October 2004
By Steven M. Housman

Tell Laura, I Miss Her

On Sunday, August 29, I awoke to the news of Laura Branigan’s untimely death of a brain aneurysm at the age of 47. I was stunned. Like many people my age, some older, some a little bit younger, all had the same reaction. People I had told were using adjectives as “shocked” and “upset.” As the day wore on, I started hearing repeat playings of her most famous song, “Gloria,” and each DJ seemed to have a different Laura Branigan story. I started to analyze why this singer (most famous for her 80’s contributions) was so talked about, when in fact, the music industry had seem to abandon her altogether. I found myself curious as to why this singer struck such a chord with me, as well as others. While, I can’t speak for the others, I can tell you of my admiration and memories of Laura Branigan.

It was a Saturday night in June 1982. I was at Studio One in West Hollywood, a place I could be found every Saturday night in 1982. I was in the “Backlot” section of the club, when I heard this voice ringing out from the dance floor. At first, I thought it was Donna Summer, which excited me, because I was aware of her new Quincy Jones-produced album that was scheduled for release that summer. I figured it was her first single off the album. I got so excited, I said to my “friend” at the time, “let’s go dance, they’re playing the new Donna Summer record.” Once on the dance floor, I was perplexed. It sounded like Donna. The woman had the same vocal power as Donna. Was this Donna? At this point, it didn’t seem to matter whether it was Donna or not. The song and the voice filled the venue and the dance floor to maximum capacity. It was like a glimpse into the future of a circuit party. When the song had ended, I approached the DJ, like I had so many other times when curious about a song and artist, and he said, “It’s Laura Branigan.” I said, “Laura who?” Remember, this was 1982. There wasn’t a computer to go home to and “Google” her. One had to actually schlep over to the record store and inquire about records and artists.

The next day I heard the song on the radio. By the following week, Laura Branigan was practically on every talk show and variety show performing this song, including Saturday Night Live. She was everywhere. You know someone has a “hit” when your own mother (my mother’s name just happens to be Gloria) and stepfather know the song, and they were in their 50’s! My, how old!

The public’s anticipation for the single was very high. I remember calling Tower Records on the strip and asking when the song would be released. As soon as the record came out, I had two 45’s in my hands and on the turntables. Already an amateur DJ myself, I mixed two 45’s together to make my own “club” single. The song entered the Billboard Hot 100 the week ending July 10, 1982. “Gloria” had started a slow climb until it ultimately reached Number 2, and stayed there for a three week-run only to be kept out of the top spot by The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me?” The single “Gloria” went platinum and was the smash hit of the summer, fall and winter of 1982, lasting an unheard nine months on the Billboard Hot 100! The song also garnered Branigan a Grammy nomination for Best Female Vocal. It was first of four Grammy nominations in her career, and was on Billboard’s year-end chart that placed Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” as the Number 14 song of 1982.

Branigan was educated at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. She began as a back-up singer for Leonard Cohen, and then continued to perform solo at Reno Sweeney’s in New York when Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun caught her act. Branigan had said, “I was doing Barry Manilow songs, Edith Piaf numbers, things like that, plus some of my own material.” She told Billboard, “The other record company people seemed to think that I didn’t fit in anywhere. Ahmet, I think, appreciated the fact that I had a real voice and wasn’t a gimmick. I remember him saying that I had so much emotion in my voice.”

In September 1982, Laura’s self-titled debut album “Branigan” was released and was quickly certified gold. She was the new dance star with a vocal that rivaled Donna Summer’s. The difference was that Summer’s career had already peaked, and Branigan was the new girl with the big voice.

To capture the success of the first album, Atlantic records released “Branigan 2” just six months later. The first single “Solitaire” had the same elements as its predecessor and quickly rose to Number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Four months later, Laura struck gold again with the ballad “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You,” which she co-wrote with Michael Bolton. The single reached Number 12 on the Hot 100, and made it to Number 1 for three weeks on the Billboard AC Chart, further cementing Laura’s star.

In the course of 1983-84, Laura Branigan was racking up appearance after appearance on the talk-show circuit and was being offered numerous television and film roles. She accepted a recurring role on the popular series CHiPS, as well as a couple of parts in the 1984 films Delta Pi and Mugsy’s Girl. Laura was the “It” girl of 1982-83, eclipsing other rising stars such as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. She also appeared on the hot soundtracks to Flashdance and Ghostbusters.

After two gold albums, Laura struck platinum with her third release “Self Control.” The single of the same name debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on April 14, 1984, peaking at Number 4 and enjoyed a six month stay on the charts. The album spawned two more singles, the dance-fueled “The Lucky One” which was from the TV program An Uncommon Love, and the Spanish flavored “Ti Amo.”

By the time 1990 rolled around, Laura Branigan had released six albums, practically one a year, and earned more gold certifications with several more singles, most notably “Spanish Eddie,” “Hold Me,” and “The Power of Love” which was later a smash single for Celine Dion.

During the period of the mid-eighties, Laura never let her success “go to her head.” She was a constant patron of such gay bars in West Hollywood as The Revolver and Studio One. Laura wasn’t gay, but she had many gay friends that were near and dear to her. It wasn’t uncommon to see her hanging out and mixing in with the crowd as just a regular girl, no star attached. She was funny, exuberant, and mostly refreshing. Everybody took to Laura, and she took to them right back.

Another incident occurred during her “star storm.” It was 1984; I was in the Westwood, California restaurant Matteo’s with my mother Gloria and my stepfather. We were enjoying dinner when my stepfather leaned back in the booth to acknowledge Branigan at the next table and say, “Hi Laura, I wanted to thank you for singing such a great song about my wife.” He then introduced “Gloria.” I was 26 and mortified, but Laura was so gracious, she extended her hand and offered a smile with a big “Thank you, I’m glad you like me AND the song!” She was delightful. I later told her about it a month later at the Revolver (when I was introduced to her) and she said, “I remember her, she was beautiful, and it was my pleasure.” And you know what? She meant it.

After 1990, Branigan disappeared for a while. She got married and retreated to the east coast. She “enjoyed” being a Long Island housewife. In 1995, Atlantic Records expressed their desire to release a “Best of Branigan” package. She went back into the studio to record a new song for the set. Ironically, it was a cover of the Donna Summer classic “Dim All The Lights.” The video was a blast! Laura was backed by a string of drag queens. It looked as if she really had fun during the shoot. Even though the single did little on the radio, it was in heavy rotation for her devoted gay fans in the clubs. Remember, thirteen years had gone by since “Gloria,” and in the record business, that’s an eternity.

After the death of her husband, Lawrence Kruteck, in 1996, Branigan stopped performing but returned to the stage in 2001. In 2002 she starred as Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical "Love, Janis," which earned her rave reviews.

Laura recently had been working on material for a new release. Whether it would have been a hit, we’ll never know. One thing is for sure, Laura Branigan was a star as bright as her persona. She absolutely shined. And from this fan, she will be missed. If God is listening, just like the song, tell Laura we love her, tell Laura we miss her.

Laura Branigan -b. July 3, 1957-d. August 26, 2004. May she R.I.P.

Tell me how am I supposed to live without you
Now that I've been lovin' you so long
How am I supposed to live without you
And how am I supposed to carry on
When all that I've been livin' for is gone
- Laura Branigan/Michael Bolton-1982

© 2004 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.