HomePosts Tagged "Laura Branigan"

Laura Branigan Tag

Soul Serenade - Shirley EllisNovember, 1963 was one of the darkest times in American history. It was on the 22nd day of that month that John F. Kennedy was shot down in Dallas. The nation went into a state of mourning which some would argue has never really ended. It was on that November day that this country truly lost its innocence.

Popular music has always been a source of solace when times are hard, and late 1963 is a perfect example of that. It wasn’t long after President Kennedy died that songs by the Beatles were being heard on radios across the country, and by the following February, the band was here in the flesh, making their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. The young President was not forgotten, but at least there appeared to be a beacon of hope in this cold world.

What’s up, you guys? Do you like my outfit? That big shirt and those high top sneakers are pretty bitchin’ right? And how about that haircut? I stepped in a pile of goddamned SASSY and you better recognize how fierce I am. WHY? Because it’s my fucking birthday.

I turn 33 today (I look so young, right?) and, so far, the day has been pretty good. I made a visit to the DMV to get my driver’s license renewed, where I was told for the umpteenth time that I look like I’m in high school (the older I get the more flattering and hysterical that compliment gets) and later this evening, my wonderful friends have planned some birthday shenangians for me — don’t ask me what because, besides dinner, I don’t know what’s going to transpire.

For this week’s mix — which, you’ll notice, is a few songs longer and is posting early because it’s my party and I want to dance early and a lot — I wanted to post songs that I love, that I have at one time or another been obsessed with and that hold a lot of memories for me growing up in the 1980s.

For example, the first 45s I ever bought with my own money were “Gloria” by Laura Branigan and “Maneater” by Hall & Oates. And the first LP I bought with my own money was the Bangles’ Different Light, the album on which “Walk Like an Egyptian” appears. I also eventually owned the 45 of  “Strut.”

The extended version of “Mountains” is so crazy and amazing — and contains the flute, which we all now know means that it isn’t fucking around. I also love that Eddy Grant’s “Romancing the Stone” gets a nine-minute mix, even though it only appears in the movie of the same name for a split second.

It’s amazing, the things a guy can learn even at my advanced age. The real treat for me, in slapping together this (too)-long-running series – which already has examined hits from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that ran out of gas just one block short of the Texaco – has been the opportunity to put into context some of the music-geek trivia that’s been crowding out more important information in my head for the last 30 years.

I’m embarrassed to say I was able to sit down at my laptop and reel off the names of about three dozen #2 hits from the grand and glorious ’80s without even cracking open my ever-present Joel Whitburn or Fred Bronson singles bibles. (The fact that I could do that, but can’t tie a Windsor knot, may explain why my career on Wall Street never took off. It also made narrowing down to 10 songs for this list a painful experience.) But it’s one thing to keep song titles and chart placements in your memory; it’s another to marvel at the tricks of fate, poor taste, or record-biz manipulation that launch one single over another on the way to Top 40 glory. Take this first juxtaposition, for example:

11. “Hazy Shade of Winter,” the Bangles. Here’s the hit that slaps some sense into those who mistake the Bangles for a novelty act, or stubbornly cling to the notion that Susanna, Vicki, Debbi and Michael didn’t really rock. They took a 20-year-old, twee-as-all-get-out Simon & Garfunkel tune and turned it into a fuzz-guitar anthem of ’80s excess, the perfect theme for what should have been a much better movie based on Bret Easton Ellis’ Hollywood-druggies novel Less than Zero. (Funny how the movie biz managed to mangle both Ellis’ book and Jay McInerney’s New York equivalent, Bright Lights, Big City. Of course, casting pretty boys Andrew McCarthy and Michael J. Fox as jaded protagonists didn’t help.) Anyway, how were the Bangles rewarded for their maturity and brilliance in transforming “Hazy Shade of Winter”? They were left in the dust by the god-awful ballad “Could’ve Been,” which might have been less terrible had it not been butchered by that caterwauling, flavor-of-the-month, shopping-mall princess Tiffany. A slightly interesting fact about “Could’ve Been”: Its composer, Lois Blaisch, was “discovered” while singing for her supper at a recently-shuttered restaurant a few miles from my house, called the Hungry Hunter. I knew there had to be a reason why I never considered going into that place … besides, of course, the goofiness of its name, particularly considering that it sat in the middle of a SoCal strip mall…

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In Bull Durham, Kevin Costner’s character Crash Davis chides Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) for his laziness and lack of focus on the game of baseball. “You got a gift,” he says. “When you were a baby, the gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You got a Hall-of-Fame arm, but you’re pissing it away.”

