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Tracy Chapman: Fast Car

For American Singer-Songwriter Tracy Chapman, Fast Car was one of her most well-known tracks, rivalling her other iconic song Talkin’ Bout A Revolution for style, success and acclaim, with a song based around the struggles and story of a working-class woman looking to escape the cycle of poverty. As powerful as it is profound, Fast Car is known worldwide, and it nearly reached the top of the charts on its official release in 1988.

Tracy Chapman

© Hans Hillewaert / CC BY-SA 4.0

 

A meteoric rise from street busking to selling millions

For Tracy Chapman, success was all about putting in the hard work and grind. She started out busking in Harvard Square, as well playing the guitar in countless coffee houses across Massachusetts before she was brought to the attention of a fellow Tufts student, Brian Koppelman, who enabled her to sign to Elektra Records for the release of her self-titled debut album.

It was perhaps life on the poverty line that made Tracy Chapman such a legendary singer, and what makes Fast Car so poignant. There's truly more to this song than meets the eye.

 

The meaning behind Fast Car

The folk/rock classic is renowned as one of Tracy Chapman's most memorable pieces of writing and, indeed, performances. Ranked by Rolling Stone at 167 on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, this is the highest position for a song both written and performed by a female artist. Various artists have since covered the famed lyrics, from Jonas Blue to Kelly Clarkson, but none of these versions were fortified by the same wealth of experience that Chapman put into the original performance.

One of the most beloved and well-known ballads that has transcended its 80s roots, this song is less about cars and more about our relationships with other people, and what happens when those relationships start from a bad place. Chapman's unique folk-rock style further added to the emotion and connection behind the song.

An appearance on the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, filling in for Stevie Wonder, took this relatively obscure song from little-known to one that is performed on every radio station across the country. Tracy Chapman herself once said of the well-known song, "It's not really about a car at all - basically it's about a relationship that doesn't work out because it's starting from the wrong place.", and the complex lyrics resonated with a global audience thanks to its smooth style and impactful story.

 

Do you drive a fast car?

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