Classic Clip: Tracy Chapman “Fast Car” Wembley Stadium – 11th June 1988

Tracy Chapman live at Wembley 1988

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em”

It’s Wembley Stadium, 11th June 1988, and Stevie Wonder has just had to postpone his slot at the Nelson Mandela concert at the last minute, leaving an awkward vacuum before the next act can be got ready. The crowd break into football songs and a decision is made to send Tracy Chapman back on to the stage where she has just completed a short set to polite applause. A 24-year-old novice more used to playing the coffee-houses around Boston than a 72,000 crowd and with her début album released only two months earlier, Tracy Chapman was about to have greatness thrust upon her.

Stevie Wonder had already achieved greatness of course, but being asked to deputise for him did not phase her. There’s irony too, in that Wonder’s withdrawal was due to a missing tape, while the stand-in returned to the stage with a simple acoustic guitar. ‘Fast Car’ wasn’t even one of the three songs she had included in her set, surprising given the status it has gone on to achieve.

Chapman could never have envisaged finding herself in this situation, but the lyrics seem strangely apt –

“Starting from zero got nothing to lose
Maybe we’ll make something
Me, myself, I got nothing to lose”

Looking up during the chorus, Chapman takes in the enormous crowd, no doubt aware that the song perfectly captures the moment –

“And I-I, had a feeling that I belonged
I-I, had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone”

The 1988 Wembley performance proved a milestone in Chapman’s career, as a global audience took in the quality of her song writing and unshowy stage presence. A triple-Grammy winner the following year, she has consistently avoided the limelight while picking up awards and distinctions for her music and social activism.

‘Fast Car’ has been covered by artists across many genres. As if to demonstrate the song’s ubiquity, at the Country Music Association Awards in 2023 ‘Fast Car’ became the first song by a solo Black writer to collect the Song of the Year award, following the enormous success of Luke Combs’ version. Having by now achieved greatness herself, at the 66th Grammy Awards in February 2024 Tracy Chapman joined Luke Combs onstage to play ‘Fast Car’ in what will one day surely become another Classic Clip.

About Chas Lacey 18 Articles
My musical journey has taken me from Big Pink to southern California. Life in the fast lane now has a sensible 20mph limit which leaves more time for listening to new music and catching live shows.
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