Behind the classic: “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman

Published March 22 2015

A song truly is a classic when Rolling Stone magazine ranks it at #167 of it’s 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time-list. Released in 1988 as the first single taken from Tracy Chapman’s self titled debut album, the song’s purity and honesty stood out from the rest of the synthesizer music that dominated the charts in the late 80s.

The upcoming musician sold, according to rumours, about 250,000 copies of her debut album before performing during the Nelson Mandela birthday concert. She had already done her set, when Stevie Wonder backed out of performing and the organisation was faced with gab to fill. Chapman took his spot and performed “Fast Car” (and her follow up single “Talking ‘Bout A Revolution”) armed only with an acoustic guitar. After the double performance during this event the album went on to sell over 2 million copies. “Fast Car” peaked the Billboard at #6 and went on to win a Grammy for best vocal performance in 1989.

To me the song represented a desire to drive straight out of a couple’s current life and into a new, hopefully, better life. However Chapman told Q magazine that the song is not at all about the car, but about a relationship that doesn’t work out because it started from the wrong place. So it’s a classic case of a different interpretation with the same result.

The song is a popular classic to cover. Sam Smith performed the song not too long ago for BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge and Michael Collings used it to audition for Britain’s Got Talent and single handedly brought the song back into the UK charts because of it. Kelly Clarkson turned Tracy Chapman into a  trending topic on Yahoo! when she covered one of her other songs just a few days ago.

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