KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – FOREIGNER “FOREIGNER”

Artist: FOREIGNER
Album: FOREIGNER

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

Foreigner appeared seemingly out of nowhere with their multi-platinum self-titled debut which spawned three hit singles, including two that cracked the Top 5. This aptly-named group was founded by three Englishmen (guitarist/chief songwriter Mick Jones, formerly of Spooky Tooth, multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, a founding member of King Crimson, and drummer Dennis Elliott, who previously played with Ian Hunter) and three Americans (vocalist Lou Gramm, keyboardist Al Greenwood and bassist Ed Gagliardi). They’re often cited as an early example of “arena rock” (along with contemporaries like Boston, Journey, Toto, REO Speedwagon & several others), with many rock fans & critics bemoaning the “mainstream” & “commercial” production of their records and their ability to sell out arenas. I’ve never understood these complaints, since many of their rock ‘n’ roll predecessors from the previous decade were equally successful & radio-friendly, but for some reason these artists never got the respect they deserved. Perhaps it was Foreigner’s instant success that turned off the tastemakers, but I doubt the band members were troubled as their first five albums all reached the Top 5 and went multi-platinum. Jones was the catalyst, writing or co-writing the majority of their songs (including all 10 that appeared on their debut), while Gramm had the captivating voice that lured in listeners…a unique combination of Robert Plant’s effortless power & Paul Rodgers’ soulfulness. With four band members contributing backing vocals, the combination of soaring harmonies, melodic hooks and memorable guitar riffs made for an album jam-packed with unforgettable songs. The way they effectively incorporated various synthesizers into their guitar-based sound made them unique among their contemporaries. If The Cars were the one modern band that appealed to both old school rockers & fans of the “new wave” as the ‘70s drew to a close, Foreigner might have been their nearest rock ‘n’ roll counterparts.

Their debut is best known for the three massive hit singles that put them on the map. “Feels Like The First Time” is a fitting title for the opening track & lead-off single, somehow squeezing in power chords, synths, a sparse guitar riff, an immensely catchy chorus and a cool, slowed-down middle section that gives off hints of progressive rock, in just over 3 minutes. An instantly identifiable piano melody with rhythmic accents forms the backbone of “Cold As Ice.” Jones delivers a tasty & tuneful guitar solo while Gramm’s voice is powerful throughout, whether it’s that unmistakable chorus (“You’re as cold as ice, you’re willing to sacrifice our love”) or when he tells us, “I’ve seen it before it happens all the time…” I love the squiggly synth over the guitar riff on “Long Long Way From Home,” which grabbed me the first time I heard it. Everything that’s great about Foreigner is in this song, including their first sax solo. As if three hits weren’t enough, a few of the album tracks were worthy of chart success, or at least regular FM airplay. “Starrider” is one such song, which should be a staple of classic rock radio. Jones shares lead vocal duties with Gramm on this occasionally spacey power ballad that begins with a minute-long instrumental before the drums kick in, eventually leading to a huge harmony-laden chorus. Jones & Gramm are also co-lead vocalists on “Woman To Woman,” which reminds me of Electric Light Orchestra and features a sweet, climbing synth melody. A loping rhythm & twin-guitars set “Headknocker” apart from the rest of the album. It’s a fun, bouncy rocker & I like the staggered rhythm in the chorus. The verses in the chugging, riff-heavy rocker “At War With The World” remind me of Rainbow, the band led by Ritchie Blackmore following his departure from Deep Purple, while the slowed-down choruses add some prog-rock to the mix along with big harmonies. Jones delivers another lyrical guitar solo on this one. Album closer “I Need You” is the longest track at just over 5 minutes. It fades in with a dirty guitar riff & thundering drums, sounding like early Cheap Trick with synths added to the mix, before switching to a slower, steady rock groove. Other highlights include the simple chorus with massive harmonies and a nice little instrumental breakdown leading into Jones’ extended guitar solo. I used to think that Foreigner was mainly a singles band but as I’ve explored their early albums I realized how much I had undervalued them, and it doesn’t get much better than this debut which still packs quite a punch after four decades.

