“I’m Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler (1984)
“Self Control” by Laura Branigan (1984)
In retrospect the ‘80’s looks all carefree and colorful, but it was likely still difficult for female artists. Things were still not as progressive as maybe one might think. Were they bimbette airheads? Or, under the multi-colored ultra-teased hair, leg warmers and spandex were they artists?
Where were all the pioneering women of rock and what had they accomplished? The forgotten singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Carole King soldiered on in ‘80s – very much out of style. How things had changed - so much but so little.
MTV drove a male definition of what feminism should have been in the 1980’s. MTV drove fantasy, not reality. Who needs that? Capitalizing on the appearance of female artists like Pat Benatar, Kate Bush, and Deborah Harry of Blondie was standard for record companies in the early ‘80’s. Sex symbols were alive and well – it sold records. Would Big Mama Thornton who died alone and impoverished in 1984 tell them not to do it? No Mam!
Like Lena Lovich1 and Souxsie Sioux (the Banshees) from the punk movement of the late ‘70’s it was trendy for women to be exclusively singers – it was hard to drum and strut around in a video in the latest fashions. They were to appear wandering down the street or rolling on a bed not playing a guitar like would later happen in the ‘80’s.
Was the pop song “Watch Her Strut” by Sheena Easton a response to Prince who she once dated? Some women embraced the use of their femininity. Did Deborah Harry know what she was doing? Damn right she did.
In the early ‘80’s when female singers, knowing there was a large element of them being on display as women – had to balance this exploitation with their desire to be artists and get their message out. Pat Benatar was a trained opera singer. I am sure that is not what most people thought when they watched her videos. But you know what, she was a great singer that did persevere and ultimately became known for her voice and messages – anthems to be sure.
Laura Branigan was at the top of her game in 1984 when she did “Self Control”. Best known for her 1982 “Gloria”, it flew to the top of the charts world-wide and sold over 2 million copies. It was an Italian song written by one Umberto Tozzi translated to English. Number one in the U.S., the song brandished her a Grammy for best pop female vocalist. More importantly with its thirty-six week run on Billboard it was the longest running song by a female artist to that point in time.
A dramatic arts student in New York, Ahmet Ertegan of Atlantic records fame signed her to a multi-album deal and often referred to her as one of his ‘greatest finds’. With Branigan II in 1983, Laura struck again with “Solitare” and “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You”. In 1984 the album “Self Control” and its title track continued her success. She died in 2004 as a result of an undiagnosed brain aneurysm at age 47.
Bonnie Tyler has a rasp to her voice somewhere near KimCarnes, but definitely higher on the rasp-o-meter than Stevie Nicks and Laura Branigan for sure. Britian’s original female rasper, Bonnie won the Brit award in 1977 and soon after had an operation to remove the nodules from her vocal cords which left her quite husky sounding. Husky sounding was good. 1977’s “It’s a Heartache’ was a major hit. In the ‘80’s Bonnie worked with song-writer Jim Steinman (yes the guy that basically wrote Meatloaf’s “Bat out of Hell” album). In the early ‘80’s she hit with “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Holding Out for a Hero”. She was nominated for three Grammy awards that year but Branigan took it away from her. My favorite Bonnie Tyler song is "It's A Jungle Out There".
Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson of the B-52s seemed to have an easier time of being recognized as an integrated part of a band in the late seventies and early eighties. There were other examples but things changed in the late ‘80’s when bands like the Go-Gos’ , and the Bangles,wrote and played songs. The new self-sufficient girl-group was alive and well and hey, in my book that is alright.
Telk me who you like better: Tyler or Branigan?
1. Lena Lovich could play guitar, violin and saxophone.