Scenes from the Southside

Follow-up to the debut album, including the original of Huey Lewis’ number one “Jacob’s Ladder”.

Scenes from the Southside

Scenes from the Southside


Chart: #5 US

  1. “Look Out Any Window” 5:28
  2. “The Valley Road” 4:42
  3. “I Will Walk with You” 4:34
  4. “The Road Not Taken” 7:06
  5. “The Show Goes On”  7:30
  6. “The Old Playground” 4:25
  7. “Defenders of the Flag” 4:27
  8. “Jacob’s Ladder” 4:35
  9. “Till the Dreaming’s Done” 5:13

Guests: Huey Lewis

You can see your favourite tracks listed below from when this record first came out. We’re running the same poll again now to see how tastes have changed over the years… please vote again! See the poll on the right of this page.


Your favourites

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Reviews of this album: Epinions

Rolling Stone: “Rather than merely echo the promise of The Way It Is, Scenes from the Southside, this band’s sophomore effort, fulfills it. Hornsby – the man who singlehandedly reestablished the grand piano as a viable rock instrument in the otherwise synthesized Eighties – fleshes out his keyboard runs. At the same time, the members of the Range manage to achieve what just barely eluded them on The Way It Is: the right mix of rock, country and jazz”.

The Washington Post, May 15 1988: The Grammy Award for Best New Artist of 1986 went to Bruce Hornsby and the Range for their debut album, “The Way It Is.” Oddly enough, Hornsby and other nominees for that award-Timbuk 3, Glass Tiger and Nu Shooz-have just released their follow-up albums, one right after another. And as it turns out, all four groups prove that they have one thing-and perhaps only one thing-in common: an eagerness to pick up precisely where they left off.

Hornsby’s “Scenes From the Southside” (RCA 6686-1R) continues the work he started on his first album and, from a lyrical standpoint at least, does so brilliantly. A fan of southern novelists, Hornsby again demonstrates a similar gift for storytelling on songs such as “The Valley Road,” a small-town tale of star-crossed lovers and the price they have to pay. What he leaves out of the story is just as important as what he puts in. He trusts the listener to fill in the spaces.

The album does have one gnawing flaw, however. Nearly every track is burdened by a backbeat so rigid and predictable that it deflates Hornsby’s piano playing or, worse, sets up the kind of hand-clapping percussion common to the most tired forms of funk and pop jazz. Clearly, Hornsby is trying to extend his reach on this album, combining more elements of rock and jazz (on “The Road Not Taken” and “Valley Road”) than in the past. But for all his percussive might, he can’t help but sound more like Ramsey Lewis than McCoy Tyner when the metronomic beat boxes him in.

Miami Herald, May 26 1988: If the lilting, troubadour-style acoustic piano on The Way It Is was a fluke success, Bruce Hornsby and the Range, the 1986 Best New Artist Grammy winner, is finished. Hornsby’s primary melody instrument, the piano, dominated the landscape of The Way It Is. With lines inspired by Elton John and Keith Jarrett, he charmed the Top 40, bringing a smooth, insightful, front-porch feel to increasingly alienated pop.

The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), June 10 1988: There’s something infuriating about anyone who can make music this commercial and seductive. At first, there’s a desire to hate those trickling piano riffs which permeate much of Bruce Hornsby’s records. Somehow, that very element starts slipping into the subconscious and, before you know it, you’ve been hooked. Again.

Boston Globe, May 4 1988: “The songs have a stately refinement similar to those on the debut album, but their meanings are deeper. “The Valley Road,” which just set radio history by being picked up by a record-breaking 186 stations in its first week, describes a plantation romance in which a field hand impregnates the owner’s daughter, causing a townwide scandal. “Standing like a stone on the old plantation / The rich old man would have never let him in / Good enough to hire, not good enough to marry,” Hornsby sings while his band, the Range, paints an evocative mood behind him.”

