Retro spin: the enduring sound of Foreigner


English-American rock band, Foreigner created a straight ahead rock sound augmented with keