In the early 1970s, Branigan was a member of the band Meadow, which released one album in 1973 called The Friend Ship. The record has never been re-released. Branigan 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 for his European tour.
In 1979 Branigan 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" made a brief appearance on the U.S. Dance chart. 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 saw her voice compared to both Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand, both of whom had enjoyed iconic Disco hits.
Branigan, the nine-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 successful in several European countries), 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 more than two million U.S. 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); "Gloria" marked 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 propelled her English-language version of the French song "Solitaire" to the upper reaches of the U.S. charts. The original "Solitaire" was written and recorded in 1981 by French singer-songwriter Martine Clemenceau. 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 co-writer, Michael Bolton. Branigan's debut recording of "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" reached #12 on the Hot 100 and spent three weeks at #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
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 more than six million copies in the U.S. alone.
Height of her career
The year 1984 was the height of the European synth-pop era, and "Self Control", the title track of Branigan's third album, became her biggest hit to date. The song became her most popular international hit, topping the charts in several countries, most notably West Germany, where it spent seven weeks at #1. The original version of "Self Control", recorded few months earlier in 1984 by one of 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 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 Dance 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, Branigan's live show was recorded twice: once for a syndicated radio concert series, and a second time for a concert video. Branigan was also nominated for an award at the American Music Awards of 1985 for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Video Artist (though Cyndi Lauper won the award). Also in 1985, Branigan performed the main theme song for the highly rated television mini-series Hollywood Wives, based on the novel by Jackie Collins.
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. The hits continued with "Spanish Eddie", which was her sixth US Billboard Top 40 Pop hit in two and a half years. 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". 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. The album's third single, "Cry Wolf", did not capture attention at pop radio. The ballad was recorded two years later by Stevie Nicks, and more recently by writer Jude Johnstone.
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.
Branigan's 1990 self-titled album brought the singer back to 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." 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 subdued cover of Bryan Adams' "The Best Was Yet To Come", was 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.)
On Branigan's seventh and final studio album, 1993's Over My Heart, the singer again produced (with Phil Ramone), wrote and arranged. The album included a cover of Roxette's song "The Sweet Hello, The Sad Goodbye", and "Is There Anybody Here but Me?" (Pessis, Wells), a smooth mid-tempo number with a light Latin beat, decorated with romantic sax and atmospheric synths.
She was married to Larry Kruteck, a lawyer 20 years her senior, in December 1981. Not long after the Over My Heart album's release, Branigan left the music industry in 1994 to spend more time with Kruteck following his diagnosis of colon cancer. He passed away on June 15, 1996.
During these years, Branigan's chart success cooled in the US, though she was still in demand around the world and went on several global tours. Branigan had several official hit collections released in South America, Japan, Germany, South Africa, and the United States. The U.S. collection was released in 1995: the 13-track The Best of Branigan and included two newly recorded covers: "Show Me Heaven" (written by Maria McKee) and the Donna Summer hit "Dim All the Lights", which Branigan released in several remixes.
Receiving rave reviews for her live performances, Branigan's vocal coach was Carlo Menotti, and she worked with 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 background vocalist including The Waters Sisters (Maxine & Julia), James Ingram, and Richard Page & Stephen George (Mr. Mister). As her stature grew, she attracted Grammy-winning producers including Phil Ramone, Richard Perry and David Kershenbaum. She performed duets with Australian megastar John Farnham as well as Latin pop artist Luis Miguel. She also appeared frequently on various television shows, including The Merv Griffin Show, Dick Clark's American Bandstand, Solid Gold, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
In 2001 Branigan's return to the stage was postponed when she broke both of her femurs in a fall. In 2002, she performed twice as the "singing" Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical Love, Janis, before dropping out of the show. "I left Janis because the producers didn't file with Equity properly", she told the Sunday News in Lancaster, Pa. "I was sort of relieved. My voice isn't anything like Janis Joplin's, and there were 19 of her songs in the show."
Branigan died at her home on Long Island, New York, on August 26, 2004. Her death was attributed to a previously undiagnosed brain aneurysm. It was reported in the media that she had been experiencing headaches for a few weeks before her death but did not seek medical attention. Her ashes were distributed over Long Island Sound.
In 2005, her management company organized a memorial for her friends and fans held on the anniversary of her death near the Long Island home in which she was caring for her mother at the time of her death. Following its initial success, the "Spirit of Love Memorial Gathering" remains an annual event in celebration of her life and the legacy of her passionate vocal performances and the heartfelt connection she made with her fans, whom she consistently referred to as "my other half."
Between 2006 and 2008 new greatest-hits compilations were released: The Platinum Collection is an 18 song compilation including all the major hits as well as tracks such as "Silent Partners", "Satisfaction", "All Night With Me" and "If You Loved Me", that were four relatively new additions to Branigan hits compilations; in 2007, the 1995 "The Best Of Branigan" was re-released as part of Rhino's 2007 "Greatest Hits" series of CDs; in 2008, Rhino/WEA authorized the re-release of three out-of-print Branigan albums, Touch, Laura Branigan and Over My Heart.
In the years before her death, there was some dispute over her official website. In 1998, an individual bought the domain name "laurabranigan.com" placing a website on that domain that claimed to be Ms. Branigan's official website. After several years, it became common knowledge among Branigan fans that the website at laurabranigan.com had no actual authorized connection to the singer herself. In November 2002, a new website was launched at LauraBraniganOnline.com, with which Branigan openly cooperated, culminating in January 2004 with her sanction of LauraBraniganOnline.com as her sole official website. This was documented in open letters on the latter site in which the singer clearly states that she had no connection with either laurabranigan.com or its owner.
In 2008, Sunset Records claimed to be releasing a two-disc CD containing Laura Branigan remixes and rarities. After one year of postponed release dates, Branigan's official website announced that no such release would occur and that neither Sunset Records nor its affiliates owned or had permission to use the tracks claimed to be on the CD.