Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties: Martina McBride, “A Broken Wing”

“A Broken Wing”

Martina McBride

Written by Phil Barnhart, Sam Hogin, and James House

Billboard

#1 (1 week)

January 10, 1998

Radio & Records

#1 (3 weeks)

December 19, 1997 – January 2, 1998

Martina McBride’s second No. 1 single soars.

The Road to No. 1

After the title track became her first No. 1 hit, McBride had three more hit singles from Wild Angels: the top thirty “Phones are Ringin’ All Over Town,” the top forty “Swingin’ Doors,” and the top thirty “Cry On the Shoulder of the Road.”  Wild Angels went platinum and earned a CMA nomination for Album of the Year.  Her next album, Evolution, was first previewed by the top fifteen duet with Clint Black, “Still Holdin’ On.”  Her first solo single from the album returned her to the penthouse.

The No. 1

This one’s a stunner.

You’ve probably already got that rafters-rattling chorus in your head.  It’s so overwhelming that it’s easy to overlook how delicately nuanced her delivery of the verses is.  “A Broken Wing” has a triumphant chorus, for sure, but it’s the harrowing description of emotional abuse in those verses that sets the stage for it.

“He’d break her spirit down,” she sings, “then come lovin’ up on her.  Give a little, then take it back.”  McBride manages to express empathy for the woman being abused and contempt for the man who’s abusing her at the same time. It’s a masterclass in storytelling, and it showcases the full range of her formidable talent.

McBride would get some grief for going to the well of topical songs so many times in her career.  I’m pretty sure I gave her some back in the day.

Looking back now, with the knowledge of where country music would eventually go, I see it differently.  McBride repeatedly chose to give voice to those who are silenced by telling their stories. I can only imagine how many women (and men) drew strength from this record, and helped them see the gaslighting that they were enduring.  It’s a story that needed to be told, by a singer willing to raise the roof with her righteousness.

The Road From No. 1

The next single from Evolution was “Valentine,” a collaboration with Jim Brickman.  It went top ten, and was followed by the top five hit, “Happy Girl.”  The fifth single from the album returned her to No. 1, and we’ll cover it later in 1998.

“A Broken Wing” gets an A. 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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1 Comment

  1. As much credit simply has to be given to McBride as a special vocalist here, the soaring melody on “A Broken Wing” has all the hallmarks of a James House composition. McBride fully arrived as an artist with this single.

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