Tracy Chapman (album)

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Tracy Chapman
A black-and-white photograph of Chapman looking down
Studio album by
ReleasedApril 5, 1988 (1988-04-05)
StudioPowertrax, Hollywood, California
GenreContemporary folk
ProducerDavid Kershenbaum
Tracy Chapman chronology
Tracy Chapman
Singles from Tracy Chapman
  1. "Fast Car"
    Released: April 1988
  2. "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution"
    Released: July 1988
  3. "Baby Can I Hold You"
    Released: October 1988

Tracy Chapman is the self-titled debut album by singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman, released on April 5, 1988, by Elektra Records. The album was recorded at the Powertrax studio in Hollywood, California. In 1987, Chapman was discovered by fellow Tufts University student Brian Koppelman. He offered to show her work to his father, who owned a successful publishing company; however, she did not consider the offer to be serious. After multiple performances, however, Koppelman found a demo tape of her singing her single "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution", which he promoted to radio stations, and she was eventually signed to Elektra Records.

In early attempts to produce the first album, many producers turned down Chapman as they did not favor her musical direction. David Kershenbaum, however, decided to produce it as he wanted to record an acoustic music album. It was recorded in Hollywood, California in eight weeks. Most of the writing is based on political and social causes.

Tracy Chapman gained critical acclaim from a wide majority of music critics, praising the simplicity, Chapman's vocal ability and her political and social lyrical content. The album received commercial success in most of the countries it was released, making it to the top of the charts in many countries, including Austria, New Zealand, Switzerland, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. It peaked at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 and was certified six-times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), with sales exceeding over six million copies in the United States alone.

Three singles were released from the album, with the most commercially successful single being "Fast Car". The song was performed at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute. It rose to the top ten on the US Billboard Hot 100 and also did well in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and other European countries. Tracy Chapman is one of the best-selling albums of all time.


In 1987, Chapman was discovered by fellow Tufts University student Brian Koppelman. In an interview he said "I was helping organize a boycott protest against apartheid at school, and [someone] told me there was this great protest singer I should get to play at the rally."[1] He went to see Chapman perform at a coffeehouse called Cappuccino. He said "Tracy walked onstage, and it was like an epiphany. Her presence, her voice, her songs, her sincerity—it all came across."[1] After this, Koppelman told her that his father was at the time a co-owner of SBK Publishing and could help her make a record. She did not consider the offer seriously.[1] Koppelman, however, was very interested in Chapman, so he attended most of her shows. She finally agreed to talk to him, but did not record any demos for him. He later discovered that she had recorded demos at the Tufts radio station WMFO for copyright purposes.[1] Her demo of the song "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution" was taken to radio stations and, after the success, he copied it and took it to his father.[1] According to the interview, "He immediately got the picture and flew up to see her." Her demo led her to a signing with Elektra Records. She said "I have to say that I never thought I would get a contract with a major record label [...] All the time since I was a kid listening to records and the radio, I didn't think there was any indication that record people would find the kind of music that I did marketable. Especially when I was singing songs like 'Talkin' 'bout a Revolution' during the Seventies [...] I didn't see a place for me there."[1]

David Kershenbaum said that the album was "made for the right reasons".[1] "There was a set of ideas that we wanted to communicate, and we felt if we were truthful and loyal to those ideas, then people would pick up on the emotion and the lyrical content that was there."[1]


Chapman started writing songs when she was immediately signed to Elektra Records. Koppelman started finding producers for the album with the demo tape of her single "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution". However, she was turned down due to the popularity of dance-pop and synthpop at the time.[1] They then found David Kershenbaum, who recalled later: "I'd been looking for something acoustic to do for some time . . . There was a sense in the industry of a slight boredom with everything out there and that people might be willing to listen again to lyrics and to someone who made statements."[1]

