The below editorial features the opinions and views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of #escYOUnited as a whole, Eurovision or the EBU.
“I, I live among the creatures of the night. I haven’t got the will to try and fight. Against a new tomorrow, so I’ll guess I’ll just believe it, that tomorrow never comes.”
Living among the creatures of the night is a fair description of life as a Eurovision fan of the sort who writes and comments for ESC United. You stay up late so you can watch Australia’s first national selection, but you run to the gas station because you forgot your Smirnoff Ice and it’s close to 2 a.m. Pacific Time. You dodge the tweakers outside your local Circle K, make sure you pick up your Cheetos (Flamin’ Hot!) and Slim Jims (we are watching Australia, after all), walk outside to see Al Jourgensen of Ministry pumping gas into his car, and you ask yourself, “is the night exactly as it seems?”
Regardless of your own affiliation with the creatures of the night, Laura Branigan’s “Self Control” was a smash hit that continued her success of recording songs by Raffaele Riefoli and Umberto Tozzi, an Italian pop duo who, along with Giorgio Moroder, brought their pioneering takes on disco and electronic music to the United States to much acclaim and success. And you may recognize Riefoli and Tozzi’s names as they stepped out from behind Branigan to perform on their own as Umberto Tozzi and Raf at Eurovision 1987 in Brussels, Belgium, with “Gente di mare.”
Born on July 3, 1952 in Brewster, New York, Laura Branigan was the fourth of five children in a family with all-Irish grandparent immigrants. The music bug hit her early, and after graduating high school moved to (relatively) nearby New York City, studying music at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Stints as singer for a folk-rock band named Meadow, Branigan also did a couple tours as a backing singer for Leonard Cohen. She caught the eye of promoter and talent manager Sidney Bernstein, famous for kicking off the British Invasion of the American pop charts in the 1960s, and was signed to Atlantic Records in 1979.
A couple of minor charting singles were released, but it was her blockbuster debut album “Branigan” that lifted her into the stratosphere in 1982. Produced by famous German producer and composer Jack White (not the “Seven Nation Army” ghoul, but the former PSV Eindhoven player Horst Nußbaum who changed his name when dealing with American stars and managers), “Branigan” was a bridge between the more modern electronic disco-influenced pop of Europe and the declining American disco sound, and White called in favors from all corners of Europe. The Chris Montan written ballad “All Night With Me” was the album’s lead single, though charted at Number 69 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1982, despite being an effective and seductive album opener. The album also contained an early Diane Warren (see here and here for how ESC United is slowly being transformed into her fan site) penned track with “If You Loved Me,” but the album’s next single was one of the biggest hits of the 1980s.
“Gloria” was a stratospheric success as charting singles from debut albums go. “Gloria” hit Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1982, only kept off the spot by bad luck of release dates (combating Lionel Ritchie in his prime and Toni Basil’s “Mickey”). “Gloria” broke the record for a female artist: the song remained in the Billboard Hot 100 for a staggering 36 weeks. “Gloria” was also nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 1983 Grammy Awards. As we’re talking Grammys, of course Branigan lost to someone else, and if you can recall winner Melissa Manchester’s “You Should Hear How She Talks to You” without using YouTube or Spotify I will call you a liar. (Manchester’s song is actually pretty good upon hearing it, but it lacks the memorability of “Gloria’s” main riff and Branigan’s powerful vocals in the chorus.) Eurovision 1974 alum Olivia Newton-John’s “Heart Attack” was also stiffed by the Academy that year. “Gloria” is also featured in the Greatest Ode to Pittsburgh ever made: Flashdance. It’s in the film, during Jeanie’s (unsuccessful) ice skating competition scene, but not the soundtrack album.
But Branigan was not the first to take “Gloria” for a spin on the singles charts. Composed in 1979 by Umberto Tozzi and Giancarlo Bigazzi, “Gloria” as performed by Umberto Tozzi was a Top 10 hit in his native Italy, France, Austria, and West Germany. Tozzi’s original lyrics were about a girl named Gloria he met only in his dreams at night and an escape from his reality. Born on March 4, 1952 in Turin, Italy, Tozzi hit the heights of Italian music in his 20s after becoming renowned for his keyboard and guitar work, and then composing for a pre-Eurovision 1975 Wess and Dori Ghezzi. Tozzi broke out in 1977 as a solo artist with a song we’ll cover a little further down, and solidified his status as an up-and-coming pop talent with “Gloria” in 1979 which became a Top Ten hit in Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, South Africa, Germany, France, Spain, and Austria.
