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Tracy Chapman Returns To Sing Of 'Revolution' On The Eve Of Election Day

Tracy Chapman didn't take long to release her masterpiece. Arriving near the end of the Reagan Era, the singer-songwriter's classic, self-titled 1988 debut opened with a purposefully strummed blast of righteous indignation called "Talkin' Bout a Revolution" — a song about class warfare punctuated by a clear warning that "poor people gonna rise up / and take what's theirs."

At the time, "Talkin' Bout a Revolution" could get overshadowed by the track that immediately followed it on Tracy Chapman — the Top 10 hit "Fast Car," which remains one of the greatest songs ever written about working-class life — as well as the assortment of weary reflections on abuse ("Behind the Wall"), poverty ("Mountains o' Things"), crime ("For My Lover") and redemptive love ("Baby Can I Hold You," "For You") sprinkled throughout the album.

But "Talkin' Bout a Revolution" was and is a crucial tone-setter for the more nuanced character studies on Tracy Chapman: It's there to remind us up-front that the lives she's singing about matter, and that her subjects — no matter how firmly they've been held down — wield fearsome power. "Finally, the tables are starting to turn," she sang; that was 32 years ago.

Late Monday night, in the midst of the most momentous election of her life, Chapman gave her first TV performance since 2015, appearing on Late Night with Seth Meyers to sing "Talkin' Bout a Revolution" again — solo, acoustic, unadorned. She might not wait much longer for those tables to turn.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)