or possibly, lack thereof – since the advent of civil rights), was already sonically different than much of the radio fare of the year. Its main ingredient wasn’t a cutting-edge synth or howling guitar, but a bright, shiny piano melody, backed by a crystal-clear rhythm track and only garnished tastefully with keyboards instead of awash in them. It was the beginning of something a little bit different in pop music – and that beginning in fact started 25 years ago today, with the release of Hornsby and The Range’s first LP, The Way It Is, on RCA Records.

We at Second Disc HQ have a few good friends who are perhaps even better-versed in Hornsby lore – but it felt right to reflect upon the album and its impact, some 25 years later, not to mention the viable bonus material that could make for a decent reissue someday. Some things won’t ever change – but after the jump, you’ll find out how they could, in the form of an idea for a deluxe edition of the album.

By the time The Way It Is hit store shelves in 1986, Hornsby had already paid his dues as a musician. His earliest notable musical experience was as a vocalist/Fender Rhodes player for his older brother’s cover band, Bobby and The Hi-Octane Kids, in the mid-’70s after graduating high school. Post-college (including studies at the Berklee College of Music and the University of Miami), he built a reputation playing local bars and clubs before moving out to Los Angeles with his younger brother John.

The duo spent the early portion of the ’80s writing music for 20th Century-Fox; it was in that time that they had their first brush with success. Hornsby befriended Huey Lewis, whose impressive chart run with Huey Lewis and The News was on the rise. Lewis took one of the Hornsbys’ songs, an upbeat tune called “Jacob’s Ladder,” and recorded it for his band’s fourth album, Fore! (1986). (The song would be released as a single the following year and would top the charts.) In the meantime, Hornsby built his own band – guitarists David Mansfield and George Marinelli, bassist Joe Puerta and drummer John Molo – and signed to RCA for a record deal.

The Range’s tunes, all written by Hornsby himself or the Hornsby brothers, were, as the All Music Guide put it, indicative of “their own world, a working-class environment of longing and loneliness set against the background of the Virginia Tidewater area.” While all of them had that same lyrical feeling, as well as the bright production (aided by the work of renowned co-producer/engineer Elliot Scheiner and – surprise! – Huey Lewis), the songs never felt like retreads. There’s something to love about each of them, be they “Mandolin Rain” or “On the Western Skyline” or, of course, “The Way It Is” (which has lived on as everything from a famous Tupac Shakur sample to the silly “theme song” to the titular college on the NBC sitcom Community). Given their craftsmanship, it isn’t hard to understand why Bruce Hornsby and The Range took home the 1986 Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

For our theoretical deluxe edition, we had much material to build upon. Not only were there several non-LP remixes – single versions of “Mandolin Rain” and “Every Little Kiss” and instrumentals of “Every Little Kiss” and “The Way It Is,” the latter two of which were only put on wax in Europe – but there was a whole bonus live disc’s worth of material, released as a promo LP in 1987. Those six songs, either as part of a bonus disc or expanded to include more of the concert in question, would certainly be a worthy candidate for CD, and a fitting way to pay tribute to this most special of records.

The Way It Is: 25th Anniversary Edition (RCA/Legacy)

Disc 1: Original LP (originally released as RCA LP AFL1-5904, 1986)

  1. On the Western Skyline
  2. Every Little Kiss
  3. Mandolin Rain
  4. The Long Race
  5. The Way It Is
  6. Down the Road Tonight
  7. The Wild Frontier
  8. The River Runs Low
  9. The Red Plains

Disc 2: Bonus material

  1. Every Little Kiss (Live)
  2. The Long Way (Live)
  3. The Way It Is (Piano Intro) (Live)
  4. The Way It Is (Live)
  5. Mandolin Rain (Live)
  6. The Red Plains (Live)
  7. On the Western Skyline (Live)
  8. Every Little Kiss (Remix)
  9. Mandolin Rain (Remix)
  10. Every Little Kiss (Instrumental Remix)
  11. The Way It Is (Instrumental Remix)

Disc 2, Tracks 1-7 recorded live at The Ritz, New York City – 2/2/1987. Released as Live: The Way It Is Tour 1986-1987 (RCA promotional LP 6275-1-RDJ, 1987).
Disc 2, Track 8 from RCA single A-side 5165-7-R, 1986
Disc 2, Track 9 from RCA single A-side 5087-7-R, 1986
Disc 2, Track 10 from “Mandolin Rain” European 12″ B-side – RCA PT-49770, 1986
Disc 2, Track 11 from “Every Little Kiss” European 12″ B-side – RCA PT-49798, 1986

Written by Mike Duquette

August 1, 2011 at 11:36

9 Responses

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  1. Yes! That live promo is the only Hornsby album I own. I believe it was also available as an official Japanese release.


