Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties: Martina McBride, “Wild Angels”

“Wild Angels

Martina McBride

Written by Matraca Berg, Gary Harrison, and Harry Stinson


#1 (1 week)

March 2, 1996

Martina McBride earns her first No. 1 hit.

The Road to No. 1

Martina McBride hails from Kansas, where she grew up singing and playing keyboards in her family band, The Schiffters.  She then played in additional bands, such as the Wichita-based rock outfit The Penetrators and her own outfit, Lotus.  She soon met her husband, John McBride, and they both moved to Nashville to pursue music industry careers. Soon, John was part of Garth Brooks’ sound crew and Martina was selling t-shirts on the road.

When Martina heard that RCA was looking for a new act but only listening to request material, she put her demo tape in a big purple envelope and wrote “Solicited Material” on it.  The gambit worked, and by 1992, she was an RCA recording artist releasing her debut album, The Time Has Come.  That set produced one top thirty hit with its title track.  McBride had her big breakthrough with her second album, The Way That I Am.  The first of several platinum albums, it included the top five hit “My Baby Loves Me,” the top ten “Life #9,” and her signature hit, “Independence Day,” which went top fifteen.

McBride’s third album, Wild Angels, was released to critical acclaim in 1995.  After a top five lead-off hit, “Safe in the Arms of Love,” the title track gave McBride her first No. 1 single.

The No. 1

Matraca Berg’s second planned country album was going to be called Wild Angels, and most of the songs planned for it were eventually cut by Nashville’s leading female artists.  McBride is the perfect pairing for “Wild Angels,” which has sharp and sophisticated lyrics that McBride delivers with alternating power and nuance.

It’s difficult to overstate how important Berg was in making the mid-nineties the golden age for female country artists.  “Wild Angels” captures a marriage between equals benefitting from celestial guidance that colors outside the lines as often as the couple entrusted to these “wild angels.”

“We still break each other’s hearts sometimes, spend some nights on the jagged side, somehow we wake up in each other’s arms.”  Other nights, “I watch you while you sleep. I swear I hear the sound of beating wings.”

It’s adult, clear-eyed realism with an undercurrent of spiritual meaning.  God, I miss stuff like this being on the radio.

The Road From No. 1

McBride released three more singles from Wild Angels, all of which missed the top twenty.  Still, the album went platinum and earned McBride a CMA Award nomination for Album of the Year in 1996.  At the same ceremony, she earned her first of many Female Vocalist nominations.  McBride first previewed her fourth studio album, Evolution, with the Clint Black duet, “Still Holdin’ On,” which was also included on Black’s Nothin’ But the Taillights set.  McBride’s first proper release from Evolution will return her to the top in late 1997.

“Wild Angels” gets an A. 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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Next: Patty Loveless, “You Can Feel Bad”


  1. ..what strikes me most every time i hear martina mcbride these days is what a terrific vocalist she is. so far, i haven’t heard anyone coming close to tammy wynette herself (in her prime) when taking on “till i can make it on my own”. arguably, one of the most challenging songs in country music – technically. when i did a “miss jamie/guardians of the galaxy thing” the other day (listening to a sampler cassette tape with some ol’ favourites on it), i came across “cry on the shoulder of the road” from the “wild angels” album there. still sounding as good as ever that tune. is the legendary “drunken martina” still tweeting, actually?

    • Wild Angels is still her best album, in my opinion. Faith’s It Matters to Me is also excellent. I think they were overshadowed at the time by the work of the women who came right before them, to the point that albums that good were being taken for granted.

      Those two sets were right before country albums started getting bloated. The 10-track standard was perhaps too restrictive, but it did force artists to make choices about what to include. I just finished listening to Miranda Lambert’s new album, and I think it would’ve benefitted from such a limitation. I feel like we have artists going, “Okay, I’ve got six great songs and nine that are iffy. I’ll just put out a 15-track album so people can hear everything.”

      • Wild Angels is also my favorite Martina McBride album, and I personally think it’s her best one, overall. Not only do I love all the singles, but I also love all of the album cuts, especially “A Great Disguise.” The album is also a perfect example of how contemporary country with rock and pop influences can be also be of high quality and be mature, creative, well written, and relatable.

        I also hear you on the issues concerning album length. I also miss when most albums were up to 10-11 songs with maybe 12 or 13 being the limit. Sometimes, a longer album means getting more good music (George Strait’s It Just Comes Natural comes to mind), but it often also means songs that could’ve/should’ve been left off the album still make the final record, anyway. Not to mention, we also have this current annoying trend of getting 5-6 songs of a new release in advance in the form of an EP, and when the actual album is finally released, you’ve already heard about half the record, and it turns out those were mostly the best songs on it.