 

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30 comments on “Forty Year Friday – FOREIGNER “FOREIGNER”

  1. Heavy Metal Overload
    July 14, 2017

    Wow, been ages since I listened to this one… but I always enjoyed it.

    Like

    • I hadn’t played it in a while until recently, and I was amazed at how well it’s held up. I thought to myself, “it feels like the first time” I’m listening to it. Haha…sorry, I couldn’t resist.

      Like

      • Heavy Metal Overload
        July 15, 2017

        Haha oh dear. I’ll give it another spin but I’m sure my copy is buried deep in the collection so some digging will be required!

        Like

      • I know all about albums being buried deep in the collection. My whole collection has been in boxes for nearly 2 years, currently sitting in a storage pod miles away from my house. In about 4 months my renovations will be complete and my collection will be restored. Needless to say I’m really looking forward to that reunion. 😀

        Like

  2. 80smetalman
    July 14, 2017

    “Cold As Ice” was a cruising song for my friends and me back then. It was a great song to have blasting out of your car when you’re driving down the road. This was a great album and definitely established Foreigner as a force to be reckoned with on the rock scene.

    Like

  3. Alyson
    July 14, 2017

    Well, you’ll be relieved to hear that unlike last week I won’t be filling up your comments boxes with my little “anecdotes”! – Not because I don’t like Foreigner but because this album never appeared, as far as I can make out, in the UK album charts. In fact I don’t even remember them from this era at all but more from the early ’80s when they were very successful over here – I Want To Know What Love Is/Agent Provocateur in 1984.

    Thanks for the info about them however as I hadn’t realised they were even half British and hadn’t ever thought to find out. These “arena rock” band (like Styx who were covered the other week) just sound so American to my ears as our home-grown bands at that time had a very different sound and look – Smiths, Style Council, Depeche Mode, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, Duran Duran etc.

    I’ll be on holiday next weekend but will still drop by to find out what your FYF pick will be. Have a great weekend.

    Like

    • Hi Alyson. I’m surprised to hear that Foreigner didn’t make an impact on your side of the pond until the ’80s. Their ’70s hits were so ubiquitous here. Although I understand your feelings about them sounding American, I’ll never understand the concept of “arena rock” especially when people use it as a negative term. I realize Foreigner, Styx, Toto, Journey, Boston, etc. tend to get lumped together as though they were all some kind of corporate creations, making rock & roll too “commercial” & “mainstream” for some listeners, but other than the fact that they all had big radio hits at around the same time and sold out arenas, they each had their own unique sounds, and mixed hit singles with great album tracks. To me they were no different than the bands that came up in the previous decade, so I get the sense that it’s an age thing. Several music-loving friends who are just a few years older than me feel this way about these bands.

      As for the British artists you mentioned, they were all from the early- to mid-’80s, at least 6-7 years after the so-called arena rock bands made their initial impact

      Sorry if the tone of this reply sounds defensive. It’s not meant to be. I had a similar conversation about this yesterday on a music message board I subscribe to, so the topic is fresh in my mind.

      Enjoy your holiday next weekend. I hope you’re having a good weekend right now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        July 15, 2017

        Hi – didn’t want to cause any upset but we really hadn’t heard much of Foreigner until the ’80s over here. Also arena rock wasn’t really a “thing” over here so no negativity at all about it, just recognised it as more of an American genre. But hey what do I know! I’m actually just back from a party at my neighbour’s house and guess what – It was a celebration for her daughter’s graduation and the music of choice was all from the ’80s and these kids know all the words to all the songs. The music of our youth will never die as the young people of today have totally embraced it. Was very uplifting!

        Like

      • No upset caused, Alyson. I probably came across as being a lot more defensive about “arena rock” than I actually am. It’s just that the subject had come up in conversation & it was fresh in my mind. I know a number of people who will dismiss certain artists simply because of their supposed link to a genre or era: arena rock, hair metal, country, etc.

        Which ’80s music was played at the graduation party? ’80s music covers a lot of ground. Here in the US it usually means the glossy pop stuff that had memorable videos, but I realize that could be a completely different playlist in the UK.

