“I remember where I was the first time I heard Laura Branigan’s Gloria the way folks remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, and I’m comfortable with whatever it is you think that says about me.”
I realize that to the vast majority of the population, the phrase “Obscure Laura Branigan” is redundant, but to those of us who were paying attention between 1982 and 1985, the singer’s brief but dynamic run on the pop charts yielded several memorable hits. For a few years at least, Branigan was a big star and a major priority for Atlantic Records (especially for its then-President Doug Morris). A curious paradox of the digital age is that at the very moment that popular culture in its entirety becomes so easily accessible, the information tsunami has made almost everything that ever happened seem remote or even obsolete. In response, Stargayzing has initiated Obscure Laura Branigan, a periodic feature created with the loving intention of rescuing the winsome Branigan from the discount rack in the sky.
Laura streaked comet-like across the airwaves with a string of Euro-tinged Top-10 hits that began with the international monster Gloria, continued with Solitaire (Diane Warren’s first big hit) and How Am I Supposed To Live Without You (Michael Bolton’s first big hit), and ended with Self-Control, (which, incidentally, boasted an oh-so-steamy-for-1985 music video directed by The Exorcist’s William Friedken—the first clip to be helmed by an [allegedly] prestige director). Laura also had the the dubious distinction of recording early versions of two songs that became massive hits for others: Cher’s I Found Someone (Bolton again); and Celine Dion’s The Power of Love. Laura was still singing and recording when she died tragically in 2004, age 47, of a cerebral aneurysm. She was, incidentally, also known by all to be a lovely person, which only strengthens my sense of purpose with these shebranigans!
It was July, 1982. I had just graduated from high school and was working at the Chess King in Brunswick Square Mall in East Brunswick, New Jersey—my second real job, after a brief stint with at Hickory Farms of Ohio, (“Welcome to Hickory Farms, would you like to try our “chudder?” It’s cheddar cheese that spreads like butter!”) As I was organizing some silky, jewel-toned Bugle Boy shirts on an overstuffed rounder close to the entrance, I suddenly heard the first keyboard flourish of Gloria: soaring, regal. My head swiveled toward the speaker as the unmistakable keyboard riff began and I stood at attention. “What is this?” I wondered. You must understand that the Euro-dance sound had simply never been heard in the insipid Kenny Rogers-ridden corridors of the Brunswick Square Mall in 1982. Yes there was Joan Jett, Men at Work, and Elvis Costello by then, but Gloria was something altogether different and wonderful, and my young gay ears perked up and pivoted like a sunflower toward the sun. Then the vocal began: “Gloria/You’re always on the run now/Running after somebody/You gotta get him somehow.” “Who is this?” I asked aloud.
Well in a debate that anticipated a larger misunderstanding that would circulate for months, some of my Chess King colleagues swore it was Donna Summer. I could see why they would say that, as Donna was the closest reference point for the uber-vocal European style of the record, but I knew it wasn’t Donna because Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger), the Quincy Jones/Rod Temperton collaboration, had been released only a few weeks earlier and was all over the radio. A Chess King colleague named Jennifer insisted it was Donna but I decided it wasn’t worth the energy to disagree, and I moved over the rounder with the Members Only jackets, completely annoyed. Hell hath no fury like an annoyed queen in Chess King.
Of course the world soon came to know that the girl with the machine gun vibrato and leather pants was Brewster, New York’s own Laura Branigan. Check out this awesome Solid Gold clip!
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