Charlie's 80s Blog

This Day In Music, December 13th

On this day in 1986: Bruce Hornsby & The Range went to #1 on the U.S. singles chart, with ‘The Way It Is’, a #15 hit in the U.K. Written by Bruce Hornsby and his brother John Hornsby, it made explicit reference to the American Civil Rights Movement. It would spend one week in the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was later heavily sampled by Tupac Shakur in his song, ‘Changes’ from 1998.

It was released in September 1986 as the second single from their debut album ‘The Way it Is’. It topped the charts in the United States, Canada and the Netherlands in 1986, and peaked inside the top 20 in such countries as Australia, Ireland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The opening verse recounts a story taking place at a line for welfare that illustrates a divide between the rich and the poor. The chorus presents several lines insisting that social ills are “just the way it is”, and repeatedly suggests resigning oneself to them as a fact of life—however, the chorus ends with the author rebuking this attitude by insisting “but don’t you believe them.”

The second verse recounts past social issues from the voice of someone supporting racial segregation. The author responds in a narrative voice, insisting his view that if those who make laws took them into careful consideration they would be convinced that laws enforcing principles like racial segregation are morally wrong. The song reminds the listener that it was at one time argued that racial segregation was “just the way it is”, and suggests that legislation and what the author views as progress on current social issues should be pursued without regard to those who insist “some things will never change.”

The third verse recounts the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a victory in the civil rights movement, but insists that more is needed. In particular, the verse highlights individual prejudice and employment discrimination as an enduring form of racism. The third chorus suggests that it only feels like “some things will never change” when we wait for social problems to change themselves rather than taking steps ourselves to actively change them.

Here’s a look at the complete Top 20 on the U.S. singles chart from this day back in 1986:

1 4 THE WAY IT IS –•Bruce Hornsby & The Range (RCA)-13 (1 Week at #1) (1)
2 5 WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN –•– The Bangles (Columbia)-12 (2)
3 3 HIP TO BE SQUARE –•– Huey Lewis & The News (Chrysalis)-9 (3)
4 1 THE NEXT TIME I FALL –•– Peter Cetera & Amy Grant (Full Moon / Warner Brothers)-13 (1)
5 7 EVERYBODY HAVE FUN TONIGHT –•– Wang Chung (Geffen)-11 (5)
6 2 YOU GIVE LOVE A BAD NAME –•– Bon Jovi (Mercury)-15 (1)
7 10 TO BE A LOVER –•– Billy Idol (Chrysalis)-11 (7)
8 11 NOTORIOUS –•– Duran Duran (Capitol)-7 (8)
9 15 SHAKE YOU DOWN –•– Gregory Abbott (Columbia)-9 (9)
10 13 STAND BY ME –•– Ben E. King (Atlantic)-25 (4)

11 9 LOVE WILL CONQUER ALL –•– Lionel Richie (Motown)-11 (9)
12 6 WORD UP –•– Cameo (Atlanta Artists)-14 (6)
13 16 DON’T GET ME WRONG –•– The Pretenders (Sire)-10 (13)
14 17 C’EST LA VIE –•– Robbie Nevil (Manhattan)-10 (14)
15 20 WAR –•– Bruce Springsteen (Columbia)-4 (15)
16 8 HUMAN –•– The Human League (A&M)-14 (1)
17 21 CONTROL –•– Janet Jackson (A&M)-7 (17)
18 23 IS THIS LOVE –•– Survivor (Scotti Brothers)-8 (18)
19 22 YOU KNOW I LOVE YOU… DON’T YOU? –Howard Jones (Elektra)-9 (19)
20 26 LAND OF CONFUSION –•– Genesis (Atlantic)-7 (20)


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