Classic Country Singles: Martina McBride, “Independence Day”

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August 22, 2008

“Independence Day”
Martina McBride
1994

Written by Gretchen Peters

In 1993, Martina McBride chose to include a powerful song penned by Gretchen Peters on her second collection The Way That I Am, despite resistance from her record label. Even with their hesitance to discuss such difficult subject manner, McBride was determined to shed light on the hard truths of domestic violence. When selected as the fourth single from the album, the song, titled “Independence Day,” many radio stations were uncertain whether they wished to play the controversial anthem. Its story of a woman’s struggle against spousal abuse is powerful and purposeful in content, lending a realistic view of how such treatment can torment its victims.

From the narrative standpoint of the woman’s daughter, the song tells of an abusive husband and the destructive effect on his family. The daughter, eight years old and all too aware, recalls how she took a trip to the downtown fair to avoid the conflict and confrontation between her parents. Her father, a drinking, dangerous man inflicts damage on his wife, made very apparent by the “proof on her cheek” and the “worried and weak” look on her face as the innocent girl gets ready to leave the house. All the while, the chorus rings out as a cry for freedom for both a hopeless wife and a helpless daughter who suffer at the hands of a violent man.

The video was equally compelling and provided a disturbing visual to help tell the story. In its final frames, the house is up in flames and the daughter is in the arms of the policemen ready to take her to the county home. The outcome for her parents is much less clear. No resolution is found, but the ending on this “day of reckoning” seems rather dire regardless of interpretation.

What is so terrifying and troubling about both the song and the video is the seeming ambivalence of the bystanders. From the firemen who just “put out the flames and took down some names” to the folks who spread the rumors of abuse like the fire that destroyed the house, those indirectly involved appeared hesitant to confront such a devastating situation. All the more reason for the wounded wife to live out the vows made in the chorus to “make the guilty pay” and take matters into her own hands.

The risks involved with writing and recording “Independence Day” paid off. Although it only reached #12 on Billboard’s singles chart, the song reached a wide audience and received much critical acclaim. McBride, as a Horizon Award nominee, performed the song on the 1994 CMA awards show, and later that evening, accepted the award for Video of the Year (an honor shared with directors Deaton Flanigan). The next year, Gretchen Peters was awarded the Song of the Year trophy, becoming only the second woman to receive the award. Peters acknowledged those who had lived with domestic violence and praised McBride for the best ambassador imaginable for this groundbreaking single.

“Independence Day” was also nominated as Best Country Song at the 1994 Grammys and earned McBride her first nod in the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category. Its presence is still greatly felt and is a cornerstone of McBride’s career and a testament for truth and fearlessness in country songwriting. As Peters would later say, “I think Martina would agree that the most gratifying and most humbling thing is when women that have really lived this come up to you with tears in their eyes and say you got the story right.”

“Independence Day” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.

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  1. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    One heck of a song! This where the question of “What makes a hit” is very relevant. Without knowing it’s actual chart position, it would almost seem as though it was a chart topper.

  2. Steve says:

    Probably the best country song of our generation. (90′s-00′s)

  3. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    I am in the minority on this song (actually my opinion probably is the majority view among the 50+ generation of listeners). This definitely is NOT one of my favorite Martina McBride songs.

    The song lyric itself is interesting but the overwrought performance inspired the “shrieking diva” style that ruined so many of the songs performed by Martina, Faith Hill and countless other women over the course of the next decade.

    I think that the video that came with the song is what actually sold the song to the audiences. I know that I watched the video countless times, but would switch stations when this song came on the radio . It wasn’t the subject matter that turned off a lot of listeners but the over-the-top vocal performance. Without that powerful video, this song probably stalls out without reaching the top thirty instead of getting to #12 nationally

    I purchased Martina’s first two CDs. After that, it wasn’t until the TIMELESS album that I again paid much attention to Martina McBride

  4. I can’t speak for anyone else (my generation or otherwise) but I can definitely say I loved the song before the video, since I bought the album on release date.

    Regarding airplay, it missed the top ten because two stations refused to play it specifically because of the subject matter, despite McBride personally appealing to the station managers.

    Given that the largely older CMA voting body named it Song of the Year, it must have been pretty popular among older generations, too. The song’s considered so significant that Gretchen Peters’ handwritten lyrics are on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  5. Chris D.No Gravatar says:

    I love this song so much.

    I saw on CMT about the making of the video, and apparently they only had one house to burn, so the takes of Martina in front of the house and the girl in front of the house had to be shot at the exact same time, on different sides of the house. I thought that was interesting.

  6. GregNo Gravatar says:

    I remember reading that Reba was approached to do this song first, but passed on it Man, what a song to pass on! However, I think this was Martina’s song. Yes Reba would’ve done a great job at it, but Martina owned this song.

  7. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    The song’s main contribution to country music, in my opinion, is that it reinforced that singers and songwriters can draw from a variety of subjects, even those that can be uncomfortable or difficult to acknowledge.

    I also believe that “Independence Day” is worthy of all its honors and achievements, but to comment on what Paul said, I would be interested to hear a more stripped-down version of the song besides the Gretchen Peters original. The versions that have followed are in the same vein as the McBride version.

  8. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    I did not say it was not a significant song; simply one that I did not especially like. I recently heard a local performer give this song an understated performance – the song struck me as so much MORE powerful than Martina’s shrieking performance. It’s a pity few will get to here the song performed that way.

    As for the CMA awards, Martina was a performer being given a hard push by a major label. RCA had high hopes for Martina as a commerical artist, hopes eventually justified over the course of time.