  2. I still absolutely adore this song! As many times as I’ve heard it by now, I’ve simply never gotten tired of it. It’s aged incredibly well, and it’s still just as catchy, fresh, and exciting for me to hear today. It doesn’t sound like an “older” song at all to my ears. That opening guitar alone gives me a feeling of joy and nostalgia at the same time, and the entire song just makes me so happy from beginning to end. :) It’s also one of my favorite Matraca Berg written hits from the decade.

    What I also love about this one is that while it’s a happy feel good song, as you’ve pointed out, the lyrics also acknowledge that things aren’t always sunshine and rainbows for the couple, and yet they always manage make it through. Unlike the more recent attempts at feel good songs, this one is more realistic instead of everything being perfect and happy go lucky for the characters. Sonically, it is simply a beautiful slice of perfectly crafted contemporary country. I personally love the alternative/soft rock influence that started showing more often in the genre from this point on and how it still sounded great paired with the traditional country instruments. Like in this song, the rock inspired lead guitar works so well coupled with Dan Dugmore’s crying steel. I just love the guitar work in this song all around. This is also still one of my favorite performances from Martina, and I especially love her soaring vocals in each chorus. This is, overall, another example in 90’s country of the right song, the right singer, and the right producers (including Martina herself) all coming together perfectly to make a classic hit song that still sounds wonderful today. Kevin, I’m completely with you on missing songs like these on the radio. I’d give anything for contemporary country to still be more like this.

    While “Safe In The Arms Of Love” was my introduction to Martina McBride, I also enjoyed this one very much when it was new, and it further established her as one of my favorite “newer” artists at the time. It’s actually another one of the songs I remember hearing for the first time one afternoon after school while playing Doom II on the computer in early 1996. :) A little later on in early 1997, I managed to get it on a tape from the radio, which I’d listen to countless times during that period. It was actually from listening to the song on the tape so much that I noticed the cool guitar work throughout the second verse, which is still one of my favorite parts of the song. Also, I always loved that cool echo effect in her voice during the bridge. I continued to enjoy this song as a recurrent well into the early 00’s.

    I remember always enjoying the video whenever it came on GAC in the mid-late 90’s, as well. Back then, I really liked the mysteriousness of the angels flying over the people in the video and everyone looking up in the sky to see what it was. It’s still such an enjoyable video for me today, and it’s so beautifully shot and put together. I especially love the shots of Martina singing from the corner of rooftop of the building and when she is laying inside the beautiful angel wings sculpture. The actress playing the angel is also very pretty and I love it when she smiles throughout the video after helping someone and even when the kid sees her. Finally, NYC was an absolute perfect location for this song, and I love the various beautiful shots of the city in black and white. Again, this is when it was actually okay for country videos to take place in the city with little to no backlash, making it seem like the genre was a lot more inclusive then than it is now. Hearing this song and seeing this video not only makes me happy, but it sometimes makes me a little sad too, knowing that contemporary country is no longer like this today. Well, plus seeing the Twin Towers in the background in some of the shots gets me a little misty eyed sometimes (or gives me chills), as well.

    It always surprises me to see that this was one of the only big hits from the Wild Angels album. I also adore “Safe In The Arms Of Love,” which also brings back great memories for me, and it should’ve also went to number one, imho. I don’t recall hearing “Swinging Doors” or “Phones Are Ringing All Over Town” on the radio at all, and I didn’t even know they were singles until after getting the album in 2002, but they are both great songs that deserved better. I do, however, remember hearing “Cry On The Shoulder of The Road” on the radio often in early 1997 and always enjoying it. I even remember the video, which I always enjoyed, as well. I especially love the vintage blue car she’s driving in it. :) “Cry On The Shoulder…” is still one of my personal favorite Martina songs today that should’ve been a much bigger hit.

  3. great song

    my most frequently played MM song in my I-tunes library: All the Things We’ve Never Done (songwriters – Craig Bickhardt & Jeff Pennig)

    • “All The Things We’ve Never Done” is so good and simply gorgeous! Another one of my favorites off that album.

  4. Regularly listening to mainstream country radio kept me intimately familiar with all of these hits from this point of the decade, but I increasingly feel less passionate about so many of them. As I wade through my thoughts, memories, and reactions to this generation of hits I am reminded of No Depression magazine and the alt.country acts it championed; that is where I tightened my focus and sustained a sense of discovery and allowed me to “come hither to go yonder.”

    That being said, I do think this is an amazing song and performance.

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