Tracy Chapman, by Tracy Chapman
Suggested by Helene Walker
Tracy Chapman is likely sacred.
Her debut album, the self-titled Tracy Chapman, is a multi-platinum powerhouse that boasts in excess of twenty million sales. Only three albums in the project’s 203 thus far can match or beat that. See if you can recall which ones and post in the comments… no cheating!
Not only is this album a super-seller, it contains iconic songs that have touched the lives of people since their release over thirty years ago. Fast Car, Baby Can I Hold You, Talkin’ About a Revolution, each one a simple stone-cold stunner. Her blend of understated delivery, sweet and sincere guitar, smart and socially conscious lyricism and a lightness of songwriting style propelled the unknown 24-year-old to stardom across the world. The album topped the charts everywhere, #1 status across the board. Well, apart from #2s in Australia and Sweden, but screw those loser countries.
Let’s look at the three supertracks in detail. First, there’s Talkin’ About a Revolution, with its subdued strum opening bars that expand into a fully-backed pop chorus with a driven vocal and a strong message. There’s Fast Car, the folk rock tale of a woman trying desperately to escape the cycle of poverty, in which Chapman’s sultry vocal depth can truly shine. And there’s Baby Can I Hold You, with its almost sugary sweetness that’s belied by Chapman’s emotive range and melancholy lyrics.
It’s clear that Chapman’s influence set the blueprint for countless artists after her, and her songwriting talents are beyond reproach. Her songs have been covered many times, by a variety of acts. Fast Car has versions by The Flying Pickets, Justin Beiber and countless others, while Revolution was covered by Living Color and a handful of strident Punk bands. And of course, Boyzone brought us Baby Can I Hold You, but personally, I prefer the version done by a member of this very group, which is likely why this is my standout song today.
Outside the three supersongs, Chapman is still sure-footed. I’m a particular fan of Why?, which is surprising as there’s a definite bongo party happening halfway through. I mean, it’s not quite the bongorgy of Mountains O’ Things, but it’s close. Another highlight is For You, the pared-back and honest love song that closes out the album.
Tracy Chapman captures pure lightning in her debut release. Unfortunately, she never truly reached these heights again, with subsequent releases bringing diminishing returns through the years to come. This album defines Chapman’s legacy, so how can I award it any less than a solid 8/10?