Advertisement

Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs' 'Fast Car' Grammy duet gives her song a charts jump-start

Tracy Chapman plays guitar and sings with Luke Combs in front of light bulbs on the Grammy Awards stage
Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs performed a Grammy Awards duet of her 1988 hit "Fast Car" on Sunday night, driving the song back up the charts. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Tracy Chapman's 1988 hit "Fast Car" and her self-titled debut album just got another bump up the charts thanks to her Sunday drive-through at the Grammy Awards.

The original "Fast Car" singer had the audience inside Crypto.com Arena rapt while she sang a duet with Luke Combs, the country star who covered the decades-old classic on his 2023 album "Gettin' Old."

The cross-generational pairing — she's 59, he's 33 — took the Grammys by storm in the middle of an actual storm in Los Angeles as the second in the evening's lineup of star-studded performances.

"Very cool and generous of Tracy Chapman to show up and do 'Fast Car' with Luke Combs. After all the sniping about who has a right to make money off that incredible song, Combs looks over the moon to be playing it live with its author, and Chapman is getting her flowers all over again in a whole new context here," Times staff writer August Brown wrote, adding that even country star Jelly Roll was "losing it singing along in the crowd too."

"Score one for genuine intergenerational admiration," he wrote.

Read more: All the best and worst moments of the 2024 Grammys, as they happened

"Combs sounds great, but I am loving watching him sing along off-mic as he watched Chapman take the lead," Times music critic Mikael Wood wrote.

And Times columnist Lorraine Ali described Chapman's singing with Combs as beautiful.

By Monday morning, the "Give Me One Reason" singer — a four-time Grammy winner and the Recording Academy's 1989 best new artist award recipient — was back on top of the charts, with the new duet again bolstering her album sales.

Her folk anthem — which Combs waxed poetic about during an introductory package for the show — shot to the No. 1 spot on the iTunes Top Songs chart moments after their performance. Chapman's self-titled debut album from 1988 also hit the No. 1 mark.

"That song, 'Fast Car,' it was my favorite song before I even knew what a favorite song was," Combs said in the intro. "It can be felt and related to by all kinds of people around the world.

"It's just such a cool full-circle moment for me," he added. "Just to be associated with her in any way is super humbling for me."

Combs notably kept Chapman's original arrangement of the song intact for his cover, which recounts the harrowing story of a woman trying to escape poverty and create a life different from the one she’s always known. His version was nominated for country solo performance but lost to "White Horse” by Chris Stapleton during the Grammys pre-show ceremony.

By Monday, Chapman's "Fast Car" had parked itself at the No. 1 spot on the iTunes chart and was trailed by other Grammys ceremony winners and notables, including Miley Cyrus' "Flowers," Billy Joel's "Turn the Lights Back On," Combs' version of "Fast Car" and Billie Eilish's "What Was I Made For?"

Read more: All the looks from the 2024 Grammys red carpet

When Combs released a cover of the 1988 folk-soul hit, “Fast Car” drove to the top of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. Combs’ cover also reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 over the summer, becoming 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 back then, and 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 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.

Combs’ version 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's reporting last June, 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.

Read more: The 2024 Grammys winners list

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

In August, Chapman's song peaked at the No. 16 spot on Billboard's U.S. chart for Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart.

In November, Chapman's "Fast Car" took home the prize for song of the year at the 2023 Country Music Assn. Awards and she became the first Black person to win the category in the awards show’s 57-year history.

Chapman did not attend that ceremony, but accepted the prize in a message read by presenters. She has also been named the lifetime achievement award recipient at the 2024 International Folk Music Awards, which happens later this month.

Sunday's unexpected duet had the Grammy audience, even those waiting to get to their seats after being stuck in traffic because of the rain, entranced.

"At least we can say we heard it live. I love this for her!," one person was overheard saying inside the arena. Meanwhile, others including Jelly Roll and Taylor Swift were seen singing along and swaying, often with their eyes closed.

Times staff writers Emily St. Martin and Alexandra Del Rosario contributed to this report.

Sign up for L.A. Goes Out, a weekly newsletter about exploring and experiencing Los Angeles from the L.A. Times.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.