Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman (1988)
My copy of this is old – and scratched – and I should probably replace it. I can work through it, hear the songs I want to hear, a couple are interrupted but it could be worse. I have no huge attachment to the actual vinyl; bought it some years ago in a second hand store. So I will replace it at some point. But I do have a huge attachment to this album; this collection of songs. First heard it on tape, later on CD. It’s been a constant in my collection (in one format or more) since it was released nearly 25 years ago. For a while there I couldn’t listen to this album – the hit singles ruined it; it felt so played out. But that’s when I rediscovered it on vinyl – side two is where the album really comes alive. Those singles were quality, obviously. (And I was in a band that played one of them to death so that didn’t help). But side two shows that both Tracy Chapman and Tracy Chapman were never about cashing in and crashing in on the pop market. Yes, she’s essentially made the same album over and over and it’s been diminishing returns (and I stopped caring after album number four). But I think about how perfect this album is – how timeless – whenever I listen to it. It rubs shoulders in my collection with Suzanne Vega but it can also line up next to Joni Mitchell. And I like that. When the album was just new – we were driving from the South Island back to Hawke’s Bay, so over the Strait on the ferry and then a long Wellington/Bay drive. Two cars. Me and mum in one. Dad and the bro in the other. I musta been 10. Mum was tired. She had to crash so that we didn’t, ya know, crash. So we pulled up on a road-shoulder and she reclined the seat and went to sleep. Dad and the bro pulled up and did the same. I turned the stereo down (Tracy Chapman’s Tracy Chapman in the tape deck) and read the liner notes through. Read all the lyrics. Read (and memorised) the names of the studio musicians. (Listened to it twice through). And I noticed that some of the songs were written as far back as 1978. Here we were in 1988 listening to it (or here I was; everyone else was asleep). I was 10, I mighta actually been 11. But I remember thinking that this woman with these pop hits on the pop charts that had come from nowhere had obviously worked hard; she had a story, she’d done her time (now described best as her 10,000 hours). Yep, that’s the truth, I sat there thinking that. And the other night when I played this album back, the whisky in my tumbler whirlpooling, the ice gently clinking against itself and the glass, that story/memory was unlocked for me. I could see myself (aged 10 or 11) pawing the tape cover, pouring myself in to this album. I would go on to write out all of my favourite lyrics from the album, by hand, blu-tac them on the wall. And now, as was the case then, the standout for me, a perfect song perfectly arranged/realised is For My Lover. And the album has a class, a timelessness, an appeal that is never lost. I thought about that – and about how, really, there was never any hope for me. I was always going to do some version of this (whatever this actually is) for some version of my living.
Sample Track: For My Lover
The Vinyl Countdown is a document of every LP I listen to, brand new discoveries and old-old favourites; extremely pre-loved, previously abandoned or with the shrink-wrap having just been removed it’s all here at The Vinyl Countdown