Likewise, when Michael Bolotin (later, Bolton) was born, the gods reached down and gave him lungs of reech Coreenthian leather—a multi-octave range, filtered through a gruff, almost sandpaper-like delivery. But saying Bolton can sing is like saying George Bush can speak English: big deal, what’s he done with it? The issue is context. His early solo work in the 70s was crap—miscast as a Joe Cocker wannabe, he tried his hand crooning stuff like “These Eyes” and “Time is on My Side,” with no particular distinction. His two-album stint as the lead singer of Blackjack was similarly underwhelming—muddy production and faceless instrumentation (by Bruce Kulick, Sandy Gennaro, and Jimmy Haslip, all of whom would go on to more distinctive work elsewhere) left the listener feeling damaged in some significant way.

No, it was shortly after Blackjack, 1983 and ’84 to be exact, when Bolton found a niche that worked—that of the arena rock god. On both his self-titled ’83 album and Everybody’s Crazy, which followed the next year, he was backed by flashy, hairsprayed sidemen, who provided the echoed drums and WEE-diddly-diddly gee-tar that helped put Bolton on the road, opening for Ozzy, Loverboy, and their corporate rawk brethren. In arena rock, he found a musical backdrop where his tendency toward histrionics fit, where it was even encouraged. Had he stayed with that style, who knows what might have become of him? He could be co-headlining with Poison this summer, or releasing a Journey-like comeback record through Wal-Mart.

CALLING GLORIA

Laura Branigan is a classic example of a great and underrated talent whose life and career were cut short far too soon. Laura possessed an elastic alto voice with a stunning four-octave vocal range. She began her career with stints as a backing vocalist for Leonard Cohen and as a member of the group Meadow. She was signed to Atlantic Records by the legendary Ahmet Ertegun, and after much delay, her debut solo album, Branigan, was released in 1982. All the voices in your head made “Gloria,” the album’s second single, a surprise worldwide smash. The song reached #2 in the U.S., eventually spent a record-setting 36 weeks on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart, and racked up sales of over two million copies. In 1983 “Gloria” earned Laura her first of four Gammy nominations for Best Pop Vocal Performance—Female. Thanks in large part to its most prominent hit single, the Branigan album went gold. Not bad for the new gal on the block.

The spring of ’83 saw the release of Laura’s second album, the cleverly titled Branigan 2. Building on the success of the first album, Branigan 2 managed to spin off two more major hits. The Diane Warren-penned “Solitaire” sailed into the top ten on the pop charts based on the strength of Laura’s overly dramatic vocals and the track’s Euro-synth-pop sound. A little-known singer-songwriter named Michael Bolton gave her the tune “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” which settled in at #1 on the adult-contemporary chart and stayed there for three weeks. Laura’s original version is arguably better than Bolton’s eventual remake of the song he cowrote. After just two albums, it was now clear that Laura was no mere one-hit-wonder.

1984 brought the release of Self Control, her most successful album yet. The title track featured hushed, seductive vocals and a driving Euro beat. Thanks in part to a moody and rather controversial video, “Self Control” went to the top of the charts in numerous countries, became a dance-floor staple, and ended up being Laura’s biggest worldwide hit. Other hits from Self Control included the midtempo “The Lucky One” and the heartfelt ballad “Ti Amo.” One of the highlights — and biggest surprises — of the album is Laura’s aching, impassioned version of the Carole King classic “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” It’s easily one of her best performances and belongs in the collection of any Branigan or King fan.

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Welcome to double digits! This marks the tenth week of posting every song from the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s that peaked at #41 and beyond. I have to say that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying writing this series, especially going back and listening to the songs I hadn’t heard since I passed by them while listening to the entire collection (I did that in alphabetical order too). Big thanks for last week’s comments too. Close to 60 of them, mostly about your first music purchases, which, as I mentioned, I love to hear.

Just a short little anecdote before we get to the songs this week — I can only remember one time in my life where I’ve actually said to someone that I wished I was another person. You’d think I would’ve said Michael Jordan, Billy Joel, or some dude who got all the chicks, but back in 1989 I actually remember telling my mother that I wished I was Tone Loc. That’s right — a pale-ass Irish redhead wished he was a gravely-voiced black rapper, all because Tone Loc seemed to have an unlimited supply of Funky Cold Medina. As far as I remember, that really was the only reason, even though I’d never actually heard of medina before that (or after, come to think of it), and other than bringing all the poodles to the house, I had no idea what it really did or even was. The weird things you wish for as a kid …

Here are 20 more songs this week from artists whose names start with the letter B.