By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
LAURA BRANIGAN – TOUCH (1987)
Before I became a full on rock and metal fan, my musical appetites were pretty much sated by the weekly American Top 40 countdown on Sunday mornings on 92 Pro-FM out of Rhode Island. Casey Kasem would count down the hits each week and I’d make a list of each week’s songs in a notebook.
Once I delved into the rock world, I stopped doing that. But in the category of guilty pleasure music, I kept a love of certain pop groups or solo performers. Survivor would probably be the main one as they have always remained one of my favorite groups. But Laura Branigan would definitely be another artist that fit into the guilty pleasure grouping. Of course now, I don’t consider it anything more than music that I like but in the mid ’80s, there wasn’t much in the way of rock and pop crossover. At least in terms of fandom.
The weird thing is that despite having a number of hits, I can’t help feel that Branigan is somehow very overlooked these days. I know there is different ways her memory is kept alive but you never really her name mentioned much and that’s a shame.
She had a really good and powerful voice, sang some great hits and invariably had some pretty good albums. Her biggest hit was the song “Gloria”, but there was also tracks like “Self Control”, “Solitaire”, “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” and then probably my two favorites “The Lucky One” and “Spanish Eddie”. Heck, I still have a cassette copy of her Hold Me album that I bought when it came out.
My enduring fandom for her thus leads me to her 1987 album Touch, which saw her taking more of an active role in the recording of the album. Another notable aspect I found while listening to the album is that there’s more of an adult contemporary sound to the material as opposed to straight up pop songs. I got to listen to this as a completely new album as I’d never heard it before and the cassette was still in its original wrapping.
As you might imagine, the 80’s tendency to overproduce the music is in full effect on the album. It doesn’t hamper every song but the studio magic was less than magical at times.
The first side of the Touch album was an iffy affair. The opening song “Over Love” had a really good rhythm to it, midtempo in pace and a solid effort. But that production problem reared its unwelcome head on the next track “Shadow Of Love”. The heavy handedness ended up making both the vocals and the guitar solo sounding off and almost as if it was warped.
Meanwhile, “Meaning Of The Word” was slow and grating on the ears. The cover of “Power Of Love”, which was originally recorded (and co-written by) Jennifer Rush, did nothing for me either. The song did become a top 40 hit for Branigan.
I did really love the song “Angels Calling” though. The song is an uptempo track that holds up well all these years later.
Side two was a far stronger sampling of Branigan’s material. There are six songs and five of them are total keepers. The only song that made me want to bang my head against a wall to make the horror stop was “Name Game”. The opening was atrocious enough but then the chorus just made it worse. Making Branigan (who received no writing credits on Touch) sound like a demented cheerleader from hell in the chorus was a crime against her and her fans too. Oddly enough, the main lyrical verses of the song aren’t all that bad.
The lead track on side two is a song called “Shattered Glass”. While it was only a Top 50 on the regular chart, it became a Top 20 hit on the Billboard dance chart. It is undeniably charming which kind of surprised me. The song I liked in terms of wishing it had become a pop hit would be “Whatever I Do”. It has all the right ingredients to have become a hit including a big ear catching chorus. “Spirit of Love” has a really cool sounding, albeit quite brief, guitar solo. The title track to the album and “Cry Wolf” are also solidly grooved songs that please the musical palate.
Musical tastes were changing in 1987 so it doesn’t surprise me that this album only managed to chart at #87. But it is a little sad to think that Laura Branigan couldn’t have more success with Touch because there was a surprising number of good songs to work with on the release.
Touch certainly demonstrates to me why Branigan should be far better remembered. I don’t think she gets her due as a standout 80’s performer and wish things were different. I mean if no-talent hacks can sell millions these days, Branigan should’ve been monstrously successful by comparison.
NOTES OF INTEREST: Laura Branigan died in 2004 from a brain aneurysm.
Other artists to cover the song “Power of Love” include Celine Dion and Air Supply. The Air Supply version featured Toto members Steve Lukather (guitar), David Paich (keys) and Steve Porcaro (keys, synth).
The CD edition of Touch contains a bonus track called “Statue In The Rain”.