Songwriter Bruce Roberts penned “The Lucky One” for the television film An Uncommon Love, in which a college professor begins a relationship with a student earning tuition money by working as a prostitute. For this drama, Roberts (who had already written songs for Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer and collaborated with Bette Midler and Burt Bacharach) crafted an uncommon story of a girl whose “soul was strong, her heart was tough.” He tailored it specifically for the talents and range of Laura Branigan, a vocalist equally comfortable with a sultry whisper and a theatrical belt. “Like a wild bird of prey, like a thief in the night,” Branigan vividly captured the essence of Roberts’ song, from its hushed introduction to its big, “Gloria”-esque chords. The Grammy-nominated “Gloria,” of course, was the Italian pop song reinvented as a dance anthem for the ages by the singer on her 1982 debut album Branigan. She built on its massive international success with further hits such as the power ballad “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” and appeared on the Flashdance soundtrack with “Imagination.” For her third album, 1984’s Self Control, the onetime backup singer for Leonard Cohen asserted herself with her most confident and adventurous set of songs yet. Robbie Buchanan and Harold Faltermeyer arranged Self Control, with Buchanan sharing production duties with Jack White. Gold Legion has just reissued this slice of pop in a slipcased deluxe edition with four bonus tracks.
The title track was crafted by Steve Piccolo and Raffaele Riefoli with “Gloria” composer Giancarlo Bigazzi. (It was one of two songs on Self Control from Bigazzi.) Unlike the exultant “Gloria,” though, “Self Control” was a much darker animal. Piccolo’s lyrics immediately set the stage for a story given further illumination via William Friedkin’s evocative music video. “Oh the night is my world,” Branigan sings on the crest of an unusually tough guitar lick, continuing, “City light, painted girls/In the day, nothing matters/It’s the nighttime that flatters…” When she sang, “I live among the creatures of the night,” Branigan was believable as a mature woman looking for excitement in the seamy side of town. Harold Faltermeyer’s arrangement was cutting-edge and electronic but alluring, bolstering Branigan’s vocals – again capable of a hush and a boom – with an anthemic rallying cry. There’s even a touch of Barry Gibb in the title refrain, adding up to a highly dramatic album centerpiece that even eclipsed the success of “Gloria” in many international territories.
“Ti Amo,” the second song on Self Control with the participation of Giancarlo Bigazzi, was also the first of the album’s four songs from songwriter Diane Warren. Branigan was actually the first artist in the U.S. to record Warren’s compositions, finding room for her songs on both Branigan and Branigan 2. “Self Control” gave her an even bigger spotlight. “Ti Amo” was an Italian smash from the “Gloria” team of Bigazzi and Umberto Tozzi; Warren’s American lyrics matched the big melody with the heart-on-your-sleeve style for which Warren herself would become famous. As convincing as she was on “Self Control” as one who lived among the creatures of the night, the singer was equally believable pleading for a lover to return and questioning herself with vulnerability (“Wasn’t I good to you?…I can’t believe you could just turn and leave…”) Her relationship was illicit on the wistful “Silent Partners,” co-credited to Warren and “The Doctor.” On the other side of the spectrum was their “Breaking Out,” a propulsive track with shimmering synths and Branigan in the role of a woman “caught in the trap of a workin’-day world” and ready to break free of those conventions. It’s the kind of quintessential eighties-pop melody and arrangement that sounds like so many others, but was another showcase both for a gifted vocalist and a songwriter poised on the cusp of even greater successes. Even more frenetic was “Satisfaction,” a German track from Bernd Dietrich, Gerd Grabowski and Engelbert Simons with English lyrics from Warren and Mark Spiro. This time, her lyrics had the unenviable task of supporting the nonstop beats arranged by Faltermeyer. (Though the synths played by Faltermeyer and Buchanan stand out on Self Control, there’s also exemplary work all –around in the rhythm section of Carlos Vega and John Robinson on drums, Nathan East on bass, and Michael Landau, Dann Huff and Paul Jackson, Jr. on guitars. Bill Champlin, of Sons of Champlin and Chicago, is among the background singers.)
There’s more on Laura Branigan after the jump!
Naturally, catchy dance-pop confections dominated the album, but Self Control also found room for simple, affectingly-sung ballads. A warmly sung version of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” with co-producer Robbie Buchanan on piano emphasized the heartbreaking, subtle quaver in Branigan’s vibrato, which added shade and nuance to even her brassier performances. The almost otherwise-unadorned piano-and-voice duet also allowed for a breather from the more aggressive sound of tracks like the title song, “Satisfaction” and John Parker and Steve Kipner’s plea to “Take Me.” Kipner and Parker were also responsible for Chicago’s “Hard Habit to Break” and Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” and “Take Me” plays like a sequel to the latter. Larry O. Williams’ saxophone adds a new color to the track arranged by Buchanan. There was also continuity between the well-sequenced songs on Self Control; the album follows “Take Me” with the steamy closing salvo of “With Every Beat of My Heart.” To a thunderous accompaniment, the singer is passionate and forceful as she wonders, “Will you turn away? Will you really come? Was it just for fun?” A guitar solo and chorus vocals add to the mounting tension of the track which Branigan sings with a scorching intensity.
Gold Legion’s reissue adds four bonus tracks to the original ten songs. “The Lucky One” is heard in two remixes, one by John Roble and one by Jack White. Both are fairly faithful to the original album version and are extended by roughly one minute each; White’s remix is the more organic one. The 12-inch mix of “Self Control” (also just about a minute longer than the LP version) is also presented and accounted for, as is the fun “Special Dance Mix” of “Satisfaction.” Puzzlingly, there’s no discographical information for these tracks in the otherwise-excellent booklet. Worth the price of admission is Christian John Wikane’s eight-page essay which elucidates the history of the album in addition to serving as a wonderful tribute to Branigan’s enduring legacy. Wikane has drawn on new interviews with Robbie Buchanan, Harold Faltermeyer, Diane Warren, Steve Piccolo, Bruce Roberts and Jack White to create a truly comprehensive account. Justin Smith has done a spiffy job remastering each track.
It’s somewhat of a surprise that Self-Control had gone out-of-print, but it’s been most fittingly reissued by Gold Legion. The label plans to continue its exploration of her catalogue with an expansion of Branigan, but in the meantime, fans of the late vocalist will surely feel like “The Lucky Ones” with this new and upgraded Self Control.
- The Lucky One
- Self Control
- Ti Amo
- Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
- Silent Partners
- Breaking Out
- Take Me
- With Every Beat of My Heart
- The Lucky One (John Robie Mix) (12″ B-side – Atlantic 786928-0 (U.K.), 1984)
- Satisfaction (Special Dance Mix) (12″ A-side – Atlantic 0-86914, 1984)
- The Lucky One (Jack White Mix) (12″ A-side – Atlantic 0-86925, 1984)
- Self Control (12″ Version) (12″ A-side – Atlantic 0-86954, 1984)