Chapman's greatest concern during her meetings with Kershenbaum was that the integrity of her songs remain intact, because she wanted to record "real simple". Kershenbaum said, "I wanted to make sure that she was in front, vocally and thematically, and that everything was built around her."[1] Every song that was featured on the result of the studio album was featured on her demo tape, except for "Fast Car", which resulted as one of the last songs recorded on the album. Kershenbaum recalled that the first time she sang and performed it for him, he "loved it the minute I [he] heard it."[citation needed]

The album was, in total, recorded in eight weeks at Powertrax, Kershenbaum's Hollywood studio.[1][2] Interviewed in 2002 by The Guardian, Kershenbaum stated that a lot of the public wanted "what she had" and said, "And they weren't getting it. She got there at the right moment with stuff that was good."[3] Chapman was also interviewed and talked about the background of the album. She said, "The first record [Tracy Chapman] is seen as being more social commentary . . . more political. But I think that's just all about perspective."[3]

In an interview with The Guardian in 1996, Chapman said: "My first record was almost not my first record."[4] The proposed producer for the studio album was killed in a car accident and the record company called in someone far less experienced to take over.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[5]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[6]
Orlando Sentinel5/5 stars[7]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[9]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4.5/5 stars[10]
The Village VoiceB+[11]

Tracy Chapman received acclaim from music critics. According to Rolling Stone, Chapman "caught everyone's ear in the hair-metal late Eighties" with the album.[12] Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic wrote, "Arriving with little fanfare in the spring of 1988, Tracy Chapman's eponymous debut album became one of the key records of the Bush era, providing a touchstone for the entire PC movement while reviving the singer-songwriter tradition."[5] According to Erlewine, "the juxtaposition of contemporary themes and classic production precisely is what makes the album distinctive – it brings the traditions into the present."[5] He highlighted the album as her best album of her whole discography.[13] Robert Christgau was less enthusiastic in his review for The Village Voice. He found "Fast Car" and "Mountains o' Things" very perceptive and Chapman an innately gifted singer but was disappointed by the presence of "begged questions" and "naive left-folkie truisms" such as "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution" and "Why": "She's too good for such condescension ... Get real, girl."[11]

Commercial response[edit]

Just two weeks after its release, the album sold one million copies worldwide, becoming a big commercial success.[3] In total, it sold over 20 million copies worldwide and is one of the first albums by a female artist to have more than 10 million copies sold worldwide.[14]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Tracy Chapman.

  1. "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution" – 2:40
  2. "Fast Car" – 4:57
  3. "Across the Lines" – 3:25
  4. "Behind the Wall" – 1:50
  5. "Baby Can I Hold You" – 3:14
  6. "Mountains o' Things" – 4:39
  7. "She's Got Her Ticket" – 3:57
  8. "Why?" – 2:06
  9. "For My Lover" – 3:12
  10. "If Not Now…" – 3:01
  11. "For You" – 3:10


Adapted credits from the album's booklet.[15]


Charts and certifications[edit]

Grammy Awards[edit]

Year Winner Category
1988 "Fast Car" Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
Tracy Chapman Best Contemporary Folk Album
Tracy Chapman Best New Artist


The album received seven nominations at the 31st Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, ("Fast Car"), Song of the Year ("Fast Car"), Producer of the Year for David Kershenbaum, Best New Artist, Best Contemporary Folk Album, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance ("Fast Car"). The latter three were won.

In 1989, the album was rated number 10 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Albums of the 80s". In 2003, the album was ranked number 261 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time", and 263 in a 2012 revised list.[49]

Slant Magazine listed the album at No. 49 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s".[50]

