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)
- On the Western Skyline
- Every Little Kiss
- Mandolin Rain
- The Long Race
- The Way It Is
- Down the Road Tonight
- The Wild Frontier
- The River Runs Low
- The Red Plains
Disc 2: Bonus material
- Every Little Kiss (Live)
- The Long Way (Live)
- The Way It Is (Piano Intro) (Live)
- The Way It Is (Live)
- Mandolin Rain (Live)
- The Red Plains (Live)
- On the Western Skyline (Live)
- Every Little Kiss (Remix)
- Mandolin Rain (Remix)
- Every Little Kiss (Instrumental Remix)
- 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