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      • Alyson
        July 17, 2017

        Ha ha – Difficult to remember now as we were all dancing at the time and a fair bit of champagne was consumed! Our young neighbour got a 1st which is as good as it gets over here in terms of degree grades. Suffice to say there was a rousing sing-along to Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners and according to my daughter there was also Material Girl by Madonna (amongst many others!). We have lived in this house for 18 years so we have seen all the youngsters grow up – It was really lovely to see them all together again.

        I haven’t posted anything new for a few weeks now as I have let blogging take over my life a bit. As it turns out I am spending just about as much time reading other people’s blogs and leaving comments. Think I maybe need to have a proper break during my holiday as I do want to get back to it once I feel the batteries have recharged. If I don’t drop by next week you’ll know why – nothing personal!

        Like

      • Sounds like a lovely party with an excellent soundtrack. I find the concept of youngsters having ’80s-themed parties very funny, since I lived through that time when I was their age. I don’t remember having any ’50-themed parties back then. They were just parties.

        No need to ever explain or apologize for your absence. I just appreciate anytime you stop by and chat, and I hope to have more time to do so at your blog in the not-too-distant future. Whenever I take my next blog break, which will be an extended absence, I plan on visiting my favorite blogs more frequently. It’s like visiting your favorite vacation spots after being stuck in your hometown for too long. Not sure if that analogy makes any sense, but it did as I was typing it.

        Like

      • Alyson
        July 18, 2017

        I also remember that we Danced Like An Egyptian – Literally!

        Like

      • So you moved right past walking like an Egyptian and just started dancing like one? 😛

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        July 18, 2017

        Why walk when you can dance! As for my absence from writing new posts it is starting to work in that I’m not feeling as pressured “to deliver” any more. Your analogy is spot on and after the number of years you’ve been doing this you are due an extended break.

        Right I’m definitely off now as my holiday beckons! Bye for now.

        Like

      • As Ren & Stimpy would say, HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Phillip Helbig
        July 20, 2017

        “I find the concept of youngsters having ’80s-themed parties very funny, since I lived through that time when I was their age. I don’t remember having any ’50-themed parties back then.”

        Rich and I are about the same age. Yes, there were 50s-themed parties. There were 50s days in school. The motto was “wear what you wore in the 50s”, so my cousin Albert, born in 1959, came in a nappy (diaper to those across the pond).

        The really scary thing is that it was 30 years from the 50s to the 80s, and 30 from the 80s to now. But much more happened during those first 30 years, at least musically. Partly it’s because everyone thinks that more happened in their youth, but in music I think there is some objective truth to it. If I hear music I’ve never heard before, I can here if it is 1966 or 1967. Can anyone do that for 2006 and 2007?

        I was at a Brian Wilson concert last night (also in the 12-man-band: Al Jardine, his son Matt, and Blondie Chaplin). Great concert—and I don’t even consider myself a Beach Boys fan. A standing ovation before even a note was played: that doesn’t happen that often. About 30 years ago, I played in a band which never got off the ground. One song we covered was “Help Me, Ronda”. It was only about 20 years old at the time. But 20 years old back then was really old, while 30 years ago today is nothing.

        Once, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, the sister of my then girlfriend had a 70s-themed party, so I got out some old clothes and put them on. I had hair down to my waist: common in the 1970s, not so much in 1990. There were about 100 people there, but I knew only two or three and had seen only four or five. Everyone was dressed in groovy 70s threads. Once I got up to get something to drink and heard someone whisper “Check out this guy. He looks real.” 🙂

        Like

      • Phillip, perhaps I wasn’t invited to any of those ’50s themed parties, but I really don’t remember any taking place. Maybe it was less prevalent in the US. We certainly had ’50s nostalgia in the ’70s with American Graffiti, Happy Days and Sha-Na-Na, so maybe some of the older kids (or young adults) had ’50s parties at the time, but that was 20 years or less after the music was created. Anyone having an ’80s party now is doing it 30+ years after the fact.

