Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution” Lyrics Meaning

Those familiar with Tracy Chapman know that she is akin to an Afrocentric, some may even say revolutionary artist. And it is the latter sentiment that really comes through in her song “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution”. That is not to say Miss Chapman is advocating a revolution per se. But she is idealizing and apparently fantasizing about one. Or rather she is foretelling of a day when the poor and repressed people rise up. Or at least they’re ‘talking about’ doing so behind their oppressors’ backs. 

Moreover, she seems to be under the impression that if such were to transpire, they would be successful in ‘running’ the rich folk out of town. And at the end of the day, what seems to be the overall idea Tracy is putting forth is that she empathizes with those who she feels are held by the people who are actually in charge of the society. Indeed she wrote this song while attending a well-to-do school and coming to the realization that the upper classes have little to no sympathy for “people who didn’t have money or who were working class”.

Facts about “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution”

This song can be found on Tracy’s first album, which itself is entitled Tracy Chapman.  The tune was written by the singer herself (when she was just 16 years old) and produced by David Kershenbaum.

This is one of Tracy’s best known songs from her heyday. For instance, it appeared on five different Billboard charts. And outside of the US, it charted in a few other countries, in addition to being certified silver in the United Kingdom. Moreover it has been covered by a number of artists as the years progressed.

And in terms of Chapman’s personal history, it was this track (in its demo version) which in particular helped the songstress land her first record deal. Accordingly it is also the opening song on the playlist of Tracy Chapman.

Tracy is an artist who has sort of shied away from the public spotlight. Indeed she is somewhat of a countercultural figure who never really made an attempt to get into the mainstream like that. Moreover she is known to not be fond of other musicians sampling her work. But she did decide to perform “Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution” on the 2 November 2020 edition of Late Night with Seth Meyers, which was her first television appearance in five years. And the reason she did so was to actually encourage viewers to vote during the US Presidential elections, which were held the following day.

And according to at least one website, Tracy Chapman’s performance on that day did in fact influence the election. Also interesting to note is that “Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution” is on record as having played a prominent role during the onset of the Arab Spring protests which swept across the Muslim world beginning in 2011.

Music Video

The official music video to “Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution” was filmed at Wembley Stadium during the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute that was held on 11 June 1988, which was actually a month before his 70th birthday. And the backstory of the clip is even more amazing than that astonishing fact alone.

At the particular moment in time Tracy Chapman rendered said performance, it was Stevie Wonder himself who was actually scheduled to be onstage. Right beforehand he suffered a momentary professional/personal catastrophe in that an essential piece of audio equipment, i.e. a hard disc carrying the instrumentals to his entire setlist, inexplicably went missing. And the reason we’re referring to this as even a personal catastrophe is because as you likely already know, Wonder is an artist who takes matters like Black liberation, which Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to, quite seriously. 

In fact at one point in time the singer’s music was even banned by the apartheid regime in South Africa due to him speaking up on behalf of Mandela, who was imprisoned at that time. So he took the loss of that particular disc to heart. And accordingly as the story goes, he went on to leave the stage and even Wembley Stadium itself in tears.

So the organizers of the event had to find a replacement, ASAP. This was in fact one of the biggest concerts in the history of the world, being broadcast to an audience of some 600,000,000 people across the globe. So they called on Tracy Chapman. She had already performed her set prior but agreed to do so again. And her rendition of “Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution” the second time around is the one that became the song’s official music video, as directed by Paula Walker.

Story Continues…

And the story doesn’t end there. Prior to these performances, the songstress had been able to sell an already impressive quarter-million copies of Tracy Chapman. But afterwards, even within the short timespan of two weeks, sales of the album reached 2,000,000. So it was like fate itself caused that misfortune to Stevie Wonder, in the name of thrusting Tracy into superstardom. And all’s well that ends well, as Stevie did go on to perform later, albeit through the usage of other musicians’ equipment instead of his own.

Did Tracy Chapman release “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution” as a single?

Yes. It was actually the second single from her self-titled maiden album. Said album had two other powerful singles, including “Fast Car“. The other is “Baby Can I Hold You“.

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