Though sometimes dismissed by critics as merely a pop music commodity with an imperfect if powerful singing voice, American artist Laura Branigan posted a number of major hits during her primary decade of activity. Ultimately, she recorded a handful of indisputable '80s pop classics that have more than stood the test of time. Here's a chronological look at the best '80s songs from Branigan, which all showcase her stirring, slightly raspy delivery and dramatic presentation.
At just age 25, Branigan arrived as a major force on the worldwide pop music scene on the strength of this song, composed and originally recorded by its Italian composer in a far different form. With English lyrics added, the tune transformed into something far greater in the hands of Branigan, who was one of the first American singers to flaunt a European-inspired dance-pop and post-disco sound during the new wave era. The song's vibrant, forceful melodies and Branigan's impassioned performance helped earn a No. 2 U.S. pop chart peak in late 1982 that led to a Grammy nomination in 1983.
Branigan continued to embrace the Euro synth pop sound on this lead-off single from 1983's Branigan 2. Taking yet another European melody (this time written by a French instead of Italian male composer), Branigan also benefits from her first of several prominent collaborations with American lyricist Diane Warren, who supplied English words for the performer to belt out. Ultimately, this performance employs more elements of rock music, as guitars combine in a balanced fashion with a plaintive synth riff in the verses. The powerhouse chorus and straightforward if metaphorical romantic lyrical concept helped the song to a solid Top 10 showing, primarily in English-speaking markets.
Although Branigan began her career squarely as a singer-songwriter, when she entered the pop music machine she transformed almost entirely into an interpreter of others' material. This may not have completely been her own choice, but Branigan certainly demonstrated a keen ear for commercially viable songwriting. Hers is the first recording of one of rocker-turned-adult-contemporary crooner Michael Bolton's most performed compositions, even if it's not the most successful. Still, this summer 1983 power ballad topped the adult contemporary charts in North America and peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard pop charts. It's a strong showcase for Branigan's raspy, emotional style.
Branigan maintained her momentum beautifully into 1984, coming up here with what arguably stands as her biggest worldwide hit. The song failed to match the nearly chart-topping performance of "Gloria" in the U.S., but it was all over the airwaves nevertheless by peaking at No. 4. For the first time in her career, Branigan entered the MTV age in earnest with the alluring, slightly kinky clip for this tune. But aside from advancing her sultry image, Branigan succeeds most wildly by combining the elegant synth touches of the bulk of the song with the outright rock guitar riff that anchors it. Another fantastic interpretation and improvement of a modern Italian pop song.
Though saddled with some dated '80s elements in its sound, this track again makes a strong case for Branigan as a rock artist as well as a pop diva. Like its predecessor, this track benefited from a memorable music video that communicated Branigan's personality better than her more typical solo, hand-wringing stage presence had been able to do before. Overall, the artist handles the bombast of her material here with elegance and class, and this tune probably should have fared better than its modest Top 20 showing on Billboard's Hot 100.
6. "Ti Amo"
This stunning power ballad - yet another Italian song featuring anglicized lyrics - is even better than its somewhat slight predecessor and yet performed disappointingly in the U.S. A Top 5 hit in Australia and Canada, the song somehow failed to connect with American audiences. This is particularly puzzling in light of the epic songwriting and performance on display here. If she had been able to put together a string of more than just three or four major hits during the early and mid '80s, Branigan would probably be regarded a bit more justly - as a major '80s solo artist.
Even if her chart potency would never again approach the level she once reached, Branigan continued to release some joyously theatrical music on her final two '80s LPs, 1985's Hold Me and 1987's Touch. This lead-off single from the former made the U.S. pop Top 40 by the thinnest of possible margins, but it's a pleasantly eclectic piece of pop/rock that perfectly suited the era. At the same time, its central melody - if it had received the good fortune to receive more American airplay - was plenty strong enough to keep Branigan squarely on the pop music map. Alas, her presence was quickly becoming a mere apparition.
Though released originally by co-composer Jennifer Rush in 1985 to massive pop success in Europe and Australia - and covered far more famously by pop diva Celine Dion in 1993 - this song may have received its finest treatment at the hands of Branigan on her 1987 version. Though a Top 40 single from Touch, this rendition of what is undeniably a theatrically effective romantic power ballad is actually quite stunning. Branigan's vocals communicate far more emotion than Dion's on-the-nose, showy precision, and for this reason alone could be the true definitive version of a rather ultimate torch song.