    August 1, 2011 at 11:45

  2. I always thought it was cool they got played on Album Rock Radio in the 80’s. Great post!


    August 1, 2011 at 13:10

  3. That live promo has made its way onto CD (and it wasn’t a Japanese import), although it was still a promo. The album cover was different than the one shown above. I found one in a used bin a few years ago and bought it for a friend of mine who is a big Hornsby fan. I guess it’s kind of rare?

    The cover art looked like this:

    Eric Luecking

    August 1, 2011 at 13:55

  4. Back when people still had the large size satellite dishes back in the ’80s, you could watch and listen to between inning banter during Major League Baseball telecasts. It was during one such broadcast, in between commercials, that I’ll never forget. Tim McCarver was raving to everybody within the announcer’s booth as well as people out in the production truck about the new group and the great album of theirs which debuted. This was during a Mets broadcast. He essentially spent the whole time out singing the praises of The Way It Is album and Hornsby.
    I would greatly welcome a Deluxe Edition of this album. This may only be a sign of my own personal preferences, but I do wish that it could be mastered so that some of the heaviness of the ’80s sound on the album could be toned down a bit. A piano is an acoustic instrument and it shouldn’t have to sound harsh.


    August 1, 2011 at 16:38

  5. I’d weclome an expanded edition of the live disc for sure! While that 1986 album is certainly a good one, it’s on the concert stage that Hornsby shined the most, and still does today. Great artist who really doesn’t his due anymore.

    Along similar lines, anyone know what’s going with that Legacy Edition of Billy Joel’s Piano Man album that was supposed to come out this year? Here’s a listing of a Japanese edition that, unfortunately, doesn’t give much info (though it says the release date was supposed to be July 14):

    Nothing about this, or any of the other Billy reissues that were supposed to happen this year, at Amazon yet.


    August 1, 2011 at 20:47

  6. I take that back… I did find the Legacy Edition at Amazon, but it says “Currently Unavailable,” no artwork pictured, and nothing else.


    August 1, 2011 at 20:50

  7. This album is certainly worthy of this treatment. There’s another rare bonus track that should be added to disc 2 as well. I have an early Japanese import of it on LP. The version of “The River Runs Low” is completely different. The familiar version is just vocal, piano and synth. The version on my Japanese LP has the full band. I found the LP on eBay last year and my jaw dropped when I heard it. It was a very nice surprise. (If anyone wants to hear it, it’s in episode #214 of my podcast on iTunes which is linked on my name. The tune comes in at around the 1:03:20 mark.)

    Two other things should be noted too. The original pressings of the LP contained a different front cover. It was a time lapse photo of Bruce playing accordian. Second, “The Way it is” was actually the second single released from the album. “Every Little Kiss” had been released two months earlier but stalled at #72 on the Billboard singles chart. After the succes of “The Way it is” & “Mandolin Rain” RCA re-released “Every Little Kiss” in the summer of ’87 when the single had greater success, reaching #14.

    Shaun, re:Piano Man…. It appears to have been released in South Korea of all places… There are a couple (with photos) up on eBay right now. Do an eBay search for “billy joel piano man legacy” and you’ll find them. First time I ever heard of South Korea getting the jump on a reissue. Seems kind of strange.


    August 2, 2011 at 14:06

  8. One clarification: the original U.S. release of this album featured the gold framed cover shot of Hornsby playing accordion. The music on this original release was identical to the much more common reissue with the exception of the track “The River Runs Low”. The version included on the initial release features the full band. This is the copy of the album I purchased in 1986. When the LP was reissued a few months later, it sported a new cover (of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel; a photo that had been on the inner sleeve of the first issue) and a new essentially solo version of “The River Runs Low” without the band. I was never sure why this change was made and I don’t believe the “original” version of TRRL has ever received subsequent release.


    August 22, 2011 at 16:41

    • RB, I thought I was going crazy. I bought the original album, with the framed accordion-playing photo, and the original (and in my opinion, FAR better) version of my favorite cut, “The River Runs Low.” I wore my vinyl LP completely out, and decided to go buy the CD — and then I discovered that the version of that cut on the CD had been remixed — or was I just nuts? Thankfully I now have independent corroboration that the original version WAS different. Thanks for that! Now to find a clean copy of the original mix…

      Scott Johnson

      February 19, 2013 at 12:49

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