Saturday, June 25, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman (1988)

In 1988, were people really talking about a revolution? Reagan was enjoying the last year of his popular presidency, the cold war was still on, the Berlin Wall was still up and AIDS was a scary thing few people understood (and many many fewer people had than today). I suppose revolution was just around the corner, and while Miss Chapman was already talking about it, I guess the rest of us weren't but should've been (hey, my excuse is that I was only 11). On her compelling debut, she sings about that and a lot of other things. It's cornerstone is still "Fast Car," Chapman's biggest early-career hit that's an African-American woman's answer to Bruce Springsteen, riding similar themes of working class angst, romance and escape. It's a moving song that endures today (it hit #4 in Britain just a few weeks ago, enjoying a surprising revival). Almost is good is "Baby Can I Hold You," which Boyzone would turn into a hit 9 years later.

On "Across the Lines," the album's lush acoustic arrangement might mask the fact that the song is about racial tension if you're not listening carefully. There's no pretty arrangement to mask the bitter sadness of "Behind the Wall," a powerful a cappella moment about a woman who can hear the screaming of a neighbor woman being beaten by her husband. Other highlights include the warm, African rhythms of "Mountains O' Things" and the burning guitar rock of "For My Lover."

Best: Fast Car, Talkin' Bout a Revolution, Behind the Wall, Baby Can I Hold You, For My Lover

4 comments:

Project Mobius said...

It's crazy how popular "Fast Car" is today in the UK. Why the resurgence? It's currently the 43rd highest seller in England and charted 30th last week.

ww_adh said...

Someone performed it on the reality show Britain's Got Talent and the response was massive. It shot up to #4 back in April, which was higher than it had initially peaked in '88.

Chris B. said...

When I think about "Fast Car," I think about another hit from 1988 -- Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" Apparently they were popular at different times that year ("Fast Car" in the spring and "Don't Worry" in the late summer and early fall), but for some reason I can't hear one without thinking about the other. I wonder: Do you think they each offer a different perspective on life at the end of the Reagan era?

ww_adh said...

That's an interesting point, although I bet neither were a fan of Reagan. McFerrin's song was used by Bush for his '88 campaign to McFerrin's chagrin, so much so that he stopped performing the song.