        Thanks for the two anecdotes. I know you’ve told me about that ’70s party (with your long hair) before but it’s always good to share it again. Glad you enjoyed the Brian Wilson concert. I’ve seen him a few times since he re-emerged as a live performer. He’s much less stiff on stage now than he was when I first saw him, and his bands have only gotten better. The same can be said about his set lists. It’s great to know that he appeals to Beach Boys fanatics & casual fans alike.

        Like

  4. deKE
    July 14, 2017

    Great write up Rich!
    Agreed ‘Long Long Way From Home’ is a great track. Gramm hits a slamm out of the park on that one as well as many others…
    Great band really back in the day!

    Like

    • Thanks, Derek. I’m always happy when we’re in musical agreement, which usually tends to be the case. I don’t think Gramm gets enough respect as one of the great vocalists of that era, and the same can be said for Foreigner as an all-time great band that should at least be considered for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Lame (er, Fame).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. galley99
    July 15, 2017

    Fun Fact: I didn’t realize that Foreigner’s Ian McDonald was the same Ian McDonald from King Crimson until two weeks ago!

    Like

  6. Phillip Helbig
    July 17, 2017

    Ian Matthews, singer on the first Fairport album, changed his name from Ian McDonald to avoid confusion. The other singer on that album, Judy Dyble, was at one time the girlfriend of the Ian McDonald in King Crimson.

    Like

  7. Phillip Helbig
    July 17, 2017

    I’ve seen them recently a few times with their “new” singer. Of course, he got the job because he sounds like Lou Gramm, but if the band want to play the hits and that’s what the fans want, this is a better choice than going in another direction.

    I’m wondering if I’ll ever need more than a “best of”. While I like their music for what it is, at least the hits, the question is whether the non-hits are worth my time, or more “filler”.

    Later bassist Rick Wills had played with Gilmour before the latter was in Floyd.

    Like

    • It’s too bad that Gramm has had serious health issues which affected his voice. Between that & what I believe was a falling out with Mick Jones, it’s been a long time since Gramm was the singer for Foreigner. I’ve seen footage of the “new guy,” who is very good, but Gramm had something special in his voice which is hard to replicate. I won’t say that every Foregner album is essential but there are plenty of great songs beyond their radio hits so you would need a comprehensive compilation and not just a 10-track best-of. There was an excellent 2-CD set called “Jukebox Heroes” that is now out of print but worth seeking out.

      As for Rick Wills, I was unaware that he played with Gilmour PRIOR to Pink Floyd, but I know he was the bass player on Gilmour’s excellent debut solo album from ’78.

      Like

  8. Jeff Kempin
    July 21, 2017

    Late to the party on this one, but I have to voice my support for Foreigner and especially their first album. What a great debut. I get tired of bands like these getting lumped under the “corporate rock” banner. Artists want their music heard and Foreigner knew how to craft songs that are rock classics now and also chart hits then. Let’s see the critics try to write ONE hit song, much less a string of them like Foreigner did. I hate that snobby attitude.
    I wish Lou Gramm was still with the band…much the same way I wish Dennis DeYoung was still with Styx or Steve Perry with Journey. That’s the sad otnote, but at least we still have the original songs to always enjoy.

    Great post Rich!

    Like

    • Hi Jeff. I knew we would be on the same page regarding Foreigner & the whole “corporate rock” nonsense. I understand why people feel the need to lump artists into categories, but I’m only interested in good songs, good playing & good singing…and Foreigner had all three in abundance. Last night, Lou Gramm, Ia McDonald and Alan Greenwood joined Foreigner on stage for three songs. There’s footage on YouTube. Gramm sounded surprisingly good, considering all the health issues he’s had (and the fact that he’s in his late 60s), but just seeing them on stage together is what really mattered.

      I agree that it would be nice to have DeYoung & Perry back in those bands, but after all these years I’m fine with those bands with their current lineups. As long as the music is still being delivered to fans by most of the musicians who created it, I can’t really fault them. Foreigner might be the biggest offender, with only Jones remaining from the classic years, but it was always his band & he can do what he likes. By the way, the new Styx album is excellent. Very progressive, which is right up my alley. Nice to see they can still deliver the goods.

      Like

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