A Song's Story #9: Self Control

Image via Discogs

Laura Branigan's hit single "Self Control" was one of the defining songs of the 1980s. The lyrics' theme of giving in to your desires was in step with the decade's excessive lifestyle. If you listen closely, there's a persistent, rhythmic reverb that resembles a heartbeat pulsating throughout the track. 

And that music video that seems like it foreshadowed Eyes Wide Shut? Quite memorable. At 12 years old, I remember being just a little bit creeped out by the Phantom of the Opera-esque masked man that seems to stalk and eventually seduce Laura in the storyline. But it wasn't until recently—and by recently, I mean the year 2023—that I learned her 1984 chart climber was a cover of an Italian hit. 

What's pretty impressive is both versions were so immensely popular that they shared close quarters on the European music charts at the same time. 

Who Originally Wrote the Song "Self Control"?

Italian musician Raffaele Riefoli—otherwise known as Raf—cowrote and recorded "Self Control" in 1984 just months before Branigan introduced her version to American listeners. What's remarkable about it, at least to me, is that when I first heard it I thought it was a cover of Branigan's. Despite its synth-heavy hook, it could have been recorded anytime between the early 2000s and now. 

Maybe that's because Raf's version was part of the Italo disco music genre which started in the 1970s and eventually peaked in the early '90s before splitting off into other genres that included house and Eurobeat music. I don't think it's a stretch to say this tune would not be out of place on most radio stations today:

"Self Control" by Raf reached No. 1 in Italy and remained there for nearly two months (seven consecutive weeks, to be exact.) It also reached the top spot in Switzerland, sharing the charts with Branigan's own version—one of the few songs to have versions by two different artists in the top ten spot at the same time. In Germany, Branigan's single held onto the No. 1 spot for six weeks with Raf's version right behind at No. 2. 

Raf's version also saw great success in Austria, but Branigan's cover managed to gain even more worldwide appeal: it reached No. 1 in Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, Canada, and Austria in addition to Germany. 

Was it the synth riff converted into an electric guitar hook as performed by Paul Jackson Jr., a jazz composer who worked on Branigan's album at the time as a studio musician, that gave her recording the edge? Her icy vocals? her sex appeal? 

Probably all of the above. Whatever the reason, it was a monster hit and Branigan performed the song that year on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Solid Gold

Who Directed Laura Branigan's "Self Control" Music Video?

Branigan released her version the same year, accompanied by a William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection) directed music video that MTV deemed controversial until a few seconds of footage were eventually snipped for airplay. 

MTV felt that one scene in the music video resembled an orgy, despite the fact that I'm sure promotional videos with far more pearl clutching content (set to songs with profane lyrics) made it past the censors in the coming years before MTV ceased playing music videos altogether. But if you watch closely, you'll see the dancers are fully clothed and the scene was professionally choreographed—a detail that Branigan defended in an Entertainment Tonight interview. 

Her record company talked her into allowing a minor edit and Branigan would go on to be nominated for the American Music Awards for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Video Artist. She lost to Cyndi Lauper. 

Branigan was one of the first artists to work with a movie director on a music video. She presented her ideas (and fantasies) to Friedkin and he ran with them. According to Branigan, the masked man in the video is supposed to represent the night. The rest is pretty self explanatory. 

"Self Control" was the lead song and title track of her third studio album, "Self Control", released in April 1984 on the Atlantic label. The song itself was released as a single during this time and was the latest in a run of hits for Branigan: "Gloria", "Solitaire", and "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" had cemented her title as one of America's top singers of the early '80s. 

Speaking of "Gloria", that was another cover for Branigan of an Italian song. One of the cowriters was Giancarlo Bigazzi, who also cowrote—you guessed it—"Self Control." 

Branigan rerecorded a remix of "Self Control" in 2004 as a 20th anniversary follow-up and to help revitalize her career after taking care of her husband, who had passed away in 1996. Sadly, she herself followed him after suffering a cerebral aneurysm in her sleep the same year. The reworked track reached the top 10 on the Billboard Hot Dance Singles chart following her death. 

Raf is still recording and performing, although his career has now transitioned to "softer" pop songs sung in his native language. In addition to being recorded by Branigan, "Self Control" has also been covered by Ricky Martin and even made an appearance on Miami Vice

It doesn't get more 1980s than that. 


  1. I miss Laura Brannigan. She was legitimately talented and I loved her music. I knew “Gloria” was a cover, but not “Self Control.”

    That video reminds me a bit of the Roman Polanski movie REPULSION. If William Friedkin directed it, I’d be willing to bet he was aware of the movie.

    1. I do, too. I had forgotten that she died young and suddenly. So sad, a huge loss. I have not seen Repulsion and come to think of it, I have never seen Eyes Wide Shut but it's on my list.


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