Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Foreigner Primer"
FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME
1977...the beginning of corporate rock or the last hurrah before disco?
There were five rock stations in L.A. From soft sounding KNX on the left hand of the dial to the free-format alternative of KROQ on the right.
But most people listened to what was in between, most famously KMET and the last man standing known as KLOS, and suddenly, on these twins, so close to each other at 94.7 and 95.5, appeared a song so infectious in the spring of '77 that I literally drove to the record store to buy it.
That track was "Feels Like The First Time," a veritable symphony concocted by the previously unheralded Mick Jones, fronted by the even more unknown Lou Gramm, the most famous man in the band was horn and keyboard player Ian McDonald, a refugee from King Crimson.
You can either say it's overproduced, or revel in the multiple instruments, the changes in dynamics and nod your head and say THIS IS GREAT!
If all Foreigner ever cut was this initial single, they'd still be remembered today.
Furthermore, the song is not meaningless. We all know the concept, and this track gets it across...IT FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME!
And you wonder why you're sitting at home with Pro Tools with a modicum of skills and a mediocre voice and you're not famous...BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT MICK JONES, YOU DON'T HAVE THE PIPES OF LOU GRAMM!
Decry the major label system of yore, but the truth is they had the best, and the bar to entry was high and those who made it to the top were truly talented.
LONG, LONG WAY FROM HOME
I'd be lying if I told you I loved the initial album, I bought it so I played it, and this was my second favorite track from it, it seemed genuine, authentic.
This made sense as the discography evolved. This is classic Foreigner, loud, in your face and dumb. It sounded that way from the very first play. And the band went further in this direction, which is why I stopped buying the LPs. Still, with distance this is quite listenable.
Stupid, like "Headknocker."
Sure it's infectious, you couldn't avoid it on the radio, Foreigner was considered part of the canon when their second LP "Double Vision" was released in '78, still... It bugged me. Not so much now, but definitely then.
BLUE MORNING, BLUE DAY
Worse, but more authentic. This is another "Double Vision" cut that we heard endlessly on the radio.
Just hearing the riff brings me back, this was a cut like the ones by Foghat that FM played every weekend when boys without girls were driving in their cars drinking beer looking for action. The radio was the soundtrack, in a way it certainly is not today.
DIRTY WHITE BOY
And by time "Head Games," the band's third album, was released in '79, I was actively down on them. They seemed to be paint-by-number efforts for the heartland, there was no depth.
This is stupid. With hooks. But not exactly forgettable, maybe because we heard it so much.
And what can I say, I'm denigrating the band, but I liked this then, and I love it today. The album's title track has the essence of "Feels Like The First Time," the opening flourish which hooks you immediately, the dynamics, but it's second tier compared to that masterpiece. However, the chorus goes straight to the heart...
It's you and me baby
And I can't take it anymore"
It resonated then, but it's definitive today, since I'm so much more experienced with the games that are played. Lou Gramm sings like he's lived it, the emotion comes through, he means it and we believe it, WHEW!
And the change right after the chorus, who comes up with this stuff?
The apotheosis, "4."
What do you do when you're at risk of becoming a caricature, when you've played out the obvious, when you've riffed on white boy angst far too much...
You hook up with Robert John "Mutt" Lange after AC/DC, but before Def Leppard, you concoct a sound so infectious your album dominates the charts for the better part of a year, you induct yourself into radio royalty, if not the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Then again, Mutt's not in there either. And that's an oversight so grand they should close the Hall down, or kick out everybody who's inside based on music made after "4."
Come on, I love Eno, he's talented, but why does he get so much ink and Mutt does not?
Because Eno's fashionable and cool, whereas South African Mutt is a studio rat who does no publicity but who cannot only oversee the sessions, but write the songs, sing them and play them all by himself.
All the hype was about the Junior Walker sax solo, from a man who hadn't been heard from since the sixties, but the star of "4" is most definitely Mutt.
Have you heard that intro on a previous Foreigner album? That same blending of instruments? Without Mick and Lou there's no album, but Mutt takes them to a whole 'nother level.
