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Sunday, September 09, 2012

The "Independence" of Martina McBride

“Sweethearts of Country Music” month continues with an artist who has had a career that has lasted over twenty years.  With eleven studio albums, a greatest hits compilation, a live album, and a collection of Christmas favourites, it’s no wonder that our featured singer has sold over fourteen million albums and has earned several award nominations and wins.

But before I get into the subject for today, I wanted to talk a little bit about why I decided to feature country music every Sunday in September.

Obviously, I haven’t focused too much on country music in the blog, mainly because it’s not really a genre of music that I go out of my way to listen to.  When you grow up in a household that consistently played old-school country music by Tom T. Hall, Ernest Tubb, Jim Reeves, and Emmylou Harris every waking hour, it gets to be a bit much.  My entire childhood was spent trying to drown out Ricky Skaggs and Hank Snow with Michael Jackson and R.E.M.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that country music (especially country music that has been released over the last twenty years or so) have some rather powerful lyrics that can really stir up emotions and feelings.  And the song that I plan to feature is one that best displays this point.  In fact, this song actually garnered a little bit of controversy back in the day for displaying disturbing imagery and graphic violence.  Although, on a personal level, given some of the music videos that have aired since, this one appears tame.

Today, we’re featuring the music of the woman who some have called the “Celine Dion of Country Music”, Martina McBride.

Martina McBride was born Martina Mariea Schiff on July 29, 1966 in Sharon, Kansas, a town with a population of just 200.  She was exposed to country music at an early age from her father, who used to listen to it while he worked as a farmer and owner of a cabinet business.  Listening to some of her favourite artists on the radio such as Reba McEntire, Juice Newton, and Linda Ronstadt helped Martina find her voice in a way...for listening to country music all the time inspired Martina to become a singer herself.  By the time she was nine years old, she began singing with her father’s band, “The Schiffters”, and as she grew older, she assumed the role of keyboardist within the band.

Now here’s some interesting trivia for all of you reading this.  Although Martina grew up listening to country music, did you know that when she was in her late teens, she ended up joining a rock band?  The name of the band was “The Penetrators”, and they played around Wichita, Kansas before Martina left the band circa 1987.  That same year, Martina attempted to form another band, and during this time she was looking for a place for her new band to rehearse.  She ended up finding a space for the band to practice in, renting it from a sound engineer named John McBride.

I’m sure you’ve figured out where this story is going.  Martina and John ended up falling in love, they got married in 1988, she took his last name as her own, and they are still married twenty-four years later with three children.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The year after Martina and John got married, the two relocated from Kansas to Nashville, Tennessee where Martina had dreams of making it big in the world of country music.  It was only a matter of time before Martina’s dreams began to come true. 

Lucky break #1:  Almost immediately after settling down in Nashville, Martina’s husband ended up getting a gig working on the sound crew for up-and-coming country artist Garth Brooks.  This gig eventually set John McBride up for his own career rise when he later became Brooks’ concert promotion manager.  Martina was thrilled for her husband, and she supported him in every possible way.  Would you believe that she even went on the road to sell Garth Brooks souvenirs like T-shirts and concert posters at various venues?

Well, it didn’t take long for Garth Brooks to notice Martina’s bubbly personality and passion, and here is where lucky break #2 factors into the equation.  In 1990, Brooks was so impressed by Martina’s enthusiasm that when he discovered that she wanted to make it big as a singer, he offered her a deal.  He would offer Martina the chance to become his opening act at his concerts.  And certainly, this was a proposition that Martina was not going to refuse.  After all, Garth Brooks was one of the fastest growing country stars of the early 1990s.  Opening up for him would give her a lot of publicity and attention.  But, there was one small catch.  In order for Garth to consider honouring his part of the deal, she would have to get herself signed to a recording contract within Nashville...a task that seemed nearly impossible.

But not for Martina McBride.

Her husband may have been on the road working for various country music artists, but in between his road trips, he helped Martina record a demo tape that she would shop around to various record labels, hoping that one would take interest.  It took a few months, but RCA Nashville Records heard the tape and immediately signed the then 25-year-old singer to a recording contract in 1991.

The following year, Martina McBride released her debut album “The Time Has Come”, and it was by all accounts a traditional country album, influenced heavily by honky tonk and country folk.  The album did net McBride a Top 30 hit with the album’s title track, but the following singles after that failed to chart within the Top 40.  It became clear to McBride that for her sophomore album, she would have to change up her style.

And change it up she did with her second release, 1993’s “The Way That I Am”.  And it is this album that contains the song spotlight for this week.

Although it wasn’t her first album, it was the album that helped propel Martina into Country Sweetheart status.  For one, the album was the first one she released to reach “Gold” status (in September 1994).  Just eight months later, in May 1995, the album went platinum.  The album was also the one that contained Martina’s first top 5 hit on the country charts with “My Baby Loves Me”, in 1993.

It also contained this single.

