Fast Car

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For other uses, see Fast Car (disambiguation).
"Fast Car"
Single by Tracy Chapman
from the album Tracy Chapman
B-side "For You"
Released April 1988
Format 7", 12"
Recorded 1987
Genre Folk, pop, adult contemporary
Length 4:56 (album version)
4:26 (single edit)
Label Elektra
Writer(s) Tracy Chapman
Producer(s) David Kershenbaum
Tracy Chapman singles chronology
"Fast Car"
"Talkin' 'bout a Revolution"
Music sample

"Fast Car" is a single by American singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman. It was released in April 1988 from her self-titled debut album. Her appearance on the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute was the catalyst for the song's becoming a top 10 hit in the United States, peaking at number 6 on the Hot 100, and a top 10 hit the United Kingdom, peaking at number 4 on the charts there.

"Fast Car" is one of Chapman's best-known and critically acclaimed compositions, and as a result it has come to be known as her signature song.[citation needed]


The song is a narrative 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 partner in the hope 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 partner remains largely unemployed and becomes an alcoholic. She is left alone with her children while her partner spends time drinking with friends.

Finally, after getting a job that will support her family, she comes to accept her life as the way it is and to give up chasing empty dreams. She tells her partner to leave her; to take "your 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 and certifications[edit]

Rolling Stone ranked the song number 167 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[1] It is Chapman's only song on the list (and the highest ranking song both written and performed by a female performer). In April 2011 the track also hit the UK top ten at number 4 after Michael Collings performed it on Britain's Got Talent.

The single was certified Platinum in the United Kingdom by the BPI in 2014 based on digital downloads and streaming.

Chart (1988) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[2] 4
Canada (RPM)[3] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[4] 1
New Zealand (RIANZ)[2] 21
Netherlands (Mega Top 50)[5] 2
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[2] 9
United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company)[6] 5
US Billboard Hot 100[7][8] 6
Chart (2007) Peak
United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company) 93
Chart (2010) Peak
United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company) 57
Chart (2011) Peak
United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company) 4
Chart (2013) Peak
Denmark (IFPI Denmark) 29[9]

Chart successions[edit]

Preceded by
"The Boys in Green" by Republic of Ireland Soccer Squad
Irish number one single
July 9, 1988 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You" by Glenn Medeiros
Preceded by
"I Don't Wanna Go on with You Like That" by Elton John
Canadian RPM Top Singles number-one single
September 3, 1988 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Perfect World" by Huey Lewis and the News
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"

Cover versions[edit]

The song has been covered many times including by The Flying Pickets, Hundred Reasons, Xiu Xiu, Vertical Horizon, Darwin's Waiting Room, Amazing Transparent Man, MYMP, The Wilkinsons, Mutya Buena, Kristian Leontiou, Wayne Wonder, David Usher, Linda Pritchard, Boyce Avenue (featuring Kina Grannis), Christian Kane, Mark Wilkinson, Elizabeth Gillies and Hitomi Yaida.

In 2010, Kelly Clarkson and Daughtry performed a duet of the song in concert. 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 "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" that featured a sample of "Fast Car". When it was released commercially in 1993 the sample 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 "Fast Car" by manipulating a tone record on a turntable to imitate the notes of the opening guitar riffs.

The song was parodied as "I Write a Fast Song" in the In Living Color sketch "Making of a Tracy Chapman Song", in which Chapman (portrayed by Kim Wayans) writes a song by looking out her window and witnessing events such as an old man getting hit by a bus and a domestic dispute.

The song was featured in an episode of Jake and Amir, however the words are changed to "I got a fast Jake".

In mid-2008, Swimming With Dolphins released a cover of the song as a B-side track to their EP, Ambient Blue.[10]

In December 2010, Boyce Avenue[11] and Kina Grannis did an acoustic cover and as of October 2014 has over 25 million views on YouTube and remains one of their most popular songs on iTunes.[12]

In April 2011, Michael Collings auditioned on Britain's Got Talent by singing a cover of "Fast Car". As a result, the song peaked on number 4 in the UK Singles Chart in May 2011.[13]

In September 2014, Sam Smith covered the song on BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge.[14]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]