Tracy’s defiant “NO SELLOUT” move occurred with this song; the first single and title track from her all-important sophomore album. “Crossroads” came out when I was 13, and there was an honesty and resolve in her singing that resonated with me for years despite not really understanding what she was singing about.
I can’t imagine the directions in which Tracy was being pulled in the wake of her initial brush with success. I also can’t imagine it being easy for her, as everything I’ve read has pointed to Tracy as an intensely shy, private person. With that in mind (not to mention her sexuality, which has been an open secret for a number of years but would’ve been a career killer had it been acknowledged in the late ‘80s), it’s easy to read the lyrics of “Crossroads” as a rebuke to all the leeches who must have surrounded her at that time.
“All of you demons, go back to hell/I’ll save my soul, save myself”
Plenty of superstars have asked for privacy in song. Plenty more have railed against the star-making machine eloquently described by Joni Mitchell in “Free Man In Paris”. I’m sure there have also been quite a few who’ve tried desperately to avoid being sucked in by the trappings of success and fame. Few have been as successful at doing so as Tracy Chapman has, in song as in “real life”.
There’s a whole secondary piece I could write about Tracy using the title “Crossroads” (which she only sings once, during the song’s first verse) to reference the black blues/folk tradition of which she certainly assisted in moving forward, too.
NOT QUITE FIVE STARS…
“Cross The Tracks (We Better Go Back)” by Maceo & The Macks (1974) : Some itchy funk from James Brown’s long-time sax man, featuring one of the earliest instances of that high-pitched keyboard sound that would later become Dr. Dre’s trademark. I discovered “Cross The Tracks” via Guy Ritchie’s cult classic Snatch.
“Crossover” (EPMD, 1992): Hip-hop’s most dependable duo (up until that point, anyway) underline their commitment to not selling out over a typically aggressive funk groove (complete with Zapp sample on the chorus.) I distinctly remember buying the “Crossover” cassingle and the “Baby Got Back” single on the same day, at some mall in Long Island. Also, fun fact: the song about not selling out became EPMD’s biggest hit, going Gold (although it still missed the pop top 40…barely.)