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"Fast Car"
Single by Tracy Chapman
from the album Tracy Chapman
B-side "For You"
Released April 1988[1]
Format 7", 12"
Recorded 1987
Genre Rock/Acoustic rock/Contemporary Folk
Length 4:56
Label Elektra Records
Producer David Kershenbaum
Tracy Chapman singles chronology
- "Fast Car"
"Talkin' 'bout a Revolution"
Music sample
"Fast Car"

"Fast Car" is a Grammy-winning song by the American singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman. It was released on her self-titled 1988 debut album Tracy Chapman. Her appearance on the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute was the catalyst for the song becoming a Top 6 hit in the US, peaking at Number 5 on the Hot 100, and a top 10 hit the UK, peaking at Number 5 on the UK chart. The song was nominated for several Grammies including the Grammy for "Song Of The Year" and "Record Of The Year". The song won a Grammy for "Best Female Pop Vocal Performance" setting Chapman's career in motion.[1] In 2010 the song re-entered the UK Singles Chart due to digital downloads of the song.


Song Meaning

The song is a narrative tale of generational poverty. The song's narrator tells the story of her hard life, which begins when her mother divorces her jobless, alcoholic father, forcing the narrator to quit school in order to care for him. Eventually, she leaves her hometown with her boyfriend in hopes of making a better life. Despite her employment at a grocery store, she falls victim to the cycle of poverty, as her life begins to mirror her mother's: her boyfriend remains largely unemployed and becomes an alcoholic. She is left alone with her children while her boyfriend spends time drinking with his friends. Finally, after getting a job that will support her family, she has an epiphany. Despite wishing for a better life, she must make the best of her situation, and tells her boyfriend to take his "fast car and keep on driving." The final refrain is sung in variation, changing from "We gotta make a decision, leave tonight or live and die this way" to "You gotta make a decision, leave tonight or live and die this way."

Chart performance

Rolling Stone ranked the song Number 165 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[2] It is Chapman's only song on the list (and the highest ranking song both written and performed by a female performer).

Chart (1988) Peak
Irish Singles Chart 1
Dutch Top 40[3] 2
Swedish Singles Chart 9
UK Singles Chart 5
United States[1][4] 6
Singapore Get Ready! Top 20 2
Chart (2010) Peak
UK Singles Chart 57

Cover versions

The song has been covered many times by bands such as R.E.M., The Flying Pickets, Swimming With Dolphins, Hundred Reasons, Xiu Xiu, Vertical Horizon, Even Nine, Darwin's Waiting Room, Jesse James, The Love Project, Amazing Transparent Man, Matchbox Twenty, MYMP, The Wilkinsons and by solo singers Mutya Buena, Kristian Leontiou, Wayne Wonder, David Usher and Hitomi Yaida. It was also sampled by the rap group Nice & Smooth in their hit song "Sometimes I Rhyme Slow", making it a hit within the hip hop community as well. British rapper Example also samples the song in his song "I Need a Fast Car" which appeared on his mixtape We Didn't Invent the Remix.

In 1991, British soul singer Gabrielle recorded a demo of her song "Dreams" which featured a sample of "Fast Car". When it was released commercially in 1993 the sample of "Fast Car" was removed because of legal issues, but the version with the sample was still being played in nightclubs and DJ sets. Los Angeles based turntablist DJ Quixotic is known to perform a cover of this song by manipulating a tone record on a turntable to imitate the notes of the opening guitar riffs.

Preceded by
Whitney Houston
for "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)"
Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
for "Fast Car"
Succeeded by
Bonnie Raitt
for "Nick of Time"




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