If you’re like me, the first time you heard Tracy Chapman’s unique, low-timbre voice rambling along over the signature guitar riff on “Fast Car,” your first reaction was, “Hey, this is good. Who IS this?”
Indeed, that was the general reaction to a young singer-songwriter who didn’t fit the mold or the expected popstar image of any who had come before her. “Fast Car,” a melancholy reflection of the cycle of poverty, was the first single off Tracy’s debut album Tracy Chapman in 1988, and it was the first song most people had ever heard from her. The song was understated, yet captivating.
Still virtually unknown as an artist, Tracy had the opportunity to perform “Fast Car” at Wembley Stadium during the worldwide broadcast of Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute concert. The result was a rise to the top that was faster than the fast car she was singing about. “Fast Car” shot to Number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The album went multi-Platinum. Tracy was nominated for six Grammys, and won three.
In the years following, Tracy Chapman has only had one other top-10 hit, in the form of “Give Me One Reason” in 1995, but her unique style has continues to resonate with a solid fan base, with most of her records going Gold, Platinum or multi-Platinum despite only modest chart success. Her debut single “Fast Car” remains her signature and best-remembered song.