Sunday, May 22, 2011

The #80 Album of All-Time in the Rock Era--"Tracy Chapman"

You can imagine that with all of the albums released in the last 56 years, it is pretty tough to have an album land in the top 100.  Imagine the difficulty for a brand new artist to achieve the feat.  That is what happened here at #80.

The debut album from Tracy Chapman went all the way to #1 in both the United States and the U.K., and it did so largely on the basis of one hit song and word-of-mouth. That hit was "Fast Car". Two other singles ("Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution" and "Baby Can I Hold You") but neither made the Top 40. Reviews on the album were solid because the album itself was that good. The word-of-mouth worked because of what I call the Track Rating*, which I'll talk about later. Track Rating* measures how good the album is, and I used it exclusively in this ranking of the Top 100 Albums. Many times (most?), the Track Rating* will translate into big album sales. Sometimes it won't, but essentially what it means is that the album is highly consistent and, as time goes on, word will get around about how good the album is and eventually, the album sales will be there.

Despite just containing the one hit, the album got quite a bit of airplay on Top 40, Adult Contemporary and Modern Rock stations.  Chapman's sound isn't typical of AOR radio stations, so that in and of itself is interesting.  Her subject matter and social commentary about how the poor were being ignored in the 1980's in America obviously struck a nerve.  "Across the Lines", Why?" and "Behind the Wall" really hit home and are even chilling in their stark reality.  "For My Lover" is another excellent track.  The debut album has sold 6 million copies so far in the United States.  It has a steady Track Rating* of 8.95, exemplified by the quality and poignant songs mentioned above.

Tracy Chapman received seven nominations at the Grammy Awards, again just an amazing achievement for a debut album.  Chapman was nominated for Album of the Year, Record of the Year ("Fast Car"), Song of the Year ("Fast Car"), Producer of the year (for Producer David Kershenbaum), Best New Artist, Best Contemporary Folk Album, and Best Female Vocal Performance ("Fast Car").  Kershenbaum won, and Chapman picked up statutes for Contemporary Folk Album and Female Vocal Performance.

Tracy Chapman:
(All songs were written by Tracy Chapman)
  1. "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution" --2:39
  2. "Fast Car" --4:56
  3. "Across the Lines" – 3:24
  4. "Behind the Wall" – 1:49
  5. "Baby Can I Hold You" – 3:14
  6. "Mountains o' Things" – 4:39
  7. "She's Got Her Ticket" – 3:56
  8. "Why?" – 2:06
  9. "For My Lover"  – 3:12
  10. "If Not Now..." – 3:01
  11. "For You" – 3:09

Chapman played acoustical and rhythm guitar and percussion on the album.  Ed Black was on steel guitar, Paulinho Da Costa, whose work I have highlighted on this blog, played percussion for Tracy, Denny Fongheiser played drums and percussion.  Jack Holder played keyboards, including organ, dulcimer and Hammond organ and also electric guitar and sitar, David LaFlamme contributed electric violin, Larry Klein was on bass, Steve Kaplan played harmonica and keyboard and Bob Marlette was on keyboard.  

The entire album was recorded at Powertrax in Hollywood, California.  Kevin Smith was the Engineer and also mixed the album.  Matt Mahurin provided photography for the cover.  It was released April 5, 1988 on Elektra Records.

Tracy Chapman's phenomenal album is at #80 for All-Time.

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