Lyric interpretation

Look Out Any Window

Though I had been aware of “The Way It Is” for two years, it was actually “Look Out Any Window” and “Valley Road”, heard on radio sometime in 1988 at the age of 13, which actually drew me towards Bruce Hornsby’s work. Whilst “The Way It Is” remains Bruce’s undoubtedly biggest selling and popular hit, I would nevertheless argue that “Look Out any Window” is probably the nearest Bruce gets to a mainstream pop single. This argument can be demonstrated in at least two way First, in the lyrical theme. Bruce chooses to highlight the concern of environmental degradation at the hands of big business. By pointing a broad, sweeping accusatory finger at “Far away, men too busy getting rich to care”, he taps into a popular sentiment among young, concerned, (though invariably middle class) western teenagers. The song was written at a time just before concerns over the Ozone Layer and “Greenhouse Effect” were about to burst into major headline news stories. In the UK, the Green Party was about to hit an unprecedented 15% of the vote in the European Parliament Elections. The lyrics also tap into a wider sense of regional discontent at centralist government, or urban/rural divide: The valiant, subsistence labourers – “There’s a man working in a field” and “There’s a man working in a boat” – against the likes of the “Big boys telling you everything they’re gonna do”, and “Fat cat builderman, turning this into a wasteland”. Second, we can point to the musical arrangement as conforming to some of the popular norms of the late 80s. Here we have a very tight, structured harmony. Based on standard folk/country 4th or 5th interval harmonies, they certainly won’t offend mainstream tastes. Furthermore, there is consistent use of a structured, pop-oriented pre-programmed drum rythym right the way through. The use of fade at the end of the song also conforms to the “Stock, Aitken & Waterman”- led formula so apparent between 1986-89. Whilst these comments sound implicitly critical, that is not their intention. Bruce developed a single which, while based on the norms of 1988, could also involve his own individuality (note the piano solo in the middle, which involves an up-beat, feel-good, 9-chord modulation back down to “Far away, too many leaders let ‘em get their way…”). So, regardless that I was two years behind everyone else, and despite the mass popularity of “The Way It Is”, I will fondly regard “Look Out Any Window” as my “first Bruce Hornsby record”. Carwyn Fowler 08/02/2000

The Valley Road/The Show Goes On

Thematically, “Valley Road” and “The Show Goes On” probably fall into the same category as songs such as “Country Doctor” and “White Wheeled Limousine”, which appear on subsequent albums. In “Valley Road”, we get the classic Hornsby theme of black humour, centering on human indiscretions in a small town or rural setting “The Show Goes On” is rather more difficult to pin down. At first glance, it might appear that the author is talking about a death. However, the constant theme of “Everybody watching all along” seems to suggest a small-time community gossiping quietly about the unfortunate nature of the incident and “victim” characters (“The sad eyed sisters”) who are under the glare of the small community spotlight. This chimes in with the 2nd verse of “Valley Road”: “Out in the hall they were talking in a whisper… everybody knew what they were talking about.” The real craft of these songs is that whilst the broad themes of hypocracy, distrust, gossip and back-stabbing are fairly apparent, the author does not divulge the exact circumstances, location or identity of those involved. On one hand, this is infuriating for the listener. I’ve been listening to “The Show Goes On” since 1989 and cannot get my head round the precise meanings in the song – which even seems to fade into a love song towards the end! I have fared little better with “The Valley Road”. However, this is the big strength of both songs. By leaving some details open to question, Bruce’s songs become applicable to society and human nature in general, in whatever part of the world. Thus, Hornsby demonstrates a particular lyrical quality, the musical equivalent of leading short story writers, such as Guy de Maupassant or Kate Roberts. Oh, yes – I’d forgotten about the music! “Valley Road” is fairly typical of the early Bruce Hornsby & the Range sound, with the steady 4/4 beat, “bonehead” drum sound and nice piano solo in the middle. However, “The Show Goes on” is probably one of the most skilfully crafted arrangements on any of Hornsby’s albums, including one of the nicest piano solos in the middle, and the shortest yet sweetest electric guitar solo you’ll ever hear, coming in towards the end of the song. Carwyn Fowler

Till the Dreaming’s Done/I Will Walk With You

Here are two love songs which, under normal circumstances, would be highlights for most albums. However, I have grouped them together in a brief review for reasons that will become apparent. “Till the Dreaming’s Done” is a daydreamy little song which rests on a simple rhyme: “North, South, East and West, Uptown, downbound and all the rest” It’s a short, sweet, simple song – and seems almost out of place on this album of strongly-held sentiments. In fact, the beauty of the song probably lies in its simplicity. It brings us back down gently, as if in a hot air balloon on a sunny day, after the determined expression which characterises all the previous songs. “I Will Walk with You” is a steady love song, stressing the virtues of loyalty and sticking together through thick and thin: “…There’s always another wall, sometimes you feel so small. You could pick me up when I fall, be there when I call…” The characteristic Hornsby “bonehead” drum rythym once again sets the pace. Thematically, the song is quite similar to Bruce’s “Fields of Gray”, written some years later. Clearly “I Will Walk With You”, on any other album, would be one of the highlights. Perhaps it would have been on SfSS, had it been placed elsewhere on the album. However, its particular position on the Scenes from the Southside setlist means that the song, in the context of the album, can only really be regarded as a mere prologue to “Road Not Taken”. Carwyn Fowler

