Saturday, June 26, 2021

"Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman

Top 10 Alert!
Grammy Alert!
Song#:  3536
Date:  06/04/1988
Debut:  95
Peak:  6
Weeks:  21
Genre:  Contemporary Folk, Singer/Songwriter

Pop Bits:  Chapman began playing guitar and writing songs as a kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. She later attended Tufts University and performed around the Boston area. A fellow Tufts student happened to hear her perform and told his father about her. His dad just happened to be music publisher Charles Koppelman. He would eventually get Chapman signed to Elektra Records following her graduation from Tufts. Work began on a debut album with producer David Kershenbaum. It would be released in the spring of '88 along with this first single. A contemporary folk album with political and social themes didn't seem like something that would set the charts afire, but after an appearance at a televised event (see below), both the single and the album took off in a big way. The single would end up in the Pop Top 10 while reaching #7 AC and #19 Rock. The hit sent the album to the top of the chart for a week in late August. By fall the LP went double-platinum. Of course the Grammy folks took notice of Chapman. She earned seven nominations including ones for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year. She would win three Grammys; Best New Artist, Best Contemporary Folk Album, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for "Fast Car").

ReduxReview:  I remember when this song came out. People were freak out by it as if they had never heard an acoustic folk song before. Granted, it was something a bit unusual for pop radio at the time, but it wasn't like some new crazy genre just emerged. I think it was just that an artist like Chapman hadn't truly hit the mainstream in ages and a younger generation hadn't really had a chance to hear contemporary folk music that had heavier topics and thoughtful lyrics. It seemed new and fresh. Chapman had the right sound, the right song, and the right album at just the right time. "Fast Car" was just a terrific song. The lilting guitar line was a hook in itself, but then Chapman weaved her tale in a voice that was both hopeful and weary. Her breakthrough, along with Suzanne Vega's recent success with "Luka,"  would help put a spotlight on other up-n-coming singer/songwriters such as future Grammy winners Indigo Girls and Shawn Colvin.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  There was a good chance that Chapman might have done well via promos, critical reviews, and word of mouth. However, she may not have exploded on the scene and sold millions of albums had she not appeared at a special televised event. In June of '88, a concert was organized to celebrate the 70th birthday of Nelson Mandela, who was still imprisoned at the time. The event was held at Wembley Stadium and was to be televised. It featured big name music artists and speakers such as Bee Gees, Whoopi Goldberg, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Eurythmics, George Michael, Whitney Houston, and many others. Tracy Chapman was on the bill and she performed three songs earlier in the 11-hour event. Her set was well-received, but an odd event would truly push her into the limelight. Stevie Wonder was scheduled to perform in the early evening when crowds and TV viewers would be more tuned in to the show. As he was about to go on, it was discovered that a hard disk for his synth that had his pre-set music for his songs was missing. Wonder said he could not perform without it and ended up walking out of the event. There was an urgent need to fill time in order to set up for the next act, so Tracy Chapman was asked to grab her guitar and go on stage to perform again. Unexpectedly shoved in the spotlight in front of millions of people, she performed two songs including "Fast Car." The next day after her impromptu set, sales of her album skyrocketed and "Fast Car" began to quickly ascend chart around the world. That moment of chance appearance helped spark Chapman's meteoric rise to fame. As for Wonder, he was finally coaxed back to the event. He and his band found a way to get along with out the hard disk and they eked out a couple of tunes in the latter portion of the event.


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