Performer: "Fast Car" spent 21 weeks on the Hot 100, peaking at #6. Tracy Chapman's highest charting single is "Give Me One Reason," which peaked at #3 on the Hot 100.
Writers: Tracy Chapman
Title: Two words that do not appear in the chorus, although they do point at the main idea of the song in that the narrator is looking for someone or something to take her away from her difficult life.
Structure: Verse / Verse / Verse / Verse (partial) / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Verse (partial)
Points of Interest:
1) "Fast Car" finds its force in the contrasts between the goodbyes that the narrator wants to say, and the goodbyes that the narrator has to say. She wants to leave her alcoholic father, her town, and her dead-end job in order to find a future that feels free. Instead, she has to say goodbye to her mother (who leaves her), as well as to her schooling. Later in the song, she wants to say goodbye to another dead-end job (in the city this time), and to the shelter she lives in with the owner of the fast car. Instead, she has to say goodbye to the fast car, its driver, and all the sense of hope and belonging that came with those things. And we see that sometimes goodbyes bring us right back into situations similar to those we left.
2) This is an outrageously well-crafted song; every word is meaningful and clear the first time you hear it, all the rhythms and stresses of the lyrics fit naturally with those of the music. The story is clear and straightforward, while still being deep and thought-provoking. And while the story is wordy and lengthy, it is still fully engaging throughout.
3) Because of the clarity and depth of the lyrics/story, the song can get away with a lot of structural repetition, and a minimal arrangement. To be fair, some folk song structures are nothing but verses, but those verses typically end with a refrain, which serves to break up the wordiness of the storytelling in the same way that a chorus would. In "Fast Car," we hear three and a half fairly long verses before we hear any sort of chorus or refrain (the line "You got a fast car" appears at the beginning of three of those verses, but it serves a different purpose than a refrain would). What's more, the arrangement behind those three and a half verses is minimal, highly repetitive, and static. The brilliance of the arrangement is in its willingness to get out of the way of the brilliance of the lyric.