Tracy Chapman makes history as ‘Fast Car’ tops country charts with Luke Combs’ cover

A diptych of Luke Combs, left, and Tracy Chapman, each singing into a handheld microphone
Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” is atop the country charts after Luke Combs covered her 1988 hit.
(Rob Grabowski; Martial Trezzini / Associated Press)
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Tracy Chapman has made history as the first Black woman with a sole songwriting credit on a No. 1 country hit after Luke Combs’ cover of “Fast Car” topped Billboard charts.

More than three decades after Chapman’s “Fast Car” dropped as the first single of her self-titled debut album, the song is making a comeback. “Fast Car” drove to the top of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart when Combs released a cover of the 1988 folk-soul hit, which tells the harrowing story of a woman trying to escape poverty and create a life different from the one she’s always known.

Combs’ cover also reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It’s the first pop cover to top the country charts in 15 years; Blake Shelton’s country rendition of Michael Bublé’s “Home” was the last to reach the top spot.


Chapman’s original release settled at No. 6 on the Hot 100. At the 1989 Grammys Awards, Chapman took home three trophies, including female pop vocal performance for “Fast Car,” contemporary folk recording for “Tracy Chapman” and best new artist. “Fast Car” also was nominated for record and song of the year, while the debut album received a nomination for album of the year.

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The song’s success decades later is also momentous for monetary reasons. Combs’ version has generated more than $500,000 in publishing royalties globally since its March 17 release, according to a Billboard estimate. And Chapman, the sole songwriter and owner of the publishing rights, is raking in a significant portion for a surprise payday 35 years after the song originally dropped. According to Billboard, most of the royalties stem from the more than 154 million U.S. on-demand audio streams from music apps including Spotify and Apple Music. “Fast Car” also surpassed 6 million video streams and 28 million programmed audio streams in the United States.

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

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Combs’ 2023 rendition landed on The Times’ list of the 40 best songs of 2023. Times pop music critic Mikael Wood wrote, “Tracy Chapman’s late-’80s folk-soul hit has been remade over the last three decades as a bouncy reggae tune (by Wayne Wonder), a mumbly art-rock confession (Xiu Xiu) and a gleaming tropical-house banger (Jonas Blue). Combs, the Carhartt-clad country star, sticks to Chapman’s original arrangement — not to mention her lyric about working at the market as a checkout girl — in a welcome showcase of his muscular singing and her detailed storytelling.”

Combs’ decision to remake the song for his latest album, “Gettin’ Old,” stemmed from sentimental memories from his childhood. Before performing the song at a Pittsburgh concert in May, Combs told the crowd that he was living in Charlotte with his parents and that his dad had a 1988 Ford F-150.

“It was probably the cheapest model you could get. I don’t even think it was four-wheel drive, and I remember it had a cassette player in it,” he said in a video shared to Instagram. “Me and my dad would ride around and listen to all sorts of things.


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“He played me all kinds of music and one of the first songs that I remember hearing, he popped a cassette in, and I loved this whole album. ... But there was this one song that really stuck out to me. It was called ‘Fast Car.’ That song meant a lot to me since then — for my whole life. I always think about my dad when it comes on and us spending time together.

“As soon as I could play guitar, I tried to learn how to play this song, and it took me so long to learn how to play it ’cause I was so bad,” he continued. “Last year, I got to record my own version, and about a month ago, I got to put it out.”

Last year, Combs won entertainer of the year for the second year in a row at the Country Music Awards.