Show Hide image

Top 20 Political Songs: Talkin' 'bout a Revolution | Tracy Chapman | 1988

"Poor people gonna rise up and take their share"

An inheritor of "Redemption Song", "Talking 'bout a Revolution", famously performed at Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday concert, is built around a repeated four-chord progression, and a simple lyric. It starts with a criticism of empty talk:

Don't you know, talking 'bout a revolution sounds like a whisper ... when they're standing in the welfare lines.

Despite the early cynicism, the message is hopeful. Poor people are going to "rise up and take what's theirs". Chapman finishes with the line: "Finally the tables are starting to turn, talking 'bout a revolution going on."

The humanity that pervades "Talking 'bout a Revolution" combined with her commercial smash "Fast Car" to make Chapman a hugely popular singer-songwriter. This humanity is grounded in her early school experiences of busing and racial violence in Cleveland, Ohio:

I found myself in the middle of a race riot when I was about 14 years old and I found someone pointing a gun at me and telling me to run or they'd shoot me...

Despite her support of certain environmental and social causes, Chapman has said in an interview that she "can use the music as a form of social activism, but I don't consider myself a social activist". Any political message is accessed through the personal.

Next: Mississippi Goddam.

Previous: Killing in the Name.

Back to list.


Listen to our entire Top 20