Tracy Chapman – Fast Car

When I heard this song it sounded so different than other songs at the time. It’s a well-written song lyrically and musically that has a folk feel to it. It could have been a hit in any era… the lyrics got my attention. While they’re standing in the welfare lines / crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation / wasting time in the unemployment lines / sitting around waiting for a promotion

The song remains one of my favorites from that era.

A still unknown Tracy Chapman was booked to appear down the bill at the Nelson Mandela birthday concert at Wembley Stadium on June 11, 1987. She had no reason to think her appearance would be the catalyst for a career breakthrough. After performing several songs from her self titled debut during the afternoon, Chapman thought she’d done her bit and could relax and enjoy the rest of the concert.

That would not be the case… later in the evening, Stevie Wonder was delayed when the computer discs for his performance went missing, and Chapman was ushered back onto the stage again. In front of a huge prime time audience, she performed “Fast Car” alone with her acoustic guitar. Afterward, the song raced up the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

The song peaked at #6 in the Billboard 100, #1 in Canada, #6 in the UK, and #21 in New Zealand in 1988.

From Songfacts

Chapman (from Q magazine): “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.”

This won the Grammy Award in 1989 for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

This song returned to the UK singles chart in April 2011 after it was performed by contestant Michael Collings on the first edition of the fifth series of Britain’s Got Talent.

Two popular dance music cover versions were released near the end of 2015.

The producer Jonas Blue was just 21 when he released his version; he wasn’t alive when the original was released, but it was one of his mother’s favorite songs, so he heard it a lot growing up in England. He struggled to find a vocalist to bring the song to life, but he hit the mark when he tried a young singer named Dakota, whom he spotted performing in a pub. She ended up being the vocalist on the track. This version went to #1 in Australia and was a hit across Europe, reaching #2 in the UK. In America, it went to #1 on the Dance chart.

Around this same time, the Swedish remix man Tobtok (Tobias Karlsson) released his version with another mononymed vocalist, River. This version, which was accompanied by a video, was a modest hit in Australia, reaching #19.

Fast Car

You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Anyplace is better
Starting from zero got nothing to lose
Maybe we’ll make something
Me, myself I got nothing to prove

You got a fast car
I got a plan to get us out of here
I been working at the convenience store
Managed to save just a little bit of money
Won’t have to drive too far
Just ‘cross the border and into the city
You and I can both get jobs
And finally see what it means to be living

You see my old man’s got a problem
He live with the bottle that’s the way it is
He says his body’s too old for working
His body’s too young to look like his
My mama went off and left him
She wanted more from life than he could give
I said somebody’s got to take care of him
So I quit school and that’s what I did

You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so we can fly away
We gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way

So remember we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

You got a fast car
We go cruising to entertain ourselves
You still ain’t got a job
I work in a market as a checkout girl
I know things will get better
You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted
We’ll move out of the shelter
Buy a bigger house and live in the suburbs

I remember we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

You got a fast car
I got a job that pays all our bills
You stay out drinking late at the bar
See more of your friends than you do of your kids
I’d always hoped for better
Thought maybe together you and me would find it
I got no plans I ain’t going nowhere
So take your fast car and keep on driving

I remember we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

You got a fast car
But is it fast enough so you can fly away
You gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

28 thoughts on “Tracy Chapman – Fast Car”

  1. I loved that tune and her entire eponymous debut album – in fact, I popped it in right after I had seen your post. I also liked her sophomore “Crossroads.” After that, I kind of lost track of her.

    I also remember at the time “Fast Car” and “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” came out, there was an acoustic singer-songwriter wave going on. Another artist that comes to mind in this context is Suzanne Vega. There were also Michelle Shocked (remember her?) and others. I have a terrible name memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She was so refreshing when she came along. She had another well known song in the 90s…Give Me A One Reason…I was glad to see her in the spotlight again. I forgot about Talking Bout a Revolution.

      I’m bad at names also…A friend posted about Vega the other day. There was a wave that came in.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a lovely song that I’ve always enjoyed. In the UK at the time, she was frequently compared to Joan Armatrading which I always thought was rather unfair, particularly as the comparisons usually began with “a Joan Armatrading imitator”. She’s nothing of the kind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know…I was glad to see her come back in 1996 with Give Me One Reason…I didn’t think we would hear from her again. But yea it can be a curse.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This song was mega. I appreciated it in-between my cranking Maiden and Priest albums.
    Seriously I went out with a girl at the time that was into Chapman/Etheridge(debut). She had a good ear for that stuff unfortunately we didn’t have a good year after that! LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I take great pride in knowing Tracy Chapman’s childhood roots are the same as mine in Cleveland, Ohio. Using this song as a judge, our life experiences there were different though.

    Liked by 1 person

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