Happy 30th: Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car”

Monday, April 2, 2018
Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman

30 years ago on April 1st, Tracy Chapman released the first single from her self-titled debut album, a song which would quickly define Chapman’s career as a folk-pop singer and prove to be one of the most enduring songs of the 1980s.

Written by Chapman herself, “Fast Car” tells the tale of a woman trying to battle her way out of poverty, no matter how futile her efforts may appear to be. It would be fair to say that folk-pop was not all the rage at the time, so it can’t be overstated how remarkable it was for Chapman to have taken over the pop charts with her song. Part of that success is attributable to her tremendous profile boost as a result of playing at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday celebration in 1988, but in the long run, the biggest reason Chapman got as popular as she did was because she composed a truly tremendous song. 

“Fast Car” ultimately hit #1 in several countries, including Belgium, Canada, Ireland, and the Netherlands, but beyond that, it hit #4 in the UK, #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, #7 on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart, and #19 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. 

Gary Younge wrote of Chapman in The Guardian in 2002, “For those who have been following Chapman's career over the past decade, she never went away; there have been world tours, four albums and a whole raft of benefit concerts. But the rest of us are stuck with a sound and an image of her that dates from the late 1980s: all pert dreads and protest lyrics.”

This is not an exaggeration of the mainstream’s perception of Chapman, unfortunately. But she’s so much more than “Fast Car.” She always has been.

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