Single Stories: Foreigner, “I Want To Know What Love Is”

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

35 years ago today, Foreigner was in the midst of their two-week run at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with the song that – at least as of this writing – remains the lone #1 hit of their career.


Written and composed mostly by Mick Jones but partially by Lou Gramm (whether the latter’s contributions were 5% or 40% depends on whether you’re asking Jones or Gramm, respectively), “I Want To Know What Love Is” was the first single from Foreigner’s fifth studio album, AGENT PROVOCATEUR, and given the stat we reeled off in the opening sentence, you can imagine that it ended up casting a rather long shadow on the subsequent singles from the album.


“I always worked late at night, when everybody left and the phone stopped ringing,” Jones told Classic Rock Magazine. "’I Want To Know What Love Is’ came up at three in the morning sometime in 1984. I don’t know where it came from. I consider it a gift that was sent through me. I think there was something bigger than me behind it. I’d say it was probably written entirely by a higher force.”


The song was co-produced by Jones and Alex Sadkin, and in addition to a particularly powerful performance by Gramm, it was decked out with some pretty phenomenal backing vocals by the New Jersey Mass Choir and Dreamgirls star Jennifer Holliday. The end result was, as noted, the band’s first and only #1 Hot 100 hit thus far, but it was also Foreigner’s first and only #1 UK Singles hit to date, too.


Mind you, it was also the song that ultimately led Lou Gramm to start on a solo career.


“After ‘I Want To Know What Love Is,’ our record company and program directors began waiting for our next ballad, and our rock credibility went down the drain,” Gramm said in a 2005 interview. “I didn’t like the direction it was taking us. We were using a lot of keyboards and trying to sound overly hip – which was what was pervading the airwaves at the time – instead of sticking to our guns. It was around that time that I said ‘Get me outta here!’ and released a solo album [READY OR NOT].”


Still, Gramm’s complaints aside, there’s no question that “I Want To Know What Love Is” was and remains a career high for Foreigner.

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