Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – The Way it Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range

“The Way it Is” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range

by Robert Mishou

There are several songs in this list that I could have easily put at the top, but this one gets that spot. I saw Bruce Hornsby and the Range in November of 1986 when the band opened for Huey Lewis and News; this was the only song that I knew by them, but their performance blew me away. They ended their set with this song and it sounded as good as it does recorded (with a little longer piano solo). In this song Hornsby present situations and prejudices in American society. The first is:

Standing in line marking time–
Waiting for the welfare dime
‘Cause they can’t buy a job
The man in the silk suit hurries by
As he catches the poor old ladies’ eyes
Just for fun he says “Get a job”

Today, I am still extremely upset at this rich guy who has the audacity to say this to the unfortunates just trying to get by. Wait, it’s not done yet:

They say hey little boy you can’t go
Where the others go
‘Cause you don’t look like they do

Now, in addition to economic biases, we add racial prejudice – lovely. Now check out how Hornsby combines the two situations:

Well they passed a law in ’64
To give those who ain’t got a little more
But it only goes so far
Because the law another’s mind
When all it sees at the hiring time
Is the line on the color bar

All of these verses are framed with an answer, no a cope out, really. Unfortunately, these situations and occurrences exist – and the answer lies in the chorus. The way many people excuse these deplorable situations is simply with the excuse, “That’s just the way it is.” As Hornsby recognizes, this is not an answer and we should not settle for such a response. Things do not have to be this way and we do not have to accept it. If we continue to accept these things because it has always been that way – if we settle for this, then nothing will even change, nothing will ever improve, we will never truly be equal.


There it is, my first list in a series of list. These are my top ten favorite ‘80s songs that have a social conscience. It is a reminder that in the ‘80s, just like today, we need to slow down and look out for others in the world. Not everyone is living in a great situation and these songs remind me that I am very lucky. I grew up lucky and still lead a life that is fortunate. I play these songs for my children so they can see that not everyone is like them or as fortunate as they are.

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2 thoughts on “Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s – The Way it Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range”

  1. My favorites in no particular order:

    “System Of Survival” by Earth, Wind & Fire
    “The Chant Has Begun” by Level 42
    “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
    “We Are The World”
    “Hands Across America”
    “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears for Fears
    “Fragile” by Sting
    “Allentown”
    “Land Of Confusion” by Genesis
    “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” by U2

    Like

    1. Love them all – except “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, just can’t handle Bono in it. Stuck in the ’80s had a bit about Fragile this week. It was really hard to choose only one song by Sting, but Russians won out

      Like

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