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Foreigner

+ {Mick Jones}

At a time in ’77 when punk-rock and new wave bludgeoned prehistoric hard-rock acts to near extinction, there were very few exceptions to run with the pack: the BAD COMPANY-esque, Anglo-American supergroup FOREIGNER had the honour of being one of them; JUDAS PRIEST and RUSH were a couple of other heavies to escape the cull. Forsaking the downward spiral of prog-rock from their past endeavours, New York-born rock singer Lou Gramm (from BLACK SHEEP) took a local call from English ex-pat guitarist Mick Jones (from a latter-day SPOOKY TOOTH), and decided to take his chance alongside some like-minded journeymen – arena-rock was given another shot in the arm.
Ringleader Mick Jones was already the owner of a rather chequered music biz CV. After kick-starting his career in England with 60s outfit NERO & THE GLADIATORS, he later worked with French hit-maker JOHNNY HALLIDAY, as well as undergoing a plethora of session stints before relocating to the Big Apple and securing a job as an A&R man; he was in the city to work with the LESLIE WEST BAND. Trusting in relatively unknown locals Ed Gagliardi (bass) and Al Greenwood (keyboards), Mick phoned long-distance to London and hooked in a founder member of KING CRIMSON: Ian McDonald (sax) and fellow session man, from the IAN HUNTER BAND: Dennis Elliott (drums), and the rest was history as they say.
After a year in the studio, the sextet unleashed an eponymous debut album for Atlantic Records. FOREIGNER (1977) {*8}. Although the record failed to chart in punk Britannia, the LP secured a Top 5 place in the States, becoming a multi-million seller and staying in the chart for over a year. Its success boosted by two platinum platters, `Feels Like The First Time’ and `Cold As Ice’ (mid-table hits the following year in Old Blighty), FOREIGNER rapidly became established as prime staples for American FM radio; `Long, Long Way From Home’ their third US Top 20 smash.
Though their material was harder-edged than the likes of JOURNEY, BOSTON, STYX, KANSAS et al, FOREIGNER captured the middle ground perfectly, their AOR/arena rock-straddling sound gaining them massive Stateside sales for 1978’s DOUBLE VISION {*7}, plus spawns `Hot Blooded’, the title track (a near No.1) and `Blue Morning, Blue Day’. Despite the group headlining the 1978 Reading Festival, the sophomore set stalled outside the UK Top 30, while third consecutive US Top 5 album HEAD GAMES (1979) {*6} – which saw another seasoned player Rick Wills (ex-PETER FRAMPTON, ex-ROXY MUSIC, ex-SMALL FACES) supersede Greenwood – failed to register in the UK. Meanwhile, `Dirty White Boy’, the title track and `Women’ were slick and glossy enough to hook the mullet-heads of FM-friendly – no static at all – America.
The 4-piece FOREIGNER – without Gagliardi and McDonald – would have to wait until the release of the multi-million-making “Mutt” Lange-produced 4 (1981) {*7}, before they enjoyed some deserved transatlantic success. This was secured on the back of monster hit, `Waiting For A Girl Like You’ and the finesse of a few others such as `Urgent’ (featuring a sax solo from JUNIOR WALKER) and the metallic `Juke Box Hero’. Incidentally, former alumni Greenwood and Gagliardi would duly form pomp-rock act SPYS for a couple of LPs.
It would be another histrionic AOR power-ballad, `I Want To Know What Love Is’ – featuring the gospel talents of the New Jersey Mass Choir – that would become FOREIGNER’s best known song, its phenomenal transatlantic chart-scaling success even furnishing the band with a similarly-achieving album. Released after a lengthy sabbatical, the attendant US Top 5, AGENT PROVOCATEUR (1984) {*6}, gave FOREIGNER yet another multi-million selling set, although the likes of `That Was Yesterday’ (US #12/UK #28), `Reaction To Action’ and `Down On Love’, tailed off significantly.
