Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution" - Tracy Chapman

For what proved to be a brief cultural moment in the late 1980s, Tracy Chapman held center-stage in the global pop landscape. Her eponymous debut album (1988) was a multimillion-selling sensation. Her distinctive voice and progressive persona vaulted her to the forefront of projects like the groundbreaking Human Rights Now tour for Amnesty International, where Chapman shared a global stage with Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, and Youssou N'Dour.

Though she has continued to release albums and perform internationally, Chapman perhaps never went on to attain true folk-pop diva status. For radio purposes, her legacy rests heavily on two songs, "Fast Car" and "Talkin' Bout a Revolution". But while that is far too limiting, it should be recognized that both songs still sound fresh and inspired.

"Revolution", in particular, is a richly melodic song driven by a vigorous groove once the rhythm section kicks in. It calls on popular forces to be sensitive to those moments when "finally the tables are starting to turn," even if at first "it sounds like a whisper." The lyrics have a pristine and timeless quality worthy of Woody Guthrie:

Don't you know
They're talkin' about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Don't you know
They're talkin' about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper

While they're standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion

Poor people gonna rise up
And get their share
Poor people gonna rise up
And take what's theirs

Don't you know
You better run, run, run ...
Oh I said you better run, run, run ...
Finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin' 'bout a revolution

Tracy Chapman performing in 2009.
It's a good all-purpose social-justice anthem, and with its motifs of running and rising up, it's a good accompaniment to some of the more upwardly-mobile numbers on our list, like The Parachute Club's "Rise Up" and Muse's "Uprising".

Here's the original recording of "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution", from Tracy Chapman (1988):

And a soulful live rendering by Chapman from the Amnesty International Human Rights Now tour in 1988:

Further Resources

Available on Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman (1988).

A Wikipedia stub for "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution".

"Top Twenty Political Songs: Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution", New Statesman (2010).

The Israeli band Shmemel updated the song with an extra verse to cover the events of the Arab Spring, retitling it "Talking about an Arab Revolution". See what you think.

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