Monday, August 18, 2008 3:27:48 AM
Laura Branigan (July 3, 1957 – August 26, 2004) was an American singer and actress of Irish ancestry. She was best known for her 1982 platinum-selling single "Gloria," a hit throughout the world which spent a record-setting 36 weeks on Billboard's Hot 100. Branigan's vocal performance of the song earned her a Grammy Award nomination in early 1983.
Following the success of "Gloria," Branigan introduced the ballad "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You", which spent three weeks at #1 on the US Adult Contemporary chart. The same year, she had another Top 10 Pop hit with "Solitaire". Branigan's "Self Control" album (1984) was certified Platinum and was her all-time biggest seller with the title track becoming an international smash
Rise to celebrity
In the early 1970s, she was a member of a band called Meadow, who released one album in 1973 album entitled The Friend Ship. The record was not a hit and has never been re-released. Branigan, for whatever reason, preferred not to discuss her involvement with Meadow publicly. During the years after Meadow broke up, she worked a wide variety of jobs, including a stint as one of Leonard Cohen's backup singers. She toured with Cohen throughout Europe. (It is not known if she toured any other continents with Cohen.)
In 1979 she was signed by Ahmet Ertegün to Atlantic Records. The strength of her dramatic alto voice, with its four-octave range, ironically impeded her career for a couple of years while the label went through the process of categorizing her. She was finally categorized as a pop singer and a single called "Looking Out For Number One" hit the U.S. Dance charts. Her first solo album Branigan was released in 1982: the first single from this album was "All Night With Me", which hit #69 on the Billboard charts in early 1982. Her first reviews were most enthusiastic, with her voice being compared to both Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand, both of whom had enjoyed iconic Disco hits over the previous few years.
Branigan, the 9-song debut album, alternated four hyper-energetic up-tempo songs with five ballads, including one of the few songs written solely by Branigan, "I Wish We Could Be Alone". "Gloria", originally an Italian love song recorded by Umberto Tozzi in 1979 (and not widely successful outside Tozzi's native Italy), was released as the album's second single. Branigan's version was reworked with Tozzi's own arranger, Greg Mathieson, who sharpened the ballad's hooks and updated its production with fellow producer Jack White to give it what Branigan called "an American kick" to match aggressive new English lyrics. American radio was not initially receptive to "Gloria"; the song's combination of American and European sound predated the imminent second "British Invasion" of popular music by several months. Embraced by dance clubs, especially gay clubs, it eventually won over American radio stations and propelled the song to become one of the biggest hits of the 1980s. The album went gold, and the single was eventually certified platinum for sales of over 2 million US copies. Her vocal performance of "Gloria" was nominated for a Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female Grammy award (alongside Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton-John, Juice Newton, and that year's winner Melissa Manchester), her first of four nominations.
In the spring of 1983, Branigan released her second album, Branigan 2. By this time, the dramatic European synth-pop sound was on the rise, and Branigan's surging, sustained vocals drove her English version of the French song "Solitaire" to the upper reaches of the charts. In addition to cementing a place in pop history and ensuring she was not a one-hit wonder, her second album's two big hits began the careers for two then-unknowns, who themselves became industry legends. The English translation of "Solitaire" was the first major hit for lyric writer Diane Warren, while the album's second hit single, the ballad "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You", was the first major hit for its cowriter, Michael Bolton. Branigan's debut recording of "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" made the Top Ten on the ARC Weekly Top 40 Pop charts and spent three weeks at Number One on the Billboard Adult Contemporary airplay charts.
The 1983 film Flashdance contained two Laura Branigan songs, "Gloria" and a new song, "Imagination". The latter song was included on the Grammy Award winning Flashdance soundtrack that hit #1 and sold over six million copies in the U.S. alone.
Height of her career
The year 1984 was the height of the European synth-pop era, but the striking production and sensuous, half-whispered vocals of "Self Control", the title track of Branigan's third album, took the world by storm. The song became her biggest international hit, topping the charts in several countries and was an anthem on radio and dancefloors across the world, most notably West Germany, where it spent 7 weeks at number one. Another version of "Self Control", recorded few months earlier in 1984 by the song's co-writer Raffaele Riefoli (under the name Raf), held the West German number two spot during this time period; outside of Raf's native Italy, Branigan's version enjoyed more success.
