ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON AUG. 19, 1983
By Steve Newton
Laura Branigan’s appearance at the recent Superfest ’83 concert in Empire Stadium was one of the brightest spots of that ill-fated event. I spoke to the New York singer–whose hit single “Gloria’ became a #1 chartbuster in the U.S. last year–just before her visit to Vancouver.
Over the phone from Chicago, Illinois she told me of her interest in acting, her discovery by record mogul Ahmet Ertegun, and her new album Branigan 2.
I understand that after high school you moved to Manhattan and took up drama. Did you plan on becoming an actress then?
Well I really didn’t know I wanted to be a performer till high school. I was very very shy growing up. And after I got the lead in a musical I found out that was my way of expressing myself. I really felt that for all this emotion I had kept in, I had found my release.
Since my first time onstage was in a musical, I decided that drama was it and I went to school for two years. After that my voice sort of led me to where I am.
Aren’t you starring in a feature film this year?
It’s being written for me right now; it’s really in the embryonic stage at this point.
What sort of a film is it?
It will be the story of a singer. The way it’s being written is they are finding out experiences that I have had, just emotionally. We want it to be a really dramatic film, probably romantic.
How did you happen to get signed by the chairman of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun?
I was singing in my first club in downtown New York and up until then I had been auditioning for record people but they were always hesitant because they said, “You don’t sound like anyone else. You don’t fit into any category.”
And then Ahmet heard about me. Ahmet is one of the legends in the business–he found Aretha Franklin and the Stones and Ray Charles and Bette Midler. He really turned the record business around by bringing blacks to the forefront.
Anyway, I sang one song for him and he said, “Sit down, the audition’s over.” And I thought, “Okay, there goes another one.” But he said, “I’d love you to be with Atlantic Records and I’ll work with you the whole way.” And he has.
Where did your hit song “Gloria” come from?
“Gloria ” is an Italian song. It was a big hit in Italy and non-English-speaking countries about five years ago.
There are a lot of songs on Branigan 2 that were originally European songs. For example, “Solitaire” was done in French.
Yes. I heard that about a year ago when I was in Germany. The girl who wrote it was singing it on a TV show, and I really latched onto it immediately. It really was, for me, the perfect follow-up to”Gloria” because it allowed me to show off as an artist a bit more in terms of the vocal range. And “Gloria” was more a song where I was singing about her emotions, whereas “Solitaire” is really first-hand.
And “Mama” is an Italian song?
“Mama” is another Umberto Tozzi song, the fellow who wrote “Gloria”.
That’s interesting. I didn’t realize there were many Americans who were finding songs from Europe.
Well I really think that I was one of the first American artists to really start doing that. I mean there’s a wealth of music all over the world, and there are so many great songs. I’m out there looking for them.
Do you feel “Solitaire” is as strong a single as “Gloria”?
I feel it is as strong in a different way. I think “Gloria” is “Gloria”, and it’s a one-in-a-million song. But “Solitaire” was, for that point in my career, exactly what I wanted. It was emotionally stronger, I think, but “Gloria was one of those songs that I just don’t think you can compare to anything.
Why did you record the Who’s “Squeeze Box”?
Doug Morrison, who’s the president of Atlantic Records, brought me “Squeeze Box” and said, “I really think you should record this.” I just laughed and said, “Very funny, Doug. You’re out of your mind.” Because the way the Who recorded it just didn’t sound like me.
The final decision comes down to me about the songs but I have to be open-minded enough to listen to people. So he pushed me and said, “Just try it and see if it doesn’t come out.” So I did it, and I had so much fun in the studio with it. And it’s a great, great audience song.
Who is your favourite singer?
Well, my real idol was Edith Piaf, because her heart jumped right out of her throat when she sang. I love Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Billy Joel.
What do you do to keep in shape or to keep yourself going under pressure?
Well, I work out every day. When we’re on the road my tour manager, as soon as we land in a city, finds the nearest gym. We go work out together, and I play squash.
You can’t burn the candle at both ends, especially if you have a show like mine to do. I have a big range and a lot of notes to cover, so I just can’t party real hard when I’m touring.
Did you appear in Playboy magazine?
Yyyess. It was the fashion part of the magazine; it wasn’t Playboy as such [laughs]. I was fully clothed.
How important do you think your good looks have been to your success in music?
I think it’s an important factor. I think first of all you have to have the voice and the song and something a little bit more than that. I think the looks are only an asset. Because they are a part of a person, and you have to use everything you have.
Do you ever have trouble with male groupies at your concerts?
I haven’t had any trouble, no. You know, It’s a funny thing with the fan letters I’ve been getting. It’s very emotional, and I’m happy about that. Because the real essence of my music is the emotion. I really want to touch people’s hearts.