“Fast Car”, today’s Song of the Day, is off of Tracy Chapman’s self-titled debut album which was released on this day in 1988. The album is an acoustic album which gained critical acclaim from a wide majority of music critics, praising the simplicity, Chapman’s vocal ability and her political and social lyrical content. The album was a huge success, selling over one million copies just after 2 weeks of its release. It sold over 20 million copies worldwide and is one of the first albums by a female artist to have more than 10 million copies sold worldwide. There were three singles released from this album: “Fast Car”, “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution“, and “Baby Can I Hold You“.
When the then-unknown Tracy Chapman was booked to appear down the bill at the Nelson Mandela birthday concert at Wembley Stadium on June 11, 1988, little did she know 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. However, later in the evening Stevie Wonder was delayed when the computer discs for his performance went missing, and Chapman was ushered back onto stage again. In front of a huge prime time audience she performed “Fast Car” alone with her acoustic guitar. Afterwards the song raced up the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
That performance of the song at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute helped it become a top-ten hit in the United States, reaching number six on the Billboard Hot 100. In the United Kingdom, it reached number four on the UK Singles Chart. “Fast Car” received three Grammy Award nominations; Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, the latter of which it won. It also received a MTV Video Music Award nomination for Best Female Video in 1989.
In this heart-wrenching song, Chapman sings from the perspective of a woman whose life isn’t working out as she hoped. She’s with a guy who’s unemployed, lazy and unsupportive – she works at the convenience store to pay the bills while he’s drinking at the bar.