ARTIST:  Martina McBride
SONG:  Independence Day
ALBUM:  The Way That I Am
DATE RELEASED:  April 25, 1994

TRIVIA:  The song was originally offered to Reba McEntire, but she turned it down, leaving Martina McBride free to record the song herself.  It was written by Gretchen Peters.

You know, I really tried to find a version of the proper music video that I could link to this blog because the music video is a huge part of this entry.  But since I couldn’t find a way to get the video to link, I had to do the next best thing and post the link to the music video.  Click below and watch the video, and once you have, we’ll chat about it.

So, the first thing that you might notice about this song is that it performed modestly on the charts.  It managed to peak at #12 on the charts, but it could have gone higher.  The main reason why it didn’t was due to the song’s airplay...or lack thereof.

A lot of country music stations refused to play “Independence Day” due to the subject matter, and that decision likely helped keep the song from the Top 10. 

The song itself though is very powerful, and although the video is chilling, it worked with the lyrics of the song.

The song is all about the subject of domestic violence, and how it can affect an entire family.  As the video and song begins, we quickly discover that a little girl living at the house is in a situation that no child should have to be a part of.  Imagine witnessing your mother being verbally and physically abused by your father every day of your life and being absolutely powerless to stop it.  Certainly, the video depicted the beatings that the woman sustained in a graphic and disturbing way.  But looking back on it, I’m happy that the director went that route.  With this particular song, I think that it wouldn’t have worked otherwise.  If the director tried to hide the violent scenes from the video, it would not have been as strong a message. 

The little girl at some point during the video decides that she wants to get away from the turmoil at home, and she decides to go to the 4th of July carnival where a parade is taking place.  At first, the little girl seems to be enjoying herself, and is drawn to the parade floats, marching bands, and balloons.  But then a couple of clowns attracted the girl’s attention, and not in a good way.

(And no, it wasn’t because she was afraid of clowns.  It was because she was afraid of what the clowns were doing.)

It wasn’t the fault of the clowns...they had no idea of what horrors the girl had to endure at home.  But when the clowns were doing slapstick comedy on each other, which included fake slaps and shoving, it reminded the girl of the moments in which she saw her father pushing her mother around.  Just in case we weren’t clear, the music video keeps switching back and forth between the clowns and the terrible domestic abuse.

Whatever the case was, the little girl is frightened and runs back home...only to find that her whole house is burning to the ground and that Martina McBride is just standing outside of it singing away.  I mean, seriously, Martina, why are you not throwing buckets of water on the house!  Help the firemen out!

Turns out the woman was getting tired of taking the kicks and punches thrown her way by the man who was supposed to love and protect her the most, and she lit the match that burned down the house that Jack built (well, assuming her husband’s name was Jack, that is.)

Long story short, the fate of the parents is not known (although Martina has later admitted that the woman did not die in the blaze and that the abusive man was delivered karma served piping hot), and the little girl is taken away to become a ward of the state, a tragic end to an already terrible day for her.

All right, so the video’s ending wasn’t like an episode of “Full House”.  But it did serve its purpose that domestic violence is no laughing matter, and I think the video did a good job of displaying that message.  I’m not saying that it should encourage all women in an abusive relationship to set their husband’s bed on fire like Farrah Fawcett did, but it should serve as message that women can reclaim their lives and get their independence back, even if things seemed impossible.  I imagine that the woman ended up getting arrested for killing her husband at the end of the video, and we really aren’t sure if she ended up getting reunited with her daughter or not.  But it didn’t matter to her, because in that moment that her husband died, she regained a sense of independence.  For the first time in what seemed like years, she was finally free of the abuse, the pain, and the scars, and in that moment, she was finally celebrating her own “Independence Day”.

That’s a nice double meaning to the phrase, by the way.  The woman ended up getting her independence back on the 4th of July...the American Independence Day.

This song helped get Martina McBride some more recognition as a serious country music artist.  It was nominated for a couple of Grammy Awards in 1995, and the song won two Academy of Country Music Awards for “Best Video” and “Best Song”.

In the coming years, Martina McBride would end up achieving even greater success on the country charts, and she even had a few crossover hits on the Adult Contemporary charts as well.  With songs such as “Wild Angels”, “A Broken Wing”, “I Love You”, “Concrete Angel”, “This One’s for the Girls”, and “Wrong Baby Wrong”, Martina McBride has successfully cemented her place on the country music charts for years to come...and in this blogger’s opinion, it’s a place that she earned.

Next Sunday, “Sweethearts of Country Music” month continues with a young woman, just twenty-two.  She’s been rewarded with Grammy Awards, and has had several #1 singles and a few Top 10 crossover hits on the pop charts.  And she is not letting bullies, past relationships or Kanye West keep her from her dreams.

That’s coming up on September 16.


  1. Great blog post, Matt! That's one of my favorite songs. Very powerful...I still get goosebumps! Martina has an amazing voice (she's easy on the eyes, too!) and I think without the lucky breaks she would have been discovered eventually.

  2. For some reason, this is like the only country song i like.Martina McBride would end up achieving even greater success on the country charts.