The Road Not Taken

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth.” (Robert Frost) I have decided to re-write my interpretation here, because of the strength of literary influence behind “Road not Taken” which I did not acknowledge in my first attempt. As you can see, the title of the song, “The Road not Taken”, can be directly linked to an earlier poem, of the same title, by New England poet Robert Frost. I have given you the first verse here, which gives you the general taste of the poem. Now to the main part of the song. Bruce Hornsby does acknowledge the inspiration of Lee Smith on the cover of SfSS. We may trace this inspiration to a specific source, namely a novel titled “Oral History”. It’s a complex novel, written in 1983, which traces several generations of the Cantrell family, who live at Black Rock, in the mountainous south-western tip of Virginia, close to the borders of Kentucky and West Virginia. A large portion of the book traces the haunting story of a young gentleman called Richard Burlage from Richmond, VA, who travels out, around 1924, to teach in a classroom in the mountains, partly out of a sense of adventure, and partly out of a sense of somewhat colonial mission to try and impart education on the “backward” Appalachian natives. We can sympathise with him in has fresh, open and inquisitive nature. The problems start, both in the book and Hornsby’s song, when he falls in love with mountain girl Dory Cantrell: “I clapped the erasers together, raising chalk dust which hung dreamily in the shafts of sunlight that came in the windows. It was then she came, it was then she appeared, and stood in the door…she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen…The sun streamed into the schoolhouse door behind her, turning her curls into a flaming gold halo around her head.” (Oral History, pp. 118-119) Throughout Oral History, Lee Smith manages graphically to fill in what Bruce Hornsby has sketched for us – the high, jagged ridges, the “hollers” and the “hills”. We also sense there is no way that a young town gentleman from Richmond will ever be able to prize away young Dory Cantrell. As fellow Hornsby fan David Uttal puts it, she is a “ridge runner”, born and raised in the hills, and forever destined to stay there. Although Richard and Dory do sleep together at one point, there comes a point where they have to decide on a long-term relationship. In the end, he goes back to Richmond and she stays in Black Rock – without knowing that she is actually carrying his twins!! I suppose it is at this point where we hit the instrumental piano solo – in my view one of the finest ever recorded by Bruce. The series of minor and diminished chords seem to reflect the sad reality for Richard Burlage in the story – or, for that matter, anyone else who has been the victim of unrequited or lost love….. Bruce eventually comes down from the highs of the piano solo, and with a few chords he realigns it back into the major key ready for the third verse. It is at this point where we rejoin the story in “Oral History”, where Richard Burlage comes back so curious, and so secretly to the mountains in 1934. It’s here where the author describes, through the eyes of Richard, the impact of the coal industry in the intervening years… “One mountainside was layered with small identical company houses, rickety coal-blackened flimsy squares each with its door in the middle, its two windows giving out into the porch, the porch itself on stilts as the houses were set back against the steep mountain.” (Oral History, p. 225) More importantly, we get to the bit which describes the emotions in the 3rd verse of Hornsby’s song… “…two lovely girls, apparently twins, holding hands as they come down the steps, frail and angelic…Finally Dory herself appeared in the lighted rectangle of the door…they age so fast in these mountains…” (Oral History, p. 228) “I saw her she was sitting there / older, thinner on the front porch / it seemed the light a little brighter there / or maybe I still carried the forgotten torch” (Bruce Hornsby) Most ordinary composers would have left us there to die. But as we all agree, Bruce Hornsby isn’t an ordinary composer. Instead, Bruce launches into a spirited rendition of “Workin’ in a coal mine”, which another Hornsby fan, Jennie Crabbe, aptly describes as an “Appalachian barefoot stomp”. Certainly, “Workin’ in a coal mine” is like Bruce telling us to snap out of our lovesick state, and the familiar “Bonehead” drum rhythym emerges, I suppose a bit like an old friend with a consoling bottle of beer… Carwyn Fowler   Previous analysis… Reviewing this song is an immense task. “Road