1001 Songs Challenge #696: Fast Car (1988)
On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Tracy Chapman – Fast Car (1988)
” Fast Car” is a song written and recorded by American singer Tracy Chapman. It was released on April 6, 1988 as the lead single from her 1988 self-titled debut studio album. Her appearance on the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute was the catalyst for the song’s becoming a top-ten hit in the United States, peaking at number six on the Billboard Hot 100.
We leave Sweden behind and make our way back to the US today, dear reader. We find ourselves in Cleveland, Ohio, and in the company of Tracy Chapman. She began her career in the mid-1980s and had secured a record deal by 1987. In 1988 Chapman’s self-titled debut album was released to critical acclaim. From there, 1001 Songs have selected an essential Chapman track – Fast Car.
In Fast Car Tracy Chapman plays an acoustic guitar and lets her voice carry the song, regaling us with a tragic story of a young girl with a tough upbringing. Her mother has left, her father is an alcoholic, but she has a boyfriend and a dream of a better life for both of them. As the song progresses, each verse moves us on so many years. The girl and her boyfriend with the fast car of the title escape their home and start a new life. He sits around doing little while she works and raises their children. Life is hard but she hopes and remembers the freedom of being with her man in his car and escaping to new possibilities. Ultimately, the song concludes both with hope and despair. The girl has made it. She has a nice home, a job that pays the bills, but her man is still a liability. She dismisses him in the end, the road open to him and his fast car. Our narrator may not have achieved all she dreamed of but she is still an inspiration for her grit and determination.
Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car is deceptively simple when you listen to it but the track is a stunning composition lyrically. When I was doing two years of teacher training I used this very song for my students to analyse such is the power behind its message. Chapman tells a tragic but beautiful story while the refrain in the chorus from the girl as she believes one day that she will be someone is more poignant with every repetition. In just a few minutes, Tracy Chapman grabs your heart, rips it apart and hands the pieces back with one of the greatest songs ever written. An unquestionable masterpiece.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)
The Smiths – How Soon Is Now? (1984)
Tracy Chapman – Fast Car (1988)