As the music of the 80s began to evolve and take shape, piano-driven music gave way to synthesizers and electronic keyboards. For several years, piano pop barely made it on to the radio.
Then there was this song.
When Bruce Hornsby and the Range came out with breakthrough single “The Way It Is” in late 1986, there was literally nothing on the market that sounded anything like it. It was a simple song, really—a midtempo song, a set of repeated chord progressions over a straight drum beat for four-and-a-half minutes. But Bruce Hornsby’s piano riffs (on an actual Steinway) were absolutely contagious, and for awhile you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing them.
And just like that—piano music was popular again. The synths weren’t gone completely—they were tracked under the piano as a pad—but the piano came front and center, with Hornsby’s slightly blue-eyed-soul vocals serving almost as a counterweight. “The Way It Is” caused the act’s debut album of the same name to go triple platinum, yielding two more Top-20 hits, and garnering the Grammy for Best New Artist.
Bruce Hornsby has never achieved chart success to the level of that first album with the Range, but he has continued to be incredibly prolific as a performer, through several more band incarnations, a stint playing with the Grateful Dead, and countless collaborations. His signature piano style is such that you can almost always tell when he is the one playing.