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Calling Laura Branigan

Getty Images / Hulton Archive / Harry Langdon

What's an American record company to do with a young woman who wants to sing Italian pop songs?

Laura Branigan's biggest hits occupied a slightly awkward musical moment between the end of disco and the rise of New Wave in America, when dance clubs didn't have an obvious style and when Atlantic Records couldn't decide quite what to do with a young woman who wanted to sing Americanized versions of Italian pop songs. In that climate, a less talented singer could have slipped through the cracks, becoming a footnote rather than a chart-topper.

But Branigan's vocal chops were hard to resist, and so was her first big hit, 1982's "Gloria." The song was written and originally performed by Italian pop star Umberto Tozzi, and was one of several Italian songs that Branigan would rework and make her own. She rewrote the lyrics, removing the romantic nature of the song, and upped the tempo a bit to give it a punchier, more American sound. The result was right on target, and the song swept the charts, setting a record for the longest tenure on the Billboard Hot 100 by a solo female act.

"Gloria" was so popular, and its longevity so great, that it landed Branigan a gig on one of the hottest TV shows of the day, CHiPs. Branigan performed "Gloria" over the episode's opening credits, but that wasn't all – she was also a guest star, playing a struggling singer whose all-girl band helps Ponch and Jon catch a criminal.

By 1985, radio listeners were used to synthesizers, and "Self Control" rocketed up the charts. It, too, was originally an Italian hit, performed by Raf. But Branigan made the song her own.

Branigan continued recording and performing, but illness and injury kept intervening. In 1996, she lost her husband to colon cancer after a two-year illness, and in 2001, she suffered a bad fall and two broken legs. Three years later, at just 52, Branigan died in her sleep of a cerebral aneurysm.

Branigan – who would have been 60 today – left us much too soon, but she will be remembered as one of the top voices of the '80s.