Sometimes a cover stretches across the ages, connecting an old hit song to a new vision that reinvigorates the original. That is what country superstar Luke Combs has done with Tracy Chapman’s pop masterpiece Fast Car. There have been so many versions throughout the years, an EDM version, Sam Smith, even Justin Bieber did one, but they never blew up like this. So what is all the fuss about? Does it deserve to be a bigger success than the original, charting at number 2 versus number 6 with stratospheric streaming numbers? Add that Combs is a white male covering a song by a black openly lesbian protest singer, and on paper it defies logic.
In an interview, Combs said he just threw the song on the record and is as surprised as anyone that it blew up. He explains that his dad played it in the car and that he knew it was a hit song before he even knew what a hit song was. He is right about that. Fast Car is considered one of the greatest pop songs ever written.
The original, even though it had elements of hope, dealt with the inevitable erosion of dreams. Chapman’s voice and mournful delivery gave the listener the feeling that disaster was just around the corner. This latest version, because of Combs’ voice and power, casts a new eye on the lyrics. Combs is down, but he is not out. He is no a victim. When he leans in to the chorus with his gruff, full-bellied baritone, Fast Car sheds the hopelessness of the 80s behind and replaces it with defiance. And with a voice like Combs’ what else could the outcome be but victory.