This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: THe Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #387: Fast Car by Tracy Chapman.
Oh my goodness! What a lovely singing voice!
Tracy Chapman burst on to the music scene in the late 1980s with a debut album called, “Fast Car”. From that album, her first single was, also, called, “Fast Car”. From that single, we were introduced to a singer who immediately connected with vast swaths of people who saw themselves and their struggles in her lyrics. “Fast Car” is about living in poverty, all the while dreaming of bigger and better things and finding those dreams hard to bring to fruition. She was nominated for several Grammy Awards as a result of her debut album, including “Album of the Year”, as well as, “Song of the Year”.
Tracy Chapman has had several other hits along the way, including, “Give Me One Reason”, “Talkin’ About a Revolution”, “Crossroads” and “Baby, Can I Hold You”. She is a regular on the festival circuit and, in particular, at events that have a political or charitable bent to them. Being a social activist is important to Chapman who believes that she bears a responsibility to use her platform to speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves. A good example of her standing in the eyes of those who seek to make a difference in the world can be found in the video I am including with this post.
Chapman was invited to perform at a benefit concert for Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday. Also on the bill was the legendary, Stevie Wonder. The story is that just as Stevie Wonder was to go on stage, he suffered a technical malfunction that rendered him unable to perform at that time. The organizers of the concert suddenly had a hole in their schedule to fill. Even though it wasn’t her turn to perform, Chapman volunteered to go on stage and fill in. So, in this video, she is singing “Fast Car”…..which is a quiet, acoustic song…..all alone on stage at a packed Wembley Stadium in London, England. There are two things to note as she performs: I marvel at how noisy and restless the crowd is when she first starts and how quiet they become as she sings. Secondly, she is a seasoned pro…..you can tell by how she takes this song and stretches it out a bit to fill in some of the space created by Stevie Wonder’s absence.
Overall, Tracy Chapman strikes that fine balance of public performer/private person (there is little known of her personal life and, that is ok), of gentle, compassionate soul and forceful champion of the oppressed and, of whispery stage presence with electric presence, at the very same time. Her voice is as unique and soulful as anyone out there performing on stages today. It is not surprising to me that, as comedian David Letterman was counting down his final days on air before retirement, he asked Tracy Chapman to be his musical guest during his final week of taping. She graciously lent her beauty and her Light to his moment which is, what she does for all of us, each time she sings. Tracy Chapman is a gift for us all. Please enjoy “Fast Car” from Nelson Mandela’s birthday concert. Have a wonderful day.
The link to the music video for “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, can be found here.
The link to the music video for “Stand By Me”, which Chapman performed as a favour for Late Night Talk Show host, David Letterman during his final week on air, can be found here.
The official website for Tracy Chapman can be found here.