    Had this song been issued on a minor label I doubt it would have picked up any hardware at all, or not until someone on a major label recorded a cover of it.

  9. Matt BNo Gravatar says:

    This is truly a wonderful song and it came out when I was just getting into country. I can remember doing work w/my father and sitting listening to boom box radio in the yard and having stuff like this come on.

    The fact that it’s not a Top 10 is irrelevant to me because it’s the song I identify with Martina and is her ‘signature’ song. Also, Jason Matthews made a good point about hit songs. He said once they’re in the Top 20 and played all the time, the average person doesn’t know it wasn’t a Top 10 or #1 record. On top of that, the song still gets lots of recurrent airplay while other songs that were ‘bigger hits’ do.

  10. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    “I recently heard a local performer give this song an understated performance – the song struck me as so much MORE powerful than Martina’s shrieking performance.”

    This is a lesson that too few in country music have learned. With great subtlety can come great power. Precisely the reason I would love to hear a “quieter” version, although I also believe McBride to do the song justice.

    Any number of songs would not have received their just desserts if not released by a major label.

  11. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Wow, I’m away from the computer just for a couple of hours and a great discussion starts!

    While some might point to this song as the beginning of Martina’s powerhouse vocals (as I’ll put it since I don’t consider it to be shrieking), but I’d argue that she was pretty restrained on the next album, Wild Angels, so I’m not really sure if the argument entirely holds up.

    I can’t imagine that I’d be feeling a lot of independence from the song if I heard it sung in a laid back way. I suppose it’d be poignant in a different way, in the ironic “was independence really achieved?” way, but this way makes the most sense to me. I’ve heard understated versions of it, but it did the opposite for me; it lost much of its power. It turned an anthem into something sluggish. For this song, in other words, I feel that the strong vocals were important. I don’t know that I would have otherwise payed attention.
    As far as her over singing goes in future songs, I think the problem was more the songs or the fact that she stopped using that mode of vocal interpretation sparingly as her career progressed.

  12. Eddie BoneNo Gravatar says:

    Powerhouse vocals is exactly right.Martina’s performance on this song gives me the same thrill that screaming lead guitar solos gives me.She got a standing ovation when she sang it on the CMAs.It was pure perfection!

  13. JenNo Gravatar says:

    Though I have never been in the situation depicted in this song, it has touched my heart more than words can explain. I was 11 years old when this song was released and it made me fall in love with Martina and I have never stopped considering myself her number 1 fan! I am so grateful for this song and everytime I hear it on the radio, I get so excited like it’s the 1st time I heard it all over again. The video makes me cry each and every time I see it. Martina’s voice is one of un-matched power and it makes Independence Day all the more special. Thank you Gretchen and Martina for this truley amazing, and what I consider the best country song that I have ever/will ever hear!

  14. JenNo Gravatar says:

    And may I add, that if you have ever heard Martina perform this live in concert, it’s even better! She starts off accapella and it gives me goosebumps. Those who consider Martina “shreiky” are truley not listening to her. She is spectacular.

  15. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    I have heard her do it live – it is a tough song stay in pitch and Martina didn’t succeed that particular occasion

  16. TomNo Gravatar says:

    this song is a milestone in country music. topic, lyrics, delivery and visualisation make it a highlight of the genre.

  17. PhilNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for featuring this great song. I think the “power diva” approach adopted by Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood does suit the lyrics – the narrative verses can, of course, be sung in a more intimate style, but I think the refrains, and the link with the holiday celebrations do suggest an edgy and forceful delivery. Gretchen, by the way, also wrote “On a Bus To St. Cloud”, which is one of the most poignant songs of lost love that I know of. Her latest album, “Burnt Toasts and Offerings” also contains some strong songs, themed around the ending of and recovery from a broken relationship.

  18. LindaNo Gravatar says:

    Love the melody of the song.

    Martina did a really convincing job of delivering the lines during the only take during the burning of the house.

  19. henry says:

    In response to the link, I think that it is unbelievably disrespectful for Gretchen to donate that money in Sarah Palin’s name. She has every right to use that song and should have replied in a dignified manner, like Brooks and Dunn did when Obama used “Only in America.”

  20. PatrickNo Gravatar says:

    Let freedom riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing

  21. Jalon WattsNo Gravatar says:

    “”"”Paul W. Dennis.”"”" Let me tell you something about music. I am a performer, and I understand your views on “Independence Day,” but to shoot it down like you are is a joke. I mean give me a break, no other artist in country music had released a song about this situation. If yu can’t see this plainly amazing song that describes real life problems with women, than you need to s in a chair and think for a while about it. If you actually know anything about music, than you woul figure out that this song is a very spectacular song, and definitely one of McBride’s BEST songs. If you can’t see that then you need therapy. Is anyone with me on this one. Plus, Martina is not in anyway a “shrieking diva?” I got chills when I saw that you said that. Give me another break. I can’t even stand to read this, it is such a bunch a crap. Why in the heck would you CHANGE the station on this amazing song????? That is just idiotic. Sorry for ripping into you, but your opinions are very different than mine, and I am going to share it passionately. Again on “Shrieking Diva,” she is NOT!!! Why would she be such an awesome mom, a grwat care taker, and a BRILLIANT perfomer??? Answer that without chewing on your lip. Again, go sit in a chair…and think about ho AMAZING that song is. And how stupid is someone to not buy more than 6 albums of McBride, she is totally FANTASTIC! Write me back, it sure is interesting to listen to your views!!! :)

  22. ErikNo Gravatar says:

    How to we make these people go away?

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