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Foreigner - Profile of an Arena Rock Band in Transition

By

Foreigner - Profile of an Arena Rock Band in Transition
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino

Formed:


1976 in New York City

Core '80s Members:

  • Mick Jones (born Michael Leslie Jones on December 27, 1944 in London, England) - Guitars, keyboards, backing vocals, primary songwriter
  • Lou Gramm (born Louis Grammatico on May 2, 1950 in Rochester, New York) - Lead vocals, songwriter
  • Rick Wills - Bass guitar, backing vocals
  • Dennis Elliott (born August 18, 1950 in London, England) - Drums

Foreigner Origins:


Without question, the story of Foreigner begins and will presumably end someday with Mick Jones, the band's one constant during its ongoing, 30-year history. Long before the band he's known for was remotely conceived, Jones was a veteran in the British rock scene in the '60s and '70s, having worked with Gary Wright in Spooky Tooth and serving as a member of the Leslie West Band. Before that he had kept busy as a songwriter and session musician, packing his resume with the kind of experience that would help him lead Foreigner with a steady, visionary hand during the band's late-'70s and early-'80s peak.

Early Years:


By 1976 Jones must have felt ready to shed his journeyman past and form his own singular rock group. Teaming with fellow British rock veteran Ian McDonald and then-unknown American singer Lou Gramm, Jones christened Foreigner with a melodic arena rock vision already in place. This version of the band released three strong-selling albums over a three-year period that brought Foreigner into the major leagues of FM mainstream rock. Hits during this period such as "Cold as Ice," "Hot Blooded" and "Head Games" helped establish the group as one of guitar rock's most promising acts.

Jones Embraces the Synthesizer, Foreigner Attains Superstardom:


Jones seemed to decide that Foreigner needed a change as the new decade began, so he shaved the group down to the quartet that would navigate the '80s. Soon after, the band began work on its most successful album, 1981's 4, with famed producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange at the helm. The result was a solid album of mid-tempo rockers, but the most notable track was probably the synth-heavy ballad "Waiting for a Girl Like You." That song may have been a departure for the band, but it signaled that the best chance for blockbuster success likely rested on more power ballads (and more keyboards) in the future.

Pop Goes the Foreigner, Fans Begin to Tune Out:


Even though the brilliant No. 1 hit "I Want to Know What Love Is" appeared on Foreigner's next album, 1984's Agent Provocateur, the band had clearly begun its decline immediately following the release of 4. Much of this probably had to do with the double-edged nature of Jones' decision to guide the band down an increasingly pop path that was squeezing out the group's rock inclinations. After all, the only two songs anyone remembers from Foreigner's uneven fifth album are synth-based tunes almost entirely lacking in Jones' previous guitar heroics. "That Was Yesterday" was also excellent, but little else measured up.

Slow Dissolution, Solo Records, Competing Egos:


Foreigner’s audience dissipated significantly during each of its '80s hiatuses, the second one also comprising three years before the 1987 release of the disappointing Inside Information. During this time, Jones and Gramm continued to drift apart as the latter focused on his burgeoning solo career. Foreigner’s final '80s released spawned a couple of neutered pop hits and a few decent harder-rocking efforts, but the magic was seemingly gone. In fact, the only real bright spot to Foreigner’s late-'80s legacy is probably Gramm’s solo masterpiece, “Midnight Blue”, one of the decade’s finest singles.

The Band Breaks Up for What More Than Just Feels Like the First Time:


Gramm officially left Foreigner in 1989, the year that saw both he and Jones release solo albums to relatively little fanfare. In essence, the hair metal-dominated rock scene had little room for aging arena rockers, and the looming advent of grunge would not treat Foreigner much better. Gramm returned to Foreigner in 1992 after Jones had rather unsuccessfully tried to press on without him, but the band would never reclaim the relevance or hitmaking status of its peak period. In 2003, the two butted heads once again, leading Jones to regroup Foreigner once more, this time with a B-level all-star lineup.

Interesting Facts:

  • Though not among the greatest-selling rock artists of all time, Foreigner stakes a claim to selling more than 50 million records, reaching six times platinum status for 1981’s 4 alone.
  • Motown legend Junior Walker contributed the memorable sax solo on "Urgent", as the band had recently exposed a need for session musician help following its shift to a quartet at the start of the decade.
  • Tone Loc delivered an homage to Foreigner in 1989 during one of the band’s most pronounced lulls, sampling the verse guitar riff from “Hot Blooded” in his rap hit "Funky Cold Medina".
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