Other pop, dancefloor and adult contemporary hits from Branigan's Self Control album include the melodic electro-pop of "The Lucky One" (which won her a Tokyo Music Festival prize), the continental ballad "Ti Amo" (another Umberto Tozzi's Italian hit, and a #2 smash in Australia) and the club hit "Satisfaction." The album also featured an uncharacteristically understated version of Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"; as a counterpoint to all the disco production, this was a stripped-back piano version. In concerts and television appearances throughout her career, Branigan accompanied herself on the piano for the song. That year, her live show was recorded twice: once for a syndicated radio concert series, and a second time for a concert video. Laura was also nominated for an award at the American Music Awards of 1985 for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Video Artist (Cyndi Lauper won the award).
By the time of Branigan's fourth album, 1985's Hold Me, "Self Control" had swept the world, and territories that had not previously embraced her began to release her earlier material, from South America to the Middle East to the Pacific Islands. Lead single "Spanish Eddie" was her sixth U.S. top 40 hit in two and a half years, but failed to enter the U.S. top 20. The story was different around the world, however, as her newest hit followed its predecessors up the charts in Europe, South Africa, and South America. Subsequent release "Hold Me" was a U.S. top 40 dance hit and her introduction of the rock ballad "I Found Someone" (cowritten by Michael Bolton) scored even higher on the Adult Contemporary chart, but neither song was supported by a music video and stalled in the lower reaches of the pop charts.
Touch, which was released in 1987, marked a change in Branigan's career. Under new management and using different producers, Branigan took a more active role in her work and in the studio. Touch saw her return to dancefloors with the Stock/Aitken/Waterman-produced "Shattered Glass," one of her best Hi-NRG performances. The album also included a return to the Billboard top 40 with her cover of Jennifer Rush's "The Power Of Love," which closed out the year as one of the top 20 bestselling singles of the Christmas season for Branigan. Branigan's high-impact version of the now widely-covered ballad featured an extraordinary key change in the final chorus (lifting the pitch and power of Branigan's voice even though she was already, seemingly, at the top of both). Her performance is emotionally charged, but might be viewed by some as altering the focus of the song (lyrically it is a positive love song, but Branigan's vocal hints at heartache). The album's third single, "Cry Wolf," was the album's most organic production (featuring an orchestra, real drums, and emotive vocals) and while it did not capture attention at pop radio, it was a top 30 Adult Contemporary hit. The ballad was recorded two years later by Stevie Nicks, and more recently by writer Jude Johnstone. Another achievement on this album was her rendition of Shirley Ellis's "The Name Game" which added layers of atmospheric synthesizers and Branigan's vocal stylizing. This version of the song culminates with several key changes and the sound of a chorus of children singing with Branigan.
During the height of her career, Branigan also made acting appearances, first in 1981 in An American Girl in Berlin for German television, and then after the success of "Gloria," guest appearances on American television series such as CHiPs, Automan and Knight Rider. She would later do independent films such as Mugsy's Girls (aka Delta Pi, 1985) with the venerable Ruth Gordon, and the Australian film Backstage. She sang on major national television and radio campaigns for products including Dr Pepper, Coca-Cola and Chrysler, which sponsored her 1985-1986 "Hold Me" tour.
An artist maturing
Branigan's 1990 self-titled album brought the singer back to the tops of the Hi-NRG charts and gay clubs with "Moonlight On Water" and scored another Top 30 Adult Contemporary hit with "Never in a Million Years." Continuing her more active role in studio production, Branigan added production to her list of credits with her cover of Vicki Sue Robinson's disco-era "Turn the Beat Around" and the atmospheric "Let Me In". It also included "Unison," which was the title track for Celine Dion's English debut CD in the same year. The album's closing track, a wistful and subdued cover of Bryan Adams' "The Best Was Yet To Come", was both produced and arranged by Branigan herself. The singer's 1990-1991 concert tour was filmed for a syndicated U.S. television show, SRO in Concert, which was also released on videocassette and laserdisc (though not on DVD.)
Branigan's seventh album, 1993's Over My Heart, was her most personal and eclectic album, seeing the singer again try her hand at producing, alongside Phil Ramone, as well as writing and arranging. The album, which included a cover of Roxette's song "The Sweet Hello, The Sad Goodbye", featured mature personal themes of transcendence over the loss of a loved one, the nature of commitment and coming to terms with life after a significant relationship was a sadly ironic presaging of the turn of events her own life would take. Not long after the album's release, Branigan left the music industry in 1994 to spend more time with her husband, Larry Kruteck, following his diagnosis with colon cancer.
