Umberto Tozzi first recorded "Gloria" in 1979; that summer the song stayed on the Italian Top-10 chart for sixteen weeks, six of them at number 2. The song stayed four weeks at number 1 in both, Switzerland and – in a translated version – Spain. That same year saw Tozzi's "Gloria" achieve hit status in Austria at number 4, Belgium at number 3, the Netherlands at number 21, France at number 3, and Germany where the track reached number 8.
Tozzi's "Gloria" is a love song, as is the first English rendering of the song, recorded by its original English-language lyricist, Jonathan King, in November 1979; Tozzi later recorded and performed King's translated version of "Gloria". He also re-recorded the song with Trevor Veitch's and Laura Branigan's English lyrics; this version appears on his 2002 release, The Best of Umberto Tozzi.
In his song of Jonathan King's translated lyrics, Tozzi, who takes the role of the song's main character, tells that he is dreaming about an imaginary woman named Gloria. He describes his living days as misery, but when he dreams of Gloria, he says his nights are liberty. The protagonist describes Gloria as his queen imagination that comes from his fascination, not from any kind of fantasy. He further elaborates that he has always set Gloria free from him, just as he has set freedom from reality. He then tells that his friends think he is crazy, but he argues his point that they have never met Gloria (so far, he has no proof of her actual existence); but one day when he finds her, he says his friends will talk about Gloria's beauty and her loyalty. To accomplish the goal of realizing his dreams despite everyone else's protests, the protagonist sets all his life to search for Gloria until he meets her in reality, and then promises to hold her, to touch her, and to keep her because he loves Gloria.
Atlantic Records' managing director Doug Morris suggested that Laura Branigan work with producer Jack White, who suggested that she record an English version of the Tozzi's hit "Gloria." Branigan recalled that on hearing the Tozzi track, "We gave it the American kick and rewrote the lyrics and off she went." Branigan's remake of "Gloria" was co-produced by White with Greg Mathieson, who had been the arranger of, and the keyboardist on Tozzi's original song, while also being the primary keyboardist on the Branigan album.
Branigan told People Weekly Magazine that she and her producers had at first attempted an English version of Tozzi's "Gloria" in the romantic mode of the original, changing the title to "Mario," but that this seemed ineffective. Ultimately, Branigan recorded an English re-invention of "Gloria" as a character study of, in her words, "a girl that's running too fast for her own steps," the cover lyrics of which were written by Trevor Veitch, the contractor for the Branigan album, to which he also contributed guitar work; while Branigan also did her part in co-writing of the cover song's lyrics.
In 2003, Branigan characterized "Gloria" as "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."
"Gloria" attained its highest profile via a re-working featured on the 1982 album release Branigan, the first released album by Branigan. Although another selection, "All Night With Me," was chosen as the album's lead-off single, Branigan also performed the cover song during her promotional TV appearances at the time of the album's release in early 1982, and that track was released as a single in the summer, first becoming a disco favorite, and gradually accruing radio support to debut on the pop charts. The single reached number 2 on the Hot 100 in Billboard Magazine for three weeks, ending November 27 through December 11.
"Gloria" earned Branigan a nomination for the Best Pop Vocal Performance Female Grammy Award for the year 1982. The song remained in the Top 40 for 22 weeks, and its total Hot 100 residency of 36 weeks established a new record for a single by a solo female act, breaking the previous record mark. Cashbox Magazine's Top 100 ranked "Gloria" at number 1. Certified platinum for sales of two million in the United States alone, "Gloria" was also an international success, most notably in Australia where it held the number 1 position for seven consecutive weeks, from February 7 to March 21, 1983. "Gloria" also took Branigan to the Top-10 charts in Canada at number 1, the United Kingdom at number 6, Ireland at number 4, South Africa at number 9, New Zealand at number 6, and number 36 in Italy.
Branigan's cover of "Gloria" appeared in the musical drama Flashdance in 1983. In a nod to her hit, Branigan's rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" performed on the Solid Gold Christmas special featured the background vocalists singing the name "Gloria," evoking both Branigan's signature song and the Latin refrain of the Christmas carol "Angels We Have Heard on High."
In 2006 and 2009, Branigan's "Gloria" was used in Seth MacFarlane's animated TV series American Dad! and The Cleveland Show, respectively. The cover song was also incorporated into the score of Flashdance the Musical in a scene where the character named Gloria performs a pole dance routine; sung by Djalenja Scott and Carryl Thomas in Ruthie Stephens' 2008–09 national tour of the musical, and by Twinnie-Lee Moore and Hannah Levane in the 2010–11's play at West End theatre, where Charlotte Harwood assumed the role of Gloria. At the end of the 2014's trailer of Will Forte's post-apocalyptic TV series, The Last Man on Earth, the main character, who at the time happens to be the last person alive, sings "Gloria" on a megaphone as a desperate call for contact with a woman.
Broadcast in November 23, 2000, Debbie Reynolds sings a snippet of "Gloria" in the "Lows in the Mid-Eighties" episode of the NBC sitcom Will & Grace, where she performs the song as the character "Bobbi Adler" in a sequence set in 1985. Australian Young Divas included "Gloria" on their self-titled album in 2006. In 2010, South Korean actress Bae Doona headlined a television series named "Gloria", where Bae portrays an aspiring singer who gets her start and ascends to fame by singing a Korean cover of song "Gloria". David Civera recorded a Spanish rendering of "Gloria" for his album A ritmo de clasicos in 2011, the same year that Sergio Dalma recorded another Spanish version of "Gloria" on his album Via Dalma II; the album lasted five weeks at number 1 in Spain, and earned quadruple-platinum status. Airing in December 2011, Sergio Dalma also performed the song on an RTVE special called Via Dalma, where Tozzi was also among the guests.Jo Vally recorded a Flemish rendering of "Gloria" for his 2012 album Zingt zuiderse klassiekers; the track reached number 15 on the Ultratop chart. Gloria Trevi performed "Gloria" as an opening number in concert, and recorded a studio version of Spanish lyrics completely different from the original, released in February 2012.