The Missing Music: Laura Branigan   1 comment

September 24, 2011

Part 7: Laura Branigan: Uptempo Romance

This is the seventh of ten posts about ten important women in the recording industry, each of whom died long before their time. If you haven’t already read through the introduction to this series, please follow this link to the “introduction“, and then go on to any of the individual posts.

Laura Branigan (1957-2004)

Laura Branigan didn’t catch my ear based simply on the nature of her highly danceable music and their incessant hooks. Instead, she got my attention with the aforementioned danceability (in my case foot-tap-ability) and musical hooks, but also due to an amazingly powerful voice. As beautiful as Branigan was, I was captured by the voice long before I found out what she looked like. One listen to “Gloria” and you begin to feel sorry for the rhythm section, as it has trouble competing in the same space as Branigan’s voice. It wasn’t just about the power. This woman could actually sing, and usually with an ability to accurately hit the highs, the lows, and every note in between, as in her recording of “Solitaire”. And the message in the music? The lyrics from “Gloria”, if one stopped dancing long enough to listen, had a humor and poignancy, as in “If everybody wants you, why isn’t everybody calling?”. Branigan didn’t write the song but she delivered the message.

Some of the ballads she recorded only confirmed earlier suggestions from her dance records that her voice was really that good. Her delivery on Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You”, and for my taste Branigan’s more impressive version of “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” (written by Karen Taylor-Good and Burton Banks Collins) solidify her credentials as more than a dance/pop diva. Obviously hit records like some of those listed above must have had something going for them because they became, duh, hit records. (As with any artist she did have a few “what were you thinking?” recording sessions including her decision to cover the Pete Townshend composition “Squeeze Box”.)

My choice for favorite recording and certainly the most interesting was “Spanish Eddie”. This song about a street hustler was a rich, fast-paced, four-minute operetta, replete with cheering crowds. Having worked in New York City for more than a dozen years, whenever I hear “Spanish Eddie” I can picture the neighborhood, the buildings, the street scene, the clubs—all fictional of course–where the action takes place. And it doesn’t hurt that the lyrics include a reference to Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row”, thereby enhancing the imagery.

Branigan could use her vocal style to help your brain conjure up the images appropriate to each song: The streets and the people in “Spanish Eddie’; the bedside in “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye”.  There is much to like in Branigan’s body of work—pleasure, fun, romance, empathy, excitement. What she might have brought to the table as her musical style evolved is anybody’s guess. When I heard Branigan died from a brain aneurysm in 2004 it made no sense. It still doesn’t.

Prior: Karen Carpenter

Next: Kirsty MacColl

David Steffen

© David Steffen 2011


Posted September 24, 2011 by Jazzdavid in Music History, Obituary, Popular Music

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One response to “The Missing Music: Laura Branigan

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  1. Some years ago now, but still time to correct things. Laura Branigan was born July 2,1952 in Mount Kisco. 1957 was an creation of her new timeline and biography, but they forgotten Laura’s little brother Billy who also was born in 1957, Feb 28 to be exactly. Visit my site for more about Laura and the true story about her. From the early 50’s and forward

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