not Taken” is so powerful in its imagery, emotion and beauty, that no amount of words on any review will ever do it justice. Judging by its high position (4th on the all-time “Top 83” on Simon Twining’s poll of the songs Bruce Hornsby has performed), it seems that I’m not alone in holding such an opinion. This song ranks among the greats, and deserves to be regarded in the same historical vein as the ballads of John Lennon, or Simon & Garfunkel. In some ways, this presents a little difficulty for me, because every piece of music Bruce has released since this song can never, ever compare with “Road Not Taken”. My frustrated initial reaction to “Spirit Trail”, which I threw up on Simon’s guestbook in January 1999, is not really a criticism on “Spirit Trail” in itself, which I have since discovered to be a strong, and wonderfully diverse album, with many powerful messages. It’s just that there’s no “Road Not Taken” on it! I apologise here and now to Bruce, Simon & Bruce’s fans for my harsh remarks, and hope that this review of SfSS, in particular “Road Not Taken”, will help make it up to you all. “In the South-West Virginian town of Richlands” is the first assertion. As I have suggested earlier, it’s not often that Bruce pins down hisstory to a particular geographical location. Here, however, we are drawn immediately to the location, a small, close community in the Appalachian mountains, of course a strong mining region. “The long line of little row houses” and “…the hills out there so up and down, only see as far as the next big ridge” leaves us in no doubt about the location here. Bruce’s European fans could get some idea of this terrain if they visited South Wales. Believe me, listening to this song while travelling in former mining areas such as Islwyn, Ebbw Vale, or Rhondda Valley is like watching a video of the song in digital. However, the main theme of the song is not restricted to one particular area. As I mentioned before, Bruce’s style is similar to a classic short-story writer, in that he takes a situation from one part of the world that is readily exportable, and equally appliccable, to human nature across the globe. Here, the theme is unrequited love, and longing. “Another time, and another place, feel her in my heart, and still” reveals that there is sincere longing for a girl, regardless of the fact that both the passage of time, as well as the physical distance in mileage, has put an end to the realistic possibility of relationship. There are further complications. We hear of the closed nature of the community. “Some things never change the way out here, an outsider could always remain that way”, suggesting that there was a possible cultural or social barrier, that the pursuant was not regarded as “one of us” in terms of the local community. More mysterious is the assertion that “She walked along on the jagged ridge She told me she was thinking of me But every time I tried to take her away She always ran back to the rocks and the trees”. So, the pursuant has not been categorically turned down by the girl, it’s just that a combination of factors – circumstances – has prevented the potential for love from actually materialising. The refer ence to the girl running back to hide in the “rocks and trees” suggests a certain mysterious beauty about her. It’s obviously going to be difficult for the pursuant, or indeed any other boy, to pin her down. So we’re left to dwell on this. Meantime, Bruce is embarking on one of his most remarkable recorded piano solos, involving a series of minor and diminished chords which seems to emphasise the gravity of the situation facing the poor bloke in the song. Bruce eventually comes back down from the solo – a series of straight chords realines and refocuses the work, back into the major key, and the third verse “I went back there after many years, so curious and so secretly As I looked back I held back a tear: the road not taken overcoming me. I saw her, she was sitting there. Older, thinner on the front porch It seemed the light a little brighter there, maybe I still carried the forgotten torch. The symphony ends with a final chorus, while the rest of us go and find the Kleenex (or whatever you guys have in America) to dry our eyes. A lesser composer would have left us there to die. However, this is no ordinary composer. Hornsby goes and launches into a spirited piano rendition of “Goiing Down a Coalmine”, almost as if it were his way of telling us to snap out of our lovesickness. The old “bonehead” drum sound comes back, I suppose a bit like an old familiar friend with a consoling bottle of beer Carwyn Fowler, St. Valentine’s Day, 2000.

