How Luke Combs’ ‘Fast Car’ Became One of 2023’s Biggest Cross-Form Songs
What is part of fast In “Fast Car” Did no one understand? Country music star Luke Combs’ cover of Tracy Chapman’s 1988 classic proved as power-charged as anything sound-based in this world, with unexpected cross-format success: It was No. 1 in adult pop and country for two weeks each; Healthy No. 6 on Top 40 Radio; No. 2 on the Hot 100; and number one on Billboard’s overall radio songs chart for four weeks.
On country radio, Combs had an embarrassment of riches, because before “Fast Car” caught on, Sony Music Nashville already had a different song, “Love You Anyway” — the lead single from his album “Growin’ Old” — on the radio. Fast track to becoming the 15th Country Broadcast No. 1. But Chapman’s cover was not destined to remain in the world of interesting novelties. Top executives at New York’s sister label Columbia Records saw his version of “Fast Car” appear on the tracklist released for streaming on Friday’s New Music, along with the rest of the album’s tracks, and they quickly began wondering if this could work on Side pop.
“We actually had two tracks on the radio at the same time, and we had to pick and choose,” says Chris Cappy of Make Wake Artists, who co-manages Combs. Those two songs, in the first phase, were actually “Love You Anyway” and “Five Leaf Clover,” both of which the singer introduced to fans ahead of the album, under the theory that country music listeners were so excited about Combs, that the double offer wouldn’t dampen any of his efforts. .
“‘Love You Anyway’ was a fan-chosen single,” says Liz Coste, vice president of marketing for Sony Music Nashville. “It was kind of a unique angle: Luke wanted[to solidify the single]as soon as the album was released,” she notes, as opposed to the typical country style of releasing the first single up to six months before the album. launch. “He wanted the fans to choose the next single, and they were so excited about ‘Love You Anyway’ that it was chosen ahead of ‘Five Leaf Clover’ as the song that would make a big push to No. 1.”
Meanwhile, “We didn’t know if we were going to be able to go to the radio with ‘Fast Car,’ and then on our own at that time,” Cappy says. “Who knew Fast Car would do what it did and then end up jumping on one of the two songs that had already been delivered to radio?” “We had to pull one (“Five Leaf Clover”) because “Fast Car” was starting to go crazy. We had to pivot really fast when it expanded overseas.
Moving to pop formats was not part of the plan. It was Brady Bedard, senior vice president of pop music promotion at Columbia One of the song drivers in New York City. He recalls his team executives meeting “on a Friday morning and saying, ‘Hey, did you see Luke Combs put out a song called ‘Fast Car’ on the charts today?’ We were so excited about it, like, ‘This runs in the family.’ We have to.” To know how to do it. This is going to work. It just seemed surprising to us right away. It immediately had elements that could lead to pop success. And between the sister brands, I think it was a perfect marriage.”
But then, says Cabe, “we also had to get a permit to do it.” Meaning Chapman herself. They already had the apparently retired singer-songwriter’s blessing to cover her song, but now they wanted her permission to fully promote it to radio — even though technically, they shouldn’t have needed it. “Whatever way she decided to go, we were going to go. ‘We’re not that camp, and Luke’s not that artist,’ for pushing it to No. 1 without getting approval. ‘It’s her song.’ It’s the right thing to do, we got it, and we’d love to do more with it.
It wasn’t 100% smooth sailing when Columbia New York launched. “Yes, Luke Combs is an iconic, contemporary superstar in the music industry,” says Bedard. “And there was some nostalgia (for the Chapman era) for the programmers we played for. But there were also some people (programming station groups in different markets) who came back and said, ‘Hey, if people want to listen to my country station, they can listen to my country station.’ My country. ‘I don’t want to play it on Top 40 or Hot AC radio…’ When the scales started to grow too, there was a certain line in the sand ‘where it couldn’t be ignored even by the naysayers. “The obstacles were very mundane, but we ended up overcoming them, and that’s when it started to get real fun, when people actually started to see how to overcome those obstacles. And we got a kind of romanticism about it. We say, ‘But there’s a whole generation that needs to Hear this song!” That was part of our motivation for wanting to work with radio, and part of our pitch to radio: It’s needs To translate it to a new generation.”
Certainly, the pop phenomenon was back in country, as Sony Nashville bucked conventional wisdom and realized they could lead two Combs songs to No. 1 at one time — but not exactly the two that debuted. “It’s certainly not unheard of to have two singles active on radio at once, but with Luke’s success on radio over the years, he’s been the artist to do it,” Coste says. She managed to land both “Love You Anyway” and “Fast Car,” which reached No. 1 on the country chart within a month of each other.
Global crossover was also important, since the covers of beloved old books became a global language. An additional element in the song’s success: This pivot to promote “Car” happened at a time when Combs was already out on his 2023 tour, with no time to make a traditional video, which was probably a blessing anyway. “We were able to capture a great live rendition of the song during the tour in May; we were excited to capture it live because we saw how fans were singing it and reacting to it on the show.” This, of course, came on top of the pure fan movement already happening with snippets of nightly sing-alongs filling TikTok and Reels.
“Millennials and older generations feel nostalgic when they hear it because they remember it from when they were kids,” Cost says — just like Combs himself, who links it to his father — “and then you have Generation Z who may have never heard it before,” Cost says. “It was the perfect moment that came together.” It’s got the demographics together and they all feel something with the song. “
Not to make anything in radio promotion look easy, but on country radio, there might be a bigger news story if Combs didn’t reach No. 1 with a single than if he did. But is success in pop formats repeatable?
“If it happens again, great!” Cabe says of the huge crossover. “If it doesn’t happen again, that’s okay, we’ll be back playing all our shows for our fans, doing two stadium nights in some markets – as well as playing in 16 countries around the world, many more to come.” I am satisfied with this song, because it opened a wider fan base around the world. “If it doesn’t happen again,” he reiterates, “we’ve been on a great trip, and it’s been beautiful.”
the artist: Luke Combs
Lyricist: Tracy Chapman
Producers: Chip Matthews, Jonathan Singleton
attached: River House Artists/Columbia Nashville
Brady Bedard, senior vice president of pop music promotion, Columbia Records
Liz Coste, Vice President of Marketing, Sony Music Nashville
Chris Cabe and Sophia Sansone, directors of Make Wake Artists
Lauren Thomas, Vice President of Promotion and Artist Development, Columbia Nashville
Alina Vihik, Vice President, Business Partnerships, Sony Music Nashville
100% Purple Rabbit music managed by Gelfand, Rennert & Feldman, LLC (ASCAP)