20. “Matters Of The Heart,” Matters Of The Heart, 1993
Kicking off our countdown at #20 we have ‘Matters Of The Heart’ from the album of the same name. An impressive 7 minutes in length, ‘Matters Of The Heart’ is arguably one of Tracy’s most personal and honest songs.
19. “She’s Got Her Ticket,” Tracy Chapman, 1988
‘She’s Got Her Ticket’ tells the story of a woman taking a plane to a new life. Tracy once said it was written about her sister, here she sings it live from Marseille during her Our Bright Future Tour in 2008.
18. “Mountains O’Things,” Tracy Chapman, 1988
In this song we see Tracy denounce materialism. Here she plays the song for the Farm Aid concert of 1992.
17. “For You,” Tracy Chapman, 1988
A simple song featuring just Tracy and her acoustic guitar, ‘For You’ is a tale of true love and longing. Fans on Facebook voted it 17th in their favourite Tracy Chapman tracks.
16. “Cold Feet,” New Beginning, 1995
This one may come as a surprise to many who follow Tracy’s career. It was not a single and is scarcely performed live; But the familar tale of a man’s struggle to provide for a family whilst trying keep on the straight and narrow seems to resonate with a public who are nearly 20 years on still facing financial and social hardships.
15. “At This Point In My Life,” New Beginning, 1995
“Done so many things wrong, I don’t know if I can do right”, Tracy confesses during the opening of this song before pouring her heart out to a potential lover with brutal vulnerability. The song over the course of five minutes builds into an epic ballad, it’s easy to see why it made the top 20.
14. “Open Arms,” Matters Of The Heart, 1992
This love song really does speak for itself. Imagine Tracy welcoming you home after a long day at work… *Sigh*
13. “All That You Have Is Your Soul,” Crossroads, 1989
“Don’t be tempted by the shiny apple
Don’t you eat of a bitter fruit
Hunger only for a taste of justice
Hunger only for a world of truth”
This song speaks of keeping true to yourself in a turbulent and often cruel world. It was a single from Tracy’s second album ‘Crossroads’ and featured on the soundtrack of the 2003 documentary “Tupac Resurrection”.
12. “For My Lover,” Tracy Chapman, 1988
Another song from Tracy’s debut, with lyrics like, “Two weeks in a Virginia jail, for my lover, for my lover”, some fans have been led to think that Tracy killed her husband was subsequently imprisoned.
As Tracy explains,
“The songs are not necessarily autobiographical. A lot of songs are a combination of influences. It might be some part of my life, or something I’ve felt, or something somebody’s told me. It all comes together.”
11. “Bang Bang Bang,” Matters Of The Heart, 1993
‘Bang Bang Bang’, a tale of poverty and violence, was the lead single from Tracy’s third album Matters Of The Heart.
10. “Smoke and Ashes,” New Beginning, 1995
‘Smoke and Ashes’ was the fourth single taken from Tracy’s massively successful fourth album, ‘New Beginning’. Despite only making 119 on the US Billboard 200 Chart, with gorgeous lyrics such as,
“But your right is my wrong,
and when you’re right then i’m left,
leaving only smoke and ashes.”
it is a chart topper in our book.
*Fan trivia* - The single edit of this song had a slightly different arrangement featuring distinctively different backing vocals.
9. “Change,” Where You Live, 2005
Change represents the only song in the top 20 from Where You Live and also the latest released song on the list. It features Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers on electric bass guitar.
8. “Behind The Wall,” Tracy Chapman, 1988
The chilling ‘Behind The Wall’ tells a bleak tale of domestic violence delivered in stunning a cappella.
During a concert in Manchester 2005, Tracy was faced with a power outage, leaving only the spotlight and main mic working. In order to fill to appease an increasingly restless crowd Tracy begun singing this song, the audience fell respectfully silent.
7. “Crossroads,” Crossroads, 1989
Remember that posthumous Tupac song featuring Elton John? Well it originally sampled “Crossroads” by Tracy Chapman.
In an MTV interview Tupac once said, “Musically, this is different than anything I ever did. This is the first time I ever said I wanted to build a song on feelings. I took a song called “Crossroads” from Tracy Chapman — we sampled the main riff, the melody, from that. Tracy Chapman used to move me; she is an idol. I know that’s going to cause mass hysteria in the ‘hood, but she is. I think she’s beautiful, I think she’s deep, I think she has a lot to say, and I think she has a lot of soul in her music. I wanted to bring that soul to “Ghetto Gospel,” that song is gospel to me. A lot of her music is, so that was the basis of the song…”
Tracy is well known for not allowing artists to sample her work, she has declined people from Kanye West to UK singer Gabrielle, however the original Tupac demo with Crossroads sample has since surfaced online.
Speaking about a song featuring an uncleared sample appearing online, Tracy once stated,
“I was upset about that because I didn’t authorise it and I think that was at a time when people were sampling records and not clearing them. They were thinking you know ‘once it’s out then I’ll get approval on this thing.’ I’m not really a fan of it, especially if people do it without permission. It can work sometimes but at other times it may not be in line with the music that somebody may have come to appreciate from the original. I guess I’m protective.”
6. “Telling Stories,” Telling Stories, 2000
The title track from Tracy’s fourth album had the tag line, “There is fiction in the space between”. Speculative fans guessed that the song may be about a well publicised relationship Tracy had in the mid 90’s.
*Fan trivia* - The official music video was shot by the late great Herb Ritts and featured the same bus which was used in the blockbuster Speed.
5. “Give Me One Reason,” New Beginning, 1995
“Give Me One Reaso”n was Tracy’s biggest hit in US, peaking at #3, it is not surprising then that it features highly on our fan favourite chart.
The bluesy number was written in the mid eighties and Tracy even performed the song six years before its release on Saturday Night Live in 1989.
4. “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution,” Tracy Chapman, 1988
It was at Nelson Mandela’s globally televised 70th Birthday Tribute that Tracy Chapman captured the hearts of millions when she took to the stage and sang, “poor people gonna rise up, and get there share, poor people gonna rise up, and take what’s theirs”.
Legend has it that it was a fault with Stevie Wonders equipment which prompted Tracy, flexible with only a guitar in hand, to take to the stage during a prime slot. The rest as they say, is history.
3. “Baby Can I Hold You,” Tracy Chapman, 1988
If you live in the UK, you will probably appreciate that pop boy-band Boyzone reaching #2 with a cover of this song selling 400,000 copies in the process whilst Tracy’s only managed a meagre #94 is one of the biggest injustices in music history.
That being said, as Tracy was the sole writer of the song, her bank balance probably didn’t complain.
Sticking firmly with the original and best version, you will struggle to find a more perfect ballad, it deserves it’s place at #3 on your fan favourite chart.
*Fan trivia* - The song was re-released as the promo single for Tracy’s 2001 compilation album, Collection, which reached #3 in the UK.
2. “The Promise,” New Beginning, 1995
Coming in at #2 is another beautiful ballad of an enduring love. ‘The Promise’ was the third single taken from New Beginning but no music video was created and it failed to make any impression on the charts. That said, it is consistently acknowledged by fans as one of Tracy’s most beautifully written, heart warming songs.
*Fan trivia* - This song is popular at funerals due to its theme of ever-lasting love.
1. “Fast Car,” Tracy Chapman, 1988
Not surprisingly, the #1 Tracy Chapman song as chosen by the fans is ‘Fast Car’. Arguably Tracy’s signature track, it has received numerous accolades over the years including a ranking of #167 of Rolling Stones Top 500 Songs of All Time.
With 5 verses before the chorus kicks in, ‘Fast Car’ is no average pop/rock song. Written from her own experiences, with complex and tragic content regarding generational poverty and escapism, though many have tried to cover it, ‘Fast Car’ is a song only Tracy Chapman can truly deliver.
Do you have a favourite which hasn’t made the top 20? Let us know in the comments below.