Sometimes the fate of song falls entirely on luck. Such is the tale of Tracy Chapman’s iconic Fast Car. The autobiographical song’s success can be attributed to her unplanned performance at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday tribute in 1988. Although she was on the afternoon segment of the concert, the then relatively unknown Chapman was squeezed into the evening show after Stevie Wonder’s flight was delayed. Chapman was given the chance to perform Fast Car for the main event.
From there, the song rose to the charts where it found itself on the US Hot 100 and UK Top 10 charts peaking at 6th and 4th respectively. In the same year, Fast Car won Chapman the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
In 2011, the song found renewed popularity when it was performed by Britain’s Got Talent contestant Michael Collings eventually reaching the same spot in the UK Top 10 as it did in 1988. In addition, Rolling Stone recently acknowledged Fast Car as one of the greatest songs of all time, ranking it at 165.
Although essentially received by critics with mixed reviews, Fast Car clearly shows Chapman’s musical and narrative talent. That the magnificent track continues to endure two decades later is a great testament to that fact.