During these years, Branigan's chart success cooled stateside, though she was still in demand around the world and went on several global tours. She remained especially popular in Australia, South Africa and Chile, where she began the first of several invitational performances in the late-evening slot of the Viña Del Mar music festival, televised live before an audience of thousands from an open-air arena in the coastal resort city. Branigan had several official hits collections released in South America, Japan, Germany and South Africa (where, in that country alone, she had warranted three separate volumes of hits collections by 1999); her native United States was the last territory to get its own greatest hits collection. This collection was released in 1995, the 13-track The Best of Branigan. This collection included two new covers, the shimmering "Show Me Heaven" written by Maria McKee and a cover of the Donna Summer hit "Dim All the Lights," which was also released in several remixes.
Receiving rave reviews for her live performances, Branigan's voice (her vocal coach, Carlo Menotti, also coached such legendary vocalists as Judy Garland, Tony Bennett, and Diana Ross) was surrounded on her albums by sharp, tight performances from some of the best studio musicians in the business. The likes of guitarists Steve Lukather (Toto), Dann Huff (Giant) and Michael Landau; keyboardists Greg Mathieson, Harold Faltermeyer, Michael Boddicker and Robbie Buchanan; bassists Nathan East and Dennis Belfield (Rufus); drummer Carlos Vega; percussionists Paulinho Da Costa and Lenny Castro; and guest vocalists including Joe "Bean" Esposito and backround vocalist including The Waters Sisters (Maxine & Julia), James Ingram, and Richard Page & Stephen George (Mr. Mister) were all repeat guests. Early producers included Jack White, Mathieson, Buchanan and Faltermeyer. As her stature grew, she attracted Grammy-winning producers including Phil Ramone, Richard Perry and David Kershenbaum. Successful foreign artists sought to work with her, and she performed duets with Australian megastar John Farnham on the heels of his releasing the most successful Australian album to date, as well as Latin pop phenomenon Luis Miguel. She was also a favorite guest performer on several of the most popular talk and music shows of the day, with ultimately as much as a dozen appearances each on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show, Dick Clark's American Bandstand and Solid Gold.
Three of Branigan's hit singles later became even bigger hits for other famous singers: "I Found Someone" for Cher in 1987; "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?" for Michael Bolton in 1989 (Bolton, as noted above, was the original writer of the song); and "The Power of Love", a power ballad co-written and originally recorded by Jennifer Rush in 1985, which Celine Dion took to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1994.
In 2001, about to release remixes of her updated take on the 1980 ABBA hit, "The Winner Takes It All", as well as working on material for a new album, Branigan's bid to return to the stage was postponed when she broke both of her femurs in a fall from a ladder outside her Westchester County home. In 2002, she appeared as the "singing" Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical Love, Janis. On the strong advice of her physician, she left the production shortly after its opening, due to her physician's serious concern that the nineteen songs per show, sung in the style of Janis Joplin, could pose a permanent risk to her vocal cords. Coincidentally, it was also for this reason the production had to regularly hire a number of singer-actresses to play the "singing Janis".
Also in 2002, her second official stateside hits collection, The Essentials: Laura Branigan was for some a boon, with the inclusion of the long out-of-print "I Found Someone." The singer continued compiling material for a new album, and began to see the value in new media and the internet. In 2004, after she was shockingly made aware of an ongoing debate in fan circles concerning Branigan's surmised affiliation with the unauthorized website laurabranigan.com, she publicly named her sole, one and only official website as laurabraniganonline.com, and wrote letters to the public and her fans on her sole, one and only official website to emphatically clarify her unequivocal position that she had never at any time had any affiliation or relationship of any sort whatsoever with laurabranigan.com and/or its owner, thus definitively ending the so-called "website debate". With her public statements clearing the air and demystifying the issues, she embarked on a new direction, taking production control of her new material outside of traditional recording companies, and forged a partnership that aligned management, production, and public relations/Internet presence under one roof, named Other Half Entertainment, the name significant to the singer's long-standing comments that her fans were her "other half".