The album was critically acclaimed and helped to revive the singer-songwriter tradition.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "100 Best Albums of the Eighties: Tracy Chapman, 'Tracy Chapman'". Rolling Stone. November 16, 1989. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  2. ^ Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs. Discogs.
  3. ^ a b c Saturday September 28, 2002 Gary Younge interviews Tracy Chapman | Music | The Guardian.
  4. ^ a b Amy Fleming (October 31, 2008). "Amy Fleming on Tracy Chapman, the quiet revolutionary | Life and style". The Guardian. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d Erlewine, Stephen Thoms. "Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman". AllMusic. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  6. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  7. ^ Duffy, Thom (June 12, 1988). "Tracy Chapman". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved April 7, 2017.
  8. ^ Gaillot, Ann-Derrick (January 20, 2019). "Tracy Chapman: Tracy Chapman". Pitchfork. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  9. ^ Pond, Steve (June 2, 1988). "Tracy Chapman: Tracy Chapman". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on October 2, 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  10. ^ Evans, Paul (2004). "Tracy Chapman". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. p. 153. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  11. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (May 24, 1988). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
  12. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Tracy Chapman, 'Tracy Chapman'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  13. ^ Tracy Chapman – Music Biography, Credits and Discography : Allmusic.
  14. ^ Wernick, Adam (November 20, 2015). "Tracy Chapman's new greatest hits album celebrates a quietly powerful legacy". Public Radio International. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
  15. ^ Tracy Chapman (booklet). Tracy Chapman. Elektra. 1988. CD 60774.CS1 maint: others (link)
  16. ^ Australian charts
  17. ^ Austrian Charts
  18. ^ Belgium Charts
  19. ^ Danish Charts
  20. ^ French Charts
  21. ^ German Charts
  22. ^ Dutch Charts
  23. ^ New Zealand Charts
  24. ^ Norwegian Charts
  25. ^ Swedish Charts
  26. ^ Swiss Charts
  27. ^ UK Charts
  28. ^ US Billboard Charts
  29. ^ "Discos de oro y platino" (in Spanish). Cámara Argentina de Productores de Fonogramas y Videogramas. Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  30. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 2001 Albums". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  31. ^ "Austrian album certifications – Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman" (in German). IFPI Austria. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  32. ^ "Brazilian album certifications – Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman" (in Portuguese). Associação Brasileira dos Produtores de Discos. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  33. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman". Music Canada. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  34. ^ "Certificeringer" (in Danish). International Federation of the Phonographic Industry of Denmark. Archived from the original on November 11, 2016. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  35. ^ "Les Albums Diamant" (in French). Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  36. ^ "InfoDisc : Les Meilleurs Ventes d'Albums "Tout Temps" (33 T. / Cd / Téléchargement)".
  37. ^ "French album certifications – Tracy Chapman – 1er Album" (in French). Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique.
  38. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Tracy Chapman; 'Tracy Chapman')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  39. ^ "IFPIHK Gold Disc Award − 1988". IFPI Hong Kong.
  40. ^ "Italian album certifications – Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved December 30, 2014. Select "2014" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "Tracy Chapman" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Album e Compilation" under "Sezione".
  41. ^ "Dutch album certifications – Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman" (in Dutch). Nederlandse Vereniging van Producenten en Importeurs van beeld- en geluidsdragers. Retrieved August 25, 2018. Enter Tracy Chapman in the "Artiest of titel" box.
  42. ^ "New Zealand album certifications – Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved November 22, 2015.
  43. ^ Salaverrie, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (PDF) (in Spanish) (1st ed.). Madrid: Fundación Autor/SGAE. p. 956. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  44. ^ "Guld- och Platinacertifikat − År 1987−1998" (PDF) (in Swedish). IFPI Sweden. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  45. ^ "The Official Swiss Charts and Music Community: Awards (Tracy Chapman; 'Tracy Chapman')". IFPI Switzerland. Hung Medien. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  46. ^ Jones, Alan (January 29, 2016). "Official Charts Analysis: Bowie album chart domination continues". Music Week. Intent Media. Retrieved January 29, 2016.
  47. ^ "British album certifications – Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved October 15, 2012. Select albums in the Format field. Select Platinum in the Certification field. Type Tracy Chapman in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  48. ^ "American album certifications – Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved October 15, 2012. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 
  49. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time Rolling Stone's definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time". Rolling Stone. 2012. Retrieved September 10, 2019.
  50. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s | Feature". Slant Magazine. Retrieved September 21, 2013.

External links[edit]