Morning Song – The Way It Is
Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is” spare, open, jazz-drenched, piano-based “The Way It Is” doesn’t sound anything on the radio today.
That’s okay; it didn’t sound like anything else on the radio back in 1987 when it was one of Billboard’s top 10 songs.
Lyrically (with one crucial exception) it’s a thoroughly depressing and opaque piece of social commentary. If you didn’t already have a fairly solid grounding in the history and significance of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it might not make any sense at all.
Meanwhile the music—despite (because of?) its impressive technique, lyrical solos and austerely beautiful orchestration—reinforces the grim, depressing refrain: “That’s just the way it is; some things will never change.”
But there is that one exception on which the entire song pivots: the hushed, quietly defiant, final words of Hornsby’s narrator: “…but don’t you believe them”.
It’s a lovely and understated reminder of Frederick Douglass’ timeless wisdom: “the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”