While LOU GRAMM cut a reasonably successful solo set in ‘87, `Ready Or Not’, the fancy-free FOREIGNER – of which he was still a member – were finding it tough among a new breed of hair-metalists such as GUNS N’ ROSES. Although album six INSIDE INFORMATION (1987) {*5} still commanded a Top 20 position, and the Jones composition `I Don’t Want To Live Without You’ cracked the Top 5, global sales were less encouraging.
At odds with where the band were going, and with a MICK JONES (1989) {*5} eponymous solo set only just scraping into the Billboard Top 200, it was time for LOU GRAMM to take his bow after finishing off his second effort, `Long Hard Look’ (1989).
Picking up singer Johnny Edwards (from KING KOBRA) as of 1990, FOREIGNER’s first Gramm-less set, UNUSUAL HEAT (1991) {*5}, melted the hearts and minds of no-one but their flagging fanbase. Missing out on a Top 100 spot, it was clear the writing partnership of Edwards and Jones (plus producer Terry Thomas) would not be as strong as first contemplated; `Lowdown And Dirty’ and `I’ll Fight For You’, cliched hard-rock without getting into top gear.
Rolling the dice again with a returning Lou Gramm on board, Jones enlisted drummer Mark Schulman, keyboardist Jeff Jacobs and bassist Bruce Turgon to complement FOREIGNER’s “comeback” set, MR. MOONLIGHT {*4}. Dispatched in Britain in October 1994 (where it cracked the Top 60), America, for once, had to be patient until the following February, by which time the great hard-rock reunion seemed overplayed, despite solitary Top 50 breaker `Until The End Of Time’. It was clear FOREIGNER’s glory days were behind them, and when Lou was diagnosed with a tumour in the brain around 1997, things looked desperate for the singer, never mind the band. Thankfully, it was benign and non-cancerous, although operations to remove the lump were agonisingly painful. A subsequent summer tour in 1999 alongside JOURNEY would court fresh fans towards their light and, remarkably, after a few fits and starts that saw Thom Gimbel (rhythm guitar) – added in 1995 – and Brian Tichy (drums) taking over from Jacobs and newbie Ron Wikso respectively, FOREIGNER were still going strong.
Son of LED ZEPPELIN legend John, Jason Bonham would fill the drum seat from 2004 until 2007, while a year earlier, Jones would now settle for GRAMM’s replacement Kelly Hansen (ex-HURRICANE, ex-Unruly Child) and Jeff Pilson (in place of Turgon) for the Top 100 Sony BMG set, EXTENDED VERSIONS (2006) {*5} – live November 26, 2005 at Texas Station in north Las Vegas.
Thereafter (2007), Brian Tichy returned to replace Bonhan, while Michael Bluestein (keyboards) superseded Paul Mirkovich (ex-WHITESNAKE, ex-NELSON) on FOREIGNER’s first studio album in 15 years, the US Top 30 Rhino Records-endorsed CAN’T SLOW DOWN (2009) {*5}. Further Sony EXTENDED VERSIONS (2011) {*5} – live March 16, 2010 at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN – ran through their best bits (again!!), while Mark Schulman returned to replace Tichy’s fill-in Jason Sutter for the “acoustique”, FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME (2011) {*4}. Drummer Chris Frazier was installed as Schulman’s replacement soon afterwards.
With no fresh material in the pipeline, FOREIGNER were left to flesh-out ways on how to literally liven up their back catalogue by way of glossy concert sets. For several years fans had to content themselves with mere morsels, and now AN ACOUSTIC EVENING WITH FOREIGNER (2014) {*5} – live at Dornier Museum, Friedrichshafen, Germany on July 31, 2013, IN CONCERT – UNPLUGGED (2016) – live in Dearborn, Michigan on August 24, 2015, and the ambitious FOREIGNER WITH THE 21st CENTURY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA & CHORUS (2018) {*6}, were “Feels Like” cash-ins supposed to ease the pain.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jul2015-Sep2018

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