Laura Branigan became an overnight sensation with the release of 1982’s “Gloria.” Her throbbing adaptation of Umberto Tozzi’s Italian hit not only reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (held from the top spot by Lionel Richie’s “Truly”) but spent 36 weeks on the chart, establishing a new record for a solo female artist. A dance party anthem for a post-disco age, “Gloria” helped propel the singer’s debut album, Branigan, to top 40 status and a Gold sales certification. It set the stage for Branigan 2, another Gold record which spun off the enduring singles “Solitaire” and “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You.” But it was Laura’s third LP, 1984’s Self Control, which became her most successful and earned her a Platinum certification. It’s now been remastered and expanded as a 2-CD set from Cherry Pop in association with Other Half Entertainment, due on July 10.
Self Control, arranged by Robbie Buchanan and Harold Faltermeyer and co-produced by Buchanan and Jack White, remains one of the most potent examples of the late vocalist’s art. Songwriter Bruce Roberts penned its opening track “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.” The lyrics could have been describing Branigan, for whom he tailored it. “The Lucky One” played to her strengths, from a sensual whisper to a theatrical belt.
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 much darker in hue. 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. 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. When released as the lead single off the LP, “Self Control” even eclipsed the success of “Gloria” in many international territories. While Bigazzi didn’t write it, the chorus of Warren Hartman and Marie Cain’s upbeat “Heart” evoked the style and feel of “Gloria.”
“Ti Amo,” the second track on Self Control with Bigazzi’s participation, was also the first of the album’s four songs from Diane Warren. Branigan had long championed Warren, finding room for her songs on both Branigan and Branigan 2. (“Solitaire” was Warren’s first hit single.) Self Control gave the budding composer-lyricist 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 6/8 waltz 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, Branigan 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 Steve Angelica, a.k.a. “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. “Satisfaction,” a German melody from Bernd Dietrich, Gerd Grabowski and Engelbert Simons with English lyrics from Warren and Mark Spiro, is considerably more frenetic.
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 emphasizes the heartbreaking, subtle quaver in Branigan’s vibrato which could add shade and nuance to even her brassiest vocals. The nearly-unadorned piano-and-voice duet also allows for a breather from the more aggressive sound of tracks such as John Parker and Steve Kipner’s plea to “Take Me.” Kipner and Parker were responsible for Chicago’s “Hard Habit to Break” and Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” and the carnal “Take Me” (“I can’t wait for you to get your hands on me,” Branigan sultrily implores) played like a sequel to the latter. “I can’t wait for you to get your hands on me,” Branigan sultrily implores.
“Take Me” is followed on the LP by 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 power ballad which Branigan sings with a scorching intensity. Though the synths played by Faltermeyer and Buchanan are up front on Self Control, the rhythm section shines throughout, too, including 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.
Cherry Pop’s reissue adds a bonus disc of 11 related singles and B-sides, handily besting the 2013 expanded edition from the now-defunct Gold Legion label and its four bonuses (all of which are reprised here). “The Lucky One” is heard in its single version and 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 7-inch and 12-inch mix of “Self Control” (also just about a minute longer than the LP version) are also present, joined by the song’s Classic Summer Mix and 117 BPM Club mix, both from 1992. “Satisfaction” is heard twice: once in a Special Dance Mix and once in its single version. “When,” B-side to the European single release of “With Every Beat of My Heart,” and “Hot Night,” a Self Control outtake released on the Ghostbusters soundtrack, round out the offerings on this disc. “When” is a particularly lovely offering, a self-penned ballad by Branigan produced by Atlantic co-founder Ahmet Ertegun and the equally legendary Arif Mardin (who also arranged).
The 16-page booklet features a new essay by James Foust as well as a U.K. discography for Branigan. (Unfortunately, there’s no discographical annotation for the non-U.K. tracks included on the disc.) Dave Turner has remastered all tracks. Almost 16 years after her passing in 2004, Laura Branigan’s music still radiates with passion and joy. Ti amo…our hearts just won’t let go.
Self Control is due on July 10 from Cherry Pop!
Laura Branigan, Self Control: Expanded Edition (Atlantic LP 80147, 1984 – reissued Cherry Pop QCRPOPD 221, 2020) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada / Cherry Red Shop / Laura Branigan Online Shop)
- 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
- Self Control (12″ Version) (12″ A-side – Atlantic 0-86954, 1984)
- Self Control (Single Edit) (Atlantic 7-89676, 1984)
- Self Control (Classic Summer Mix 1992) (Atlantic Germany 12-inch single 7567-85846-0, 1992)
- Self Control (117 BPM Club Mix 1992) (Atlantic Germany 12-inch single 7567-85846-0, 1992)
- The Lucky One (Single Version) (Atlantic single 7-89636, 1984)
- The Lucky One (Jack White Mix) (12″ A-side – Atlantic 0-86925, 1984)
- The Lucky One (John Robie Mix) (12″ B-side – Atlantic 786928-0 (U.K.), 1984)
- Satisfaction (Single Version) (Atlantic Europe single 789 639-7, 1984)
- Satisfaction (Special Dance Mix) (12″ A-side – Atlantic 0-86914, 1984)
- When (Single Version) (Atlantic Europe single 789 574-7, 1984)
- Hot Night (from Ghostbusters, Arista AL8-8246, 1984)