In the southwest Virginia town of Richlands I fell in love with an Appalachian girl … The coal dust settles on the window display They have to change it about every other day After developing black lung and emphysema working in the mines, my grandfather was lucky enough to become a manager for a company called S Mart, which owned department stores in Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia. He managed several stores for them in different locations. When my mom was in high school, around 1960, her dad took over management of the store in Richlands, VA. My grandmother was his assistant, and my mom worked in the store for minimum wage after school and on weekends. One of her jobs was to “change about” the window display because of all the grit and grime from the coal dust, but it was so bad that she had to do it every single day. While clearly to most people this is an unrequited love song, the association of the lyrics with my mother’s life gives it a very different meaning for me. After a short stint in the “big city” of Columbus, Ohio where I was born, my parents came back to the mountains of West Virginia not far from where my mother was born. She lives in a now dying town and occasionally talks of moving away, but I’m certain that if she did she’d just run back to the rocks and the trees. Dr Jim Casebolt

The Old Playground

Looking through Bruce’s setlists on, “The Old Playground” is a song which appears to have been more or less discarded by the passage of time. This would be understandable, as the song is a reminiscence about good times past – and there comes a time when we must all move on in life at some point, for better or worse. However, the theme (and rythym) of the song is not all that different from a song such as “Rainbow’s Cadillac”, which still appears regularly on many, if not most, of Bruce’s recent setlists. So it is at this point that I appeal to Bruce to bring back “Playground” once in a while, possibly in segway with “Rainbow”. There – that’s my soapbox out of the way – on with the lyrical interpretation… As a touring folk harpist here in Wales, I am familiar with the following joke: Q: How many folk musicians does it take to change a lightbulb? A: Two. One to change it, the other to sing about how good the old one was! “The Old Playground” is, musically, one of the more complex songs on Scenes from the Southside. God knows what the time signature is. However the overall theme is very much in the folk tradition of singing a straight song from the heart about the way things used to be. It also touches on the positive aspects of human existence: “Everybody knows how you play is who you are” (identity, self-respect) “For some it’s a way out, some its a way in, most of us don’t even care” (belonging, finding an individual role) “Just call your own foul” (finding common ground / consensus – at which the young usually put the old to shame). Whichever way you care to look at it, it’s a strong song which deserves to survive either on its own or in sequence with Rainbow’s Cadillac, although I’ve probably been defeated by the passage of time on this one. Carwyn Fowler

Defenders of the Flag

Earlier, we saw how Bruce had tapped into political sentiment in “Look Out Any Window”. Similarly, “Defenders” and “Jacob’s Ladder” reveal a little more about the political animal inside the Bruce Hornsby of 1988 / 89. “Defenders” looks at the theme of personal indiscretion and hypocrisy within public institutions; government, church and judiciary – “Sleaze” – as it has become known on this side of the pond. I heard “Defenders” on a Hornsby concert, recorded years ago for radio, and I believe he made some reference in the general direction of the disgraced Republican administration, Oliver North, and their murky arms deals. It would be interesting to know whether Bruce, with his clear democrat sympathies, has been willing to play “Defenders”, and made a similar statement of discontent, with regards to the personal life of Bill Clinton? Musically, the backing is a sort of semi Status-Quo electric guitar accompanyment. However, the main musical feature is the guest appearance of Huey Lewis on “Harp”. Being a Welsh harpist, I spent several occasions trying to listen for the sound of “harp” strings, and wondering where, and how, the hell Huey Lewis had managed to learn the “harp”. It took two or three years to realise that “harp” is American for “Mouth organ”. D’oh! D’oh! D’oh! Carwyn Fowler

Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder runs along a very similar theme to the Phil Collins’ hit, “Jesus He Knows Me”, released in 1992. Basically, we have an ordinary girl running from “a fat man selling salvation in his hand”. It simply tells of the irrelevance of forced, evangelical religion to the ordinary concerns of the working person. The only other point to make is that this is one of two songs that I can remember at the moment where Bruce actually states a specific location to the story: “…southside Birmingham…” (Presumably Alabama – there’s nothing much southside of Birmingham, England to write home about, apart from the Cadbury’s chocolate factory). The significance of geographical location becomes more significant in a song reviewed in due course. In the meantime, that’s your lot! Carwyn Fowler   Southside in Birmingham, Alabama is an area South of UAB on the crest of Red Mountain. Southside is the most popular bar and club district and is also probably the most liberal area of the city. For Bruce to set his story here seems to make a bit of sense, since the fat man selling his salvation has come to Southside to find all of the drinkers and partiers to preach to and the fan dancer has just come to have a good time. Also, the location goes back to the title of the album. Hunter Walton

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  1. what is the song meaning and interpretation of the sho goes on.

    • The British Music magazine NME May 25, 2012. On their web site, they have a sldosehiw like article section’ of thirty songs amongst various artists thatcreated lyrics that are considered to be the most beautiful lyrics written by various rock and roll artists. The sldosehiw like section article though, is introduced on the NME cover with a picture of Kate Bush. And after clicking on the web site article, lyrics from Running up That Hill are included in the article along with another surrealsitic picture of her contained in the photograph progressions. Running up that Hill re renters the UK charts as the above KateBush NEWS piece relates and then following closely on the Heels of the above UK charts Running up that Hill accomplishment’ an interesting further thrust of Running up that Hill’ appears in the NME internet magazine. May has been a good month for Running up that Hill evidently.

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