Tracy Chapman ‘honoured’ as ‘Fast Car’ named Song of the Year at CMAs – 35 years after release

Luke Combs’s cover of 1988 song reached No 2 on US chart this summer

Isobel Lewis
Thursday 09 November 2023 14:29 GMT
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Tracy Chapman wins Song of the Year at 2023 CMAs for Fast Car

Country music star Luke Combs’s cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” has helped her take home the award for Song of the Year at the Country Music Awards – 35 years after the song was released.

Released in 1988, Chapman’s emotive guitar ballad tells the story of a woman living in poverty and dreaming of escaping her life.

It’s been an enduring hit in the 20th and 21st centuries, but was introduced to a new audience in 2023 after US country music singer Combs covered the song as the second single from his album Gettin’ Old. Giving Chapman’s song a second wind, the cover was a smash hit on the radio and reached No 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

On Wednesday (8 November), Chapman, 59, was historically remembered at the 57th annual Country Music Awards in Nashville, as her original rendition of “Fast Car” was named Song of the Year.

While Chapman was not able to attend the ceremony, a statement was read by the presenter Sara Evans and country musician Bill Anderson on her behalf.

Apologising, she wrote: “I’m sorry I couldn’t join you all tonight. It’s truly an honour for my song to be newly recognised after 35 years of its debut.

“Thank you to the CMAs and a special thanks to Luke and all of the fans of ‘Fast Car.’”

Chapman, pictured in 2007, did not collect her award in person
Chapman, pictured in 2007, did not collect her award in person (Getty Images)

The win makes Chapman the first Black artist to take home the award for Song of the Year. In addition to her win, “Fast Car” also earned Combs, 33, an award as his cover was named Single of the Year.

When “Fast Car” was first released, Chapman was nominated for Record, Song, and Album of the Year, and won the awards for Best New Artist, Best Contemporary Folk Album and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

The song has long been praised for its emotive and honest depiction of poverty, with the opening line: “You got a fast car / Is it fast enough so we can fly away? / Still gotta make a decision / Leave tonight, or live and die this way.”

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As Combs’s cover rose up the charts, some argued that Combs’s cover had stripped the song of its original meaning. However, Combs kept the gendered lyrics in the song (“I work in the market as a checkout girl”), and was defended by his manager, who said that the musician had covered the song in reverence of Chapman’s work.

Combs performed at Wednesday night’s awards show
Combs performed at Wednesday night’s awards show (Getty Images)

“Luke is a songwriter too and Tracy is one of his favourite artists,” Chris Kappy told Billboard. “So his goal was to never change the song. His goal was to honor the perfection that it is, and changing the gender never crossed his mind.

Chapman spoke favourably of Combs’s cover when it reached No 1 position on the Country Airplay chart in the US back in July. With his rendition, she became the first Black woman to top this chart as a sole songwriter since it began in 1990.

“I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I’m honored to be there,” the singer, who is rarely seen in public, said. “I’m happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced ‘Fast Car.’”

It’s not the first time a cover of the track has gained widespread recognition. In April 2011, the song rose back up to No 4 position on the UK charts after it was covered by a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent. “Fast Car” initially peaked at No 5 when it was released in 1988.

A tropical house rendition of the track by Jonas Blue also was released in 2015, and got to No 2 in the UK charts.

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