Branigan’s German manager brought the song to Branigan’s attention, and she knew right away that she would have a runaway hit on her hands. “Originally, it was an Italian song, and it was a much softer love song that was a huge hit in Italy,” Branigan told InNews Weekly in 2003. “Still, my manager in Germany at the time brought it to me, but I thought it was too soft, so we rewrote it and gave it a really good American shove.” Branigan and guitarist / lyricist Trevor Veitch changed the lyrics so the song was about a girl who is running ahead of herself in life. Additionally, White brought in Greg Mathieson, who played keyboards on Tozzi’s “Gloria,” to do the same on Branigan’s version.
After the stunning success of her first album, Branigan began work on her second album and also did some acting, appearing in 1980s American staples such as CHiPs, Knight Rider, and Auto Man. “Branigan 2” stuck to the same formula that served her well for her debut album, this time with Diane Warren rewriting the lyrics for the modest 1981 French hit “Solitaire” by Martine Clémenceau and White giving the original instrumentation the “really good American shove.” It worked, as “Solitaire” became Diane Warren’s first ever Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten by peaking at Number 7. The second single from the album, “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” has an unusual history mostly because it is more associated the 1990 version performed by its songwriter Michael Bolton (co-written with Doug Jones). The song was supposed to be performed by Air Supply at Arista Records, but the label president wanted changes to the lyrics, so Bolton told them to pound sand and brought it to Branigan to record it. Her version peaked at Number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, though Bolton’s version in 1990 eclipsed it by hitting Number 1.
Another European song covered by Branigan was “Deep in the Dark,” which you may recognize as a redone version of Falco’s “Der Kommissar.” Branigan’s version was not released as a single, but After the Fire pulled the same trick, though not putting as much of a spin on it as Branigan did, and topped the charts with their version of “Der Kommissar.” That was After the Fire’s one and only hit. Branigan’s career was only going to get better. Tozzi and Bigazzi’s “Mama” was also a non-single cover on “Branigan 2.”
Branigan’s next album, “Self Control,” essentially had two strategies for its success (it went Platinum in the United States and remains Branigan’s best-selling album): hire Diane Warren and American talent for half the songs, but use the European pop cover playbook and White’s connections such as Harold Faltermeyer and Jurgen Koppers as technical and production personnel to straddle the sensibilities of the American and European that earned success for Branigan on two albums thus far.
Her lead single for “Self Control,” a single of the same name, was from the latter camp. After “Gloria,” “Self Control” remains Branigan’s most recognizable hit, though the video for the single remains one of the most well-regarded music videos of all time, and an early pioneer in the art form that was starting to rise due to the popularity of MTV. Atlantic Records spared no expense, hiring none other than Academy Award winning director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection) to convey Branigan’s struggles against the temptations of the creatures of the night. The other worldliness of the night, from the sinister yet seductive white masked dancers to the streets being laminated, struck a chord and was nominated for almost all major awards. Though the combination of the sexy and sinister worked wonders, it was unusual at the time and MTV demanded re-edits to tone down Friedkin’s original vision. The video is constantly referenced to this day, including this year’s Eurovision (see below).
But the Italian artist covered is not Tozzi, but Raf. Born Raffaele Riefoli on September 29, 1959, in Margherita di Savoia, Italy, Raf moved to London in the late 1970s and was a singer in several small bands in the up-and-coming new wave scene there. As the likes of Tozzi and Moroder smartly evolved their sound, Italy came calling for Raf and Giancarlo Bigazzi (see “Gloria” above) and Steve Piccolo co-wrote “Self Control” for Raf. However, given that Bigazzi had struck a rapport with White and had enjoyed success in America with Branigan’s versions, “Self Control” was simultaneously offered to Branigan as well. As such, both Branigan and Raf’s versions of “Self Control” appeared in April 1984.
Simultaneous releases of the same song by different artists were common in the 1950s and 1960s, but it was unusual in 1984, though neither version suffered as both were smash hits in Europe, though Branigan’s had an edge in all European countries except Italy and Raf’s version did not chart in the United States. Both have ardent defenders, and although both are in English and have the exact same lyrics, there are those who prefer Raf’s new wave synth-driven version to Branigan’s, which of course is dominated by Branigan’s fantastic vocal performance and the replacement of the main keyboard riff with an electric guitar riff. Spain’s representative for Eurovision 2009, Soraya Arnelas, had a club hit with a cover, which tries to build a bridge between Raf and Branigan’s versions. Thematically, her Eurovision entry, “La noche es para mi (the night is for me),” references “Self Control.”
Branigan’s next single from “Self Control” was from the American songwriter side of Branigan’s success strategy, with “The Lucky One” written by Bruce Roberts hitting number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1984. Roberts had huge success with Donna Summers and Barbara Streisand’s famous duet “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” which was a successful merger of Summers’s disco and Streisand’s balladic style. The third single was “Ti Amo,” which was Tozzi’s first big hit in 1977, also co-written with Bigazzi. Diane Warren rewrote the lyrics in English, though relative to Tozzi’s 1977 original, Branigan’s version underperformed on the charts, although “Ti Amo” rightfully remains a fan favorite.
Given their high profile from their own work and the popularity of their songs for Branigan, there was a lot of excitement when Italy returned to Eurovision in 1987 after a year out and announced that Umberto Tozzi and Raf would represent them in Belgium. It was a good year for Tozzi, as he had just won the February 1987 Sanremo Music Festival with Gianni Morandi and Enrico Ruggeri with “Si può dare di più.” But as was the fashion for Italy at the time, Italy’s Radiotelevisione italiana (RAI) internally selected Tozzi and Raf, with their song “Gente di mare” (“People of the Sea,” not “Sea People” as British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) Wogan somewhat inaccurately called it at Eurovision 1987, though props to him for slipping in a “Self Control” quip).
Composed with their favorite lyricist Bigazzi, Tozzi and Raf’s “Gente di mare” is a pleasant, soft ballad about the people of the sea – more the Meryl Streep in “Mamma Mia!” types than sailors, presumably – who leave behind the stress of the world and live a care free existence by the coast. It was popular in Europe at the time, too, charting in the Top Ten in Italy, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, and Switzerland. As a care free song to lift your spirits during the summer, what stood in their way of victory at Eurovision 1987?
The Second Coming of Johnny Logan and “Hold Me Now” ran away with victory, with what is regarded by many Eurovision fans as one of the best Eurovision winners of all time. From his opening slow swagger and opening notes, “Hold Me Now” had the hallmark of winner, even better than his 1980 winner “What’s Another Year.” Germany’s pop reggae feel good summer hit by Wind, “Laß die Sonne in dein Herz,” pipped Tozzi & Raf to second place, though Italy got 12 points from Germany, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, and Yugoslavia. Even though Germany got only two 12 points scores, the vast number of 10’s and 8’s relative to Italy was enough to snag second. Of note, Wind’s back-up singer and dancer was Robert Pilatus of Milli Vanilli fame / infamy.
“Gente di mare” is without a doubt one of Italy’s best entries, a beautiful ballad to play when you want to unwind. Had they not been up against the juggernaut of Johnny Logan, “Gente di mare” could have won any other year. To this day, “Gente di mare” remains many fans’ non-winning favorite. Tozzi and Raf continued recording and though Branigan did not manage to lift their songs to the top of the United States any more, both released work that charted into the Top Ten of European charts well into the 1990s.
Branigan continued her success in the United States, though by 1993 and her final album, the wonderful though commercially overlooked “Over my Heart,” Branigan decided to retire from the music industry to help care for her husband Larry Krutech, who was fighting colon cancer. Krutech ultimately passed away in late 1996, and Branigan remained inactive through 2001. Bad luck struck her as she fell off a ladder and broke both femurs while trying to hang decorations at her Westchester, New York home in 2001. In 2004, Branigan recovered and began recording new material. She toured again, and after her tragic loss, began dating again. Just as everything seemed primed for a comeback for Branigan (Cher and Kylie Minogue had just scored Number 1 singles two decades after their last successes), she passed away in her sleep on August 26, 2004, from a brain aneurysm.
“Gloria” and “Self Control” remain popular and influential to this day, and though she had been out of the spotlight for a while, Branigan’s loss hit her fanbase hard, especially as she was primed for a potentially glorious return. In their video released this week, Norway’s representatives for Eurovision 2019 in Tel Aviv, Israel, KEiiNO visually reference the “creatures of the night” in white face masks in their entry “Spirit in the Sky.”
In Norse mythology, the Northern Lights are the souls of deceased women dancing and waving at people below. We hope Branigan is dancing and waving at us as we continue to appreciate and enjoy her music for generations to come.
What did #YOU think of “Gente di Mare?” Did #YOU agree with Johnny Logan’s victory? Comment in our forum, on social media, or in the comments below.
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