'Fast Car' History: Luke Combs & Tracy Chapman Break Records

Luke Combs' cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" has remained atop the Country Airplay chart for the third week in a row. This is the seventh tune released by Combs to hit that milestone, but this one is a special record-breaking one.

The popularity of the countryfied version of the 1988 hit has brought new fans to both Combs and Chapman.

Those of a certain age who remember when Chapman broke onto the charts with her stark tales and stripped down arrangements are embracing Combs' faithful rendition.

Luke Combs explains how the song was one his father had on cassette.

Meanwhile younger country listeners are discovering the soft-spoken queer Black woman whose self-titled debut, led by "Fast Car," sold six million copies at a time record stores were moving millions of units by groups like Journey, Bon Jovi, New Kids on the Block and Paula Abdul.

Chapman outsold all of them except one: Journey who's Greatest Hits was a must-buy for those who were either starting or building their relatively-new CD collection.

But how? How did this painfully shy singer from Cleveland who would be nominated for a Grammy in the folk category break into the pop scene? The answer is two people she'd never met before: Stevie Wonder and Nelson Mandela.

Tracy Chapman serenading 80k people who barely knew her at Wembley Stadium in 1988.

Chapman was one of many performers invited to perform for Mandela's 70th birthday at Wembley Stadium. The anti-apartheid activist was still in jail and the concert had been created to bring attention to the racist laws of South Africa.

TV networks around the world beamed the performances by stars from Whitney Houston to Sting to the Bee Gees into 600 million people in 67 countries.

The set that catapulted Tracy Chapman to fame and helped make Fast Car a hit.

Wonder was to be a surprise guest. He was about to take the stage when he realized the hard drive with the backing tracks he needed to perform his songs were missing, so he balked at performing until it was sorted out.

Desperate to satiate the live audience and the hundreds of millions watching on TV, the producers asked Chapman to fill some time and play a few more songs, in part because as a solo act with just a guitar, no set up was required.

Chapman, whose name wasn't even on the poster, strolled to the stage and played two songs she had yet to perform at the enormous stadium: "Across The Lines" and "Fast Car."

It not only soothed the impatient attendees, it moved those at home. To buy the thing. Quickly her album went from selling a modest 250k records to moving over 2 million units in just weeks.

The Living Colour guitarist gives love to another breakout star of 1988. His band's single "Cult of Personality" came out in July, whereas Chapman's "Fast Car" dropped that April.

While that success was a huge surprise, this one has to be even more shocking: a giant country hit written by a queer Black singer-songwriter from the '80s?

"I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I’m honored to be there," Chapman, now 59, recently told Billboard. "I’m happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced 'Fast Car.'"

While the song is becoming one of country music's songs of the summer, Combs has performed it live less than 20 times. He live debuted it just a few months ago in March at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.

Luke Combs playing "Fast Car" for the first time live: AT&T Stadium, Arlington TX, 3/25/23
Luke Combs setlist

Chapman has played it 200 times, the last being 14 years ago at the Fillmore in San Francisco.

Over 60 other artists have covered it live from BANKS to Black Pumas to Bieber.

That's right, Justin has performed it live nearly two dozen times in concert.

If "Fast Car" can go one more week atop the Airplay chart, it can break the tie Combs is currently in with Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson for "longest Country Airplay domination among remakes of pop hits.”

B&D's cover of B.W. Stevenson's 1973 song “My Maria,” and Jackson’s '94 reworking of Eddie Cochran's “Summertime Blues,” spent three weeks each at the top, just like Combs' current hit off his eighth album Gettin' Old

Even if it begins to fall off, Chapman will forever be known as the first Black woman to solely write a #1 country hit. Tuck that away in your glove box, trivia buffs. 

Lesson learned: don't race Luke Combs to a beer chugging race.

Right now Combs is a busy man. His wife is expecting their second child, Ed Sheeran recently released "Life Goes On," the two singers collaborated on, and he's wrapping up his US stadium swing before he heads to Australia and Europe. Tickets are on sale on his website.

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