"Urgent" sounds just as fresh thirty-odd years later.
If you're not smiling while you're listening to this, you can't.
WAITING FOR A GIRL LIKE YOU
Bookends "Feels Like The First Time" as the greatest Foreigner tracks ever, and it sounds completely different.
Just imagine driving in your car alone, late at night, as this came over the radio, nothing felt better.
I know, I'd push the buttons searching for it, even though I owned the LP.
Come on, the lyrics are so simple, yet so true, but it's the feel.
Suddenly Foreigner took it up a notch. Instead of playing to the mullet crowd, they went for the suburban gents who were well groomed and educated but just couldn't make it right with girls.
It comes over the horizon, in a fog, that's what the intro sounds like.
And then the steady groove, with the raindrop synth notes.
And then, the story....
I've been looking too hard
I've been waiting too long"
It's like you start off in the middle, you're immediately enraptured, "so long"... He's pouring his heart out from the start.
"It feels so right, so warm and true
I need to know if you feel it too"
That's what we're all looking for, mutuality. We feel it, do you? Do you dig us, can we count on you?
"Now I know it's right
From the moment I wake up till deep in the night"
The few extra words, the rhyme, it's so simple, yet so right.
"I've been waiting for a girl like you
To come into my life"
We all are. We're told to be proactive. We're told to search.
But it always happens by accident.
JUKE BOX HERO
Sure, another song about fandom and inspiration, but it's Mutt's tricks that put it over the top. The explosion after "guitar," even more the sound under "six string."
That heartbeat bass, the dynamics. You love it from afar, you're blown away when you concentrate, you may think it's easy to do this, but it's not. Sure, they were not creating a new genre, but they were concocting a sound that had the whole world listening, and that's POWERFUL!
I WANT TO KNOW WHAT LOVE IS
Sure, a monster hit, with an overplayed video, but the truth is it's a rewrite of "Waiting For A Girl Like You," and therefore I could give it no credence. Remaking your hits means you're anxious, you need to maintain your success, but you've got to grow, you've got to test limits.
But it is good, especially the pre-chorus:
"In my life there's been heartache and pain
I don't know if I can face it again
Can't stop now, I've traveled so far
To change this lonely life"
THAT WAS YESTERDAY
Kind of a blend between old Foreigner and new, it's a more modern, slicker, slightly toned-down effort reminiscent of their pre-Mutt work.Good, but not especially memorable.
SAY YOU WILL
"Inside Information" is more forgettable than "Inside Information," but this one cut presages Lou's solo career, it's more him than the band, it's good.
I DON'T WANT TO LIVE WITHOUT YOU
What the hell, I'll include it, even though it's formulaic and forgettable. It was the band's last hit. And then they were done.
THE FLAME STILL BURNS
Or were they...
Co-composed by Squeeze's Chris Difford and Mick Jones, this is the Foreigner hit no one knows and no one's heard.
But it's a smash. The legendary hit of Strange Fruit.
You can count the great rock movies on one hand. "A Hard Day's Night," "Help," "Quadrophenia" and...
A great rock movie should not be for fans only. It should play for everybody. And "Still Crazy" does.
No, "Still Crazy"'s not that great, but it's far above average, and almost no one saw this English production, but you should, of a band reuniting twenty years after its heyday and...
Stephen Rea was famous because of "The Crying Game."
Billy Connolly was not the icon he is today.
This film featured journeyman actor Bill Nighy's breakout role, from here he became a star.
Jimmy Nail is now starring in Sting's play in Chicago.
And if you don't fall in love with charismatic band manager Juliet Aubrey, you don't like brunettes.
Rent it. You'll dig it. I guarantee it.
Meanwhile, watch the clip from the film on YouTube here:
Listen to the entire eight minute cut here:
It's majestic, royal, like a Queen cut, even though it sounds nothing like one, because it's a Foreigner song.
The reformulated band finally covered it acoustically, I've included it in this playlist.
I'd be remiss if I didn't include one other ingredient, the dear departed Bud Prager, who managed this band to the top, with the help of the Scotti Brothers, who he gave one percent of the records to in perpetuity to ensure their success.