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 ways.
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 Tywyn, February 8 2000
Look Out Any Window
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Solo show; soundboard
December 16 1995