Story-songs peaked in the early Seventies with songs like “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia”. It might be diluting “Fast Car”‘s overall message by classifying it as a “story song”, but it’s very easy to see Tracy Chapman’s 1988 breakthrough hit as a TV movie the way “Ode to Billie Joe”, isn’t it?
The premise is simple: a couple aims to improve their surroundings by leaving their thankless, luckless ife behind. Beneath all that, though, “Fast Car” is a very simple love song. “The city lights came on before us/And your arms felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulders”. Tracy’s impassioned vocal makes you believe that those surroundings will be escaped by sheer force of will…and the power of love. Aw, shit. Hand me a tissue.
Seriously, Chapman arrived in the summer of ’88 as an anomaly…not only a folk singer, but a BLACK folk singer. An explicitly political artist in a world of Taylor Daynes and Paula Abduls, someone who didn’t have model looks, but got video play anyway. Everything about her was different from what was popular at the time. Nevertheless, her self-titled debut hit #1 on the charts, won a shelf full of Grammys, and “Fast Car” became a Top 10 pop single, setting off a career that’s still going strong twenty years later.
It’s hard to imagine someone like Tracy Chapman becoming a superstar in today’s musical climate, isn’t it? Makes one pine even more for the good old days.