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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Jukebox - Birmingham by Amanda Marshall

Depending on what geographical location that you happen to be living in, the name Amanda Marshall could have some familiarity to it.  Then again, some of you may not even know who she is.

Amanda Marshall was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1972 to a Canadian father and Trinidadian mother.  She started off singing in bars along Queen Street West in the Toronto area and by chance, happened to meet the late guitarist Jeff Healey, of The Jeff Healey Band.  Impressed by her powerful vocals, he personally asked the then teenaged Marshall to go on tour with him, and she agreed.

In 1991, when she was eighteen going on nineteen, she had landed a recording contract with Metalblade Records, but it didn't pan out, and both mutually went their separate ways.

Four years later, in 1995, she was signed onto Epic Records, and that same year released her self-titled debut album.

Amanda Marshall was released in October of '95, and immediately became a huge success in Canada.  Six of the ten tracks on the album reached top 40 status in Canada, and the record sold more than one million copies in Canada alone.  With such powerful tracks as 'Fall From Grace', 'Let It Rain', and 'Beautiful Goodbye', Amanda's star was shining bright as Canadian fans embraced her and her music.

Even I admit to listening to a lot of Amanda Marshall back in those days.  She was talented, the songs she sang were intelligently written and performed, and she really sounded very unique compared to some of the dance-pop music that seemed to dominate the Top 40 charts between 1995 and 2000.

But while Amanda's career was taking off in her home country, in the United States, her singing career hadn't had the same impact.  The album was also released in America around the same time as the Canadian release, but the overall American reaction to the album wasn't as widely accepted as it was in Canada.  As it stood, only one of Amanda's songs from her debut album even charted on the Billboard 100, and it just barely missed the Top 40.  Compare that same song's chart success to that of Canada, where the same song just missed the top spot, peaking at #3 in 1996.

But what a song it was...and what a powerful message it provided too.

ARTIST:  Amanda Marshall
SONG:  Birmingham
ALBUM:  Amanda Marshall
DATE RELEASED:  April 16, 1996

I'm actually kind of surprised that this song didn't peak much higher on the American charts.  I mean, maybe it's because I was born, raised, and still live in Canada that I feel that way, since Amanda Marshall was a huge hit-maker here, but I feel she should have had more of an impact on the American market.

But then, maybe there was only room for a few female Canadian artists on the Billboard charts at a time, and in 1996, Alanis Morissette and Celine Dion had those spots wrapped up.  Who can say, really?

The point is that Birmingham is probably Amanda Marshall's most known song from her debut album, and to this date remains her highest charting hit.  And, why wouldn't it be?  It's a great song with a catchy melody.  Amanda's voice is definitely distinct, and suits the song very well.

But while the great city of Birmingham, Alabama is mentioned several times during the course of the song, the song really isn't what the song is about.  It just happens to take place there.

No, the subject of this song happens to do with something much more serious in nature.

The song is about a relationship filled with emotional and physical abuse, and one woman's courage to get away from it once and for all.

Dissecting the lyrics of the song, we find out our plotline.  Virgil Spencer is a man with many demons lingering inside of him.  At first, when he and his wife got married, things were great, and life was good.  After a while though, Mrs. Spencer's dreams were pelted with hues of black and blue, as her husband would verbally berate her and even use physical violence against her.  She was living a life of despair and she soon realized that she needed to end the relationship and get out of there, or else she would be damning herself to a life of misery and pain.

The final straw came one Friday night when Virgil Spencer pulled out a gun to change the channel on his 19-inch Hitachi.  That was the moment where Mrs. Spencer got her moment of clarity.  She needed to leave, and she needed to leave now before she was the next thing to get prematurely cancelled.

So, at three in the morning, she packed up the few belongings she had, and snuck out of the house quietly, so as not to disturb the drunk man passed out on the sofa inside.  She was afraid of what was going to come her way, and she felt as if she was alone in the world, but at the same time, it was the first time in a long time that she was the master of her own domain.

And, so she leaves Birmingham, Alabama for parts unknown (although I assume that she ended up North somewhere, as snow seems to be falling where she is.  She writes Virgil a postcard with no return address, slips it in the mailbox, and for good measure also tosses her wedding ring inside the box as well.  The former Mrs. Spencer then walks away, as a furious Virgil Spencer slams the door in anger behind him.

In our soundtrack of a marriage falling apart, the woman in the relationship ended up having an uncertain, but certainly happier future ahead of her.  Sadly, not everyone in an abusive relationship gets out safely.  A staggering one in three women will encounter some form of abuse at some point in her lifetime, be it verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual.  In 2005 alone, over 1,100 women were murdered by an intimate partner, whether it be a husband, boyfriend, or lover.  Those are some humbling facts.

The fact remains that no woman deserves to be abused by her partner under any circumstances.  It is no longer acceptable for any woman to live in fear in her own home, or be harassed by an ex-boyfriend as she walks down the street.  None of that should be tolerated.

Although rare, some men are victims of domestic abuse as well.  To me, this is also unacceptable, and should not be tolerated either.

The point is that the video for this Amanda Marshall song does offer up some glimmer of hope that anyone who is in a situation that they feel uncomfortable in can find their way out.  I'm sure that quite a few women who watched this video or listened to this song back in 1996 could relate to what the woman went through, and have their own survival stories to tell in regards to a subject such as domestic violence.

I've never really mentioned this before, mainly because I never really felt it necessary to before this.  And I definitely don't really want to go into too much detail because it's really not my place to do just that.  But as someone who as a child saw his fair share you say...domestic disputes over the years, it's definitely something that should not be taken lightly.  Conflicts between members of a family, or between relationships can be handled in a variety of ways.  Talking it out.  Going to counselling.  Seeking advice from other couples.  All of these are fine and acceptable ways of conflict resolution.

But using emotional blackmail, violence, and cruelty for the purpose of controlling the other person is NEVER the answer...especially if there are young children around who can see it all.

Physical scars will eventually heal.  Bruises will fade away.  Bumps will reduce in swelling.  But the emotional scars will take a lifetime to heal from.

If you are in a relationship that is emotionally or physically abusive, and it keeps going on despite pleas of changing, or promises that it won't happen again, please, do yourself a favour and get out of there.

In fact, I'm going to list a few resources out there for all of you to have, if ever the need arises.  They are there to help you through, or at the very least, give you a soundboard for you to vent to if ever you need it.

If you happen to live in Canada, and you're a teenager who is in an abusive relationship, the Kids Help Phone is a resource that you can use.  The toll free number is 1-800-668-6868, or you can visit the website at

There is also a hotline for assaulted women, and the toll free number for this hotline is 1-866-863-0511.

For American readers of this blog, you can reach the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

I'm also going to provide a number for the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women, because as I said before, both sexes can be affected by an abusive relationship.  The number for there is 1-888-743-5754.

I notice quite a few viewers from the United Kingdom viewing this blog as well, so I want to provide a link for them as well.  The National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline for Women and Children is 0808 2000 247 or you can visit the website at

Finally, for you Australian viewers (and I do see a few of you out there), there is an Australia-wide counselling line for you to call.  The number for there is 1800 737 732.  Or, you can go here.

For the rest of you, I am sure if you Google it online, you can find other numbers and websites that will benefit you and help support you in whatever decisions you decide to make.

There is one final link that I want to share with you.  It basically describes the warning signs, as well as offers tips and links to places where you can get the help you need to escape.

So, this was a pretty heavy topic for the Sunday jukebox, but a necessary one to bring up.  I had always wanted to use this blog as a way to promote social awareness causes of some sort without being overly preachy about it, and well, I am not exactly sure that I succeeded in that.  But, at the very least, if there's any indication by the resources that I have provided in this blog entry, it's that there is help out there.  And keep in mind that these are just a few of hundreds of sources out there where you can get assistance.

Not a bad message to take away from an Amanda Marshall song.

As for Amanda Marshall herself, I for one would love to hear more from her.  Her last album was entitled 'Everybody's Got A Story', and that was released ten years ago.  It almost seems like an injustice of some sort, considering that one of her songs got me so emotionally charged up that I created a whole blog entry devoted to it.  But that's exactly what kind of power that she had in her songs.

It seems almost ironic that one of the last songs that charted here in Canada was a song called 'Everybody's Got A Story (That'll Break Your Heart)', because it actually breaks my heart to NOT hear her on the charts.  Come back, Amanda Marshall!  I miss you!

Regardless of which, I think it's time to put a close to this blog entry, with the promise that tomorrow's version will be more light-hearted, yet just as inspirational.

Have a great day, everyone.


  1. i stil have Amanda's debut CD i was only 13 when it came out. I love her and her songs.

  2. I was living in Upstate New York and in middle school when Amanda Marshall's Birmingham was briefly on commercial radio. The lack of American interest and chart success might possibly be related to the fact that the casual listener misidentified her as early Sheryl Crow, which indicates the serious paucity and marginalization of women artists on and by American Alternative radio.