A Gloria Original in Italian
In the 1970s, Italian musicians Umberto Tozzi and Giancarlo Bigazzi wrote a love song called “Gloria”. In 1979, Tozzi recorded the original version of “Gloria”, a song where the protagonist longs for a woman named Gloria. A few years later, New Yorker Laura Branigan recorded an English cover. Unlike the “Gloria” original, Branigan addresses Gloria, who’s all messed up over some guy, directly. Tozzi’s version was very popular, especially in Europe. But Branigan’s 1982 single sold over two million copies in the United States alone.
Tozzi was born in 1952 in Turin. At 16, he joined “Off Sound”, a group who performed in small venues around Turin. In Milan he met Adriano Pappalardo and the two formed formed a 13-piece band and began a large-scale Italian tour.
In 1974, Tozzi experienced his first songwriting success. The song was the ballad “Un corpo, un’anima” (“One Body, One Soul”), co-written with Damiano Dattoli and performed by Wess and Dori Ghezzi.
In 1977, Tozzi released “Ti amo”, which stayed at number one on the Italian charts for a staggering seven months. The song was also successful in the rest of Europe, the Americas and Australia.
Tozzi toured Australia in 1978, a tour organised by Italian-Australian promoter Duane Zigliotto that finished at the Sydney Opera House with two full house concerts.
Throughout his career Tozzi sold over 70 million records. His biggest international hits were “Claridad”, “Ti Amo”, “Tu” and “Gloria”.
Tozzi’s Gloria Original
Tozzi released “Gloria” in June 1979. The song spent 16 weeks in the Italian top ten. It went on to become a hit throughout Europe.
In 2013, the “Gloria” original appeared in the soundtrack for two films: The Wolf of Wall Street and Gloria.
If you haven’t heard the “Gloria” original before, you’ll instantly recognise the instrumentals. Branigan’s version hardly altered that. This may be because arranger and keyboardist Greg Mathieson worked on both versions.
Tozzi sings in a soft but husky voice. He belts out the chorus, although I think Branigan sings a little stronger. I love the Italianness of the song and its video clip. Songs don’t need to be Americanised to be hits.
Other Language Versions
English-language lyricist, Jonathan King, translated and reworked the “Gloria” lyrics. English singer Elkie Brooks recorded King’s translated version in 1980.
Sheila B recorded a French version of “Gloria” in 1982. This version is sooo French. I love how each country managed to localise this song. There also exist Czech, Estonian, Finnish, German, Spanish (sung by Tozzi himself) and Swedish versions of “Gloria”.
Recording Laura Branigan’s Gloria
Branigan toured as a backup singer for Leonard Cohen before, after an audition, Atlantic Records signed her to their label. She worked with producer Jack White, who suggested they release an American version of “Gloria”.
Branigan was skeptical at first. They originally used a literal translation of Tozzi’s hit, focusing on romance and changing the name from Gloria to Mario. This approach, though, just wasn’t working.
So instead they reworked the lyrics to be about “a girl that’s running too fast for her own steps”. This version of “Gloria” featured on Branigan’s 1982 debut album Branigan. They released “All Night with Me” as the lead single, followed by “Gloria” in the summer.
Brangigan worried that even the reworked “Gloria” would be too European for US audiences. However, the song fast became a disco favourite.
It was the gay audience that first picked it up, and it was playing on clubs all over the country. The gay community took it and ran with it because a lot of radio stations just thought that it was too European.”Laura Branigan, interview with Newsweekly
A Massive Hit
From there, “Gloria” gradually got radio airplay and by July debuted on the pop charts. It reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent 36 weeks on the chart.
“Gloria” sat behind Lionel Richie’s “Truly”, and remained in position for two weeks, even when “Truly” was supplanted by Toni Basil’s “Mickey“.
Branigan’s “Gloria” set a new record for a single by a solo female act at the time.
Branigan was nominated for a 1982 Grammy in the category Best Pop Female Vocal Performance. She lost to Melissa Manchester’s “You Should Hear How He Talks About You” but this didn’t stop “Gloria” from being certified Platinum. The song was even popular in Europe, particularly in Germany where it reached number one.
“Gloria” is a wonderful 80s disco. Branigan’s voice is powerful and perfect for the song. “Gloria” was used in the 1983 hit film Flashdance, although it didn’t appear on the soundtrack. In more recent years, the National Hockey League team, St Louis Blues, used “Gloria” as their unofficial victory song during their 11-game winning streak in the 2018–19 season.
In 2003, Branigan said “Gloria” was:
“… certainly my signature song. And I always get the same reaction wherever I go, and whenever I perform it … I have to end every show with that song, and people just go crazy.”Laura Branigan
The Musical Contributions of Laura Branigan
Branigan had other hits in the 80s, including “Solitaire” (1983), “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” (1983), “Ti amo” (another Tozzi song, in 1984) and “The Power of Love” (1987). She contributed songs to television shows and movies, including Flashdance and Ghostbusters.
Her two albums from the early 90s did less well, and Branigan withdrew from the music scene for the rest of the 90s. She returned to performing in the early 2000s, appearing as Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical Love, Janis. Tragically, just as Branigan was making her musical comeback, she died in 2004 from a cerebral aneurysm.
Branigan will forever be remembered for her contributions to 80s music, particularly her version of the Tozzi hit, “Gloria”.
Check out more 80s songs and their unknown originals here.