In 1988, Tracy Chapman debuted with “Fast Car.” 30 years later, the trio Nobody’s Girl debuted with their EP, Waterline. Now they have released a pair of Christmas singles and their harmonic cover of “Fast Car,” as a single, too.
By Warren Kurtz
L to R: BettySoo, Rebecca Loebe, and Grace Pettis
TRACY CHAPMAN entered the Top 40 in 1988 with “Fast Car,” from her self-titled debut album of urban folk music. The collection opened with her second charting single, “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution,” containing the beautiful love song, “Baby Can I Hold You,” which was released as the album’s third Top 100 single, and ended with the flip side of “Fast Car,” called “For You.”
GOLDMINE: I know that your version of “Fast Car,” with each of you singing verses and then harmonizing, helped you to obtain a record deal with Lucky Hound Music, for your debut EP of your compositions last year. I am happy that you have now officially released your version of “Fast Car” as a single. Let’s go back and discuss both sides of Tracy Chapman’s original single.
BETTYSOO: If “Fast Car” drives home the inescapability of one’s circumstances, through the narrator’s recounting of the realities of her downtrodden life, “For You” accomplishes the same goal with an opposite approach. Rather than having verse upon verse of plans, decisions, and disappointments, “For You” gets the listener in and out in maybe two of three stanzas, stating only that she has no words to express her emotions and that she has no mastery over them. It has a rhythm, melody, and form that are abstract, angular, and as hard to pin down as the emotions she’s trying to understand. “Fast Car” has no shortage of words, falling in a steady rhythm, mostly accenting the downbeat, giving what seems to be a reliable account of the narrator’s struggles in life.
Flip side: For You
A side: Fast Car
Top 100 debut: June 4, 1988
Peak Position No. 6
GM: All those words allow plenty of time for the three of you to shine so elegantly on your new version of “Fast Car.” As big as “Fast Car” was in 1988, Tracy’s biggest single came in 1996, with “Give Me One Reason.” It went platinum and reminds me of Bonnie Raitt-style blues. Did you get your trio’s name from Bonnie Raitt’s song “Nobody’s Girl?”
BS: Yes we did. We actually had the record deal before we had the trio’s name. We had been three singer-songwriters and then teamed up to try a package tour.
GM: Award winning singer-songwriters! It is amazing that all three of you won the New Folk Artist award at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas over three different years. Speaking of threes, prior to your new Christmas release, I had three different favorite versions of “Merry Christmas Baby.” I first learned the song through Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band’s recording on the fundraising compilation A Very Special Christmas in the 1980s. Then I went back and learned Otis Redding’s version from the 1960s. More recently, I have enjoyed Melissa Etheridge’s rendition from her A New Thought For Christmas album that I love. Your fresh interpretation is different from all three of these.
GRACE PETTIS: Our version is more like the Christmas party at around 1 or 2 in the morning, where there are just a few people left.
GM: I love the photo and artwork used for the single’s release, which is also used with a different color background, for your version of “Someday at Christmas,” a Motown classic that I wish more people knew. Each year I look for a new favorite Christmas recording and this my choice. Your harmonies remind me of those of Wilson Phillips.Thank you for recording this song and introducing it to new audiences.
GP: I’d never really listened to the words of this song until we found it, while digging through possible Christmas covers. Stevie’s original recording was so upbeat and fun that it’s easy to miss the sentiment underneath. “Someday at Christmas” is about dreaming of a better world for humankind, where “men are free,” even if we don’t think we’ll live to see it.
REBECCA LOEBE: It is my sincere hope that someday this song is irrelevant, but for now it feels like a really good prayer for the holiday season.
Nobody’s Girl is on tour throughout the northeast U.S. this month, including opening for 10,000 Maniacs in Philadelphia. The schedule for this Austin trio can be found at:
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, writing the In Memoriam and Fabulous Flip Sides series. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.