“Fast Car” is quickly on its way to becoming the biggest hit of Luke Combs‘ already-impressive career.
And it’s not even his song.
Luke’s cover of the 1988 Tracy Chapman hit has been an absolute monster since it was released, rocketing up the radio charts to its current position at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart while also racking up over 100 million streams in just the three months since it was released.
His version also recently passed Tracy Chapman’s peak with the song on the charts, after the original version stalled out at #6 – and a lot of Tracy Chapman fans were upset that Luke’s version is charting higher than the original.
Of course Tracy probably isn’t TOO upset about it, because as the sole writer of “Fast Car” she’s getting royalties every time the song is played or streamed.
But honestly, nobody really knows how Tracy feels about Luke’s cover – because even Luke himself hasn’t heard from her about it.
During a recent interview with YouTuber and friend of Whiskey Riff Grady Smith, Luke revealed that he hasn’t been able to talk to Tracy Chapman yet, despite his cover of her song blowing up.
And he also explained why he didn’t need to get Tracy’s permission to record the song:
“For a cover you don’t have to seek approval, no. But it’s very specific what you can and can’t do. There are licenses for a lot of things.
I can’t make any videos. Just can’t do a music video. I couldn’t promo that before the album came out. I couldn’t be like, ‘It’s going to have ‘Fast Car’ on it and it’s gonna be sick.’
It’s wild. So there are a lot of licenses for a lot of things.”
But Luke says he’s ok with that because it’s such a special song for him:
“I know going into it that you just have to pay the royalties to the writer to do a cover, right, because once a song is released it’s kind of out in the free market in the sense of, you can cover it and you just have to pay the royalties on it.
But there are so many things like, I can’t license it to a TV show, because I don’t own the publishing on it…
She has the rights for my cover because it’s technically still her song. And that’s cool with me, because it was never the goal for it to blow up the way that it did.”
This also explains why Luke was able to record a cover of “Fast Car,” but Nicki Minaj had to pay a settlement to Chapman a few years back when Minaj included a sample of Chapman’s song “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight” in her song “Sorry.”
Sampling a song (that is, using a portion of someone else’s original sound recording) involves different intellectual property rights than recording a cover of a song. Sampling requires permission from the original copyright holder, and Tracy reportedly has a blanket “no sampling” policy for her music. That resulted in Nicki Minaj settling with Tracy Chapman for $450,000 over her unauthorized sampling of Tracy’s song.
But to cover a song, an artist needs to only get a mechanical license, which a copyright holder has no power to deny. So, even if Tracy didn’t want Luke to record his cover of “Fast Car,” as long as he got the license and paid the royalties, there would be nothing she could do to stop him.
I know that’s probably more about copyrights and licensing than you wanted to know, but there’s been quite a bit of outrage directed at Tracy online for “allowing” Luke to cover her song while blocking Nicki Minaj from sampling one. But the reason is simply that Luke legally didn’t need Tracy’s permission, while Nicki did.
Of course we don’t know if Tracy would have given Luke permission to cover “Fast Car” if it had been required – because he still hasn’t heard from her.
Check out Luke’s entire interview with Grady Smith here:
And of course, his incredible cover of Tracy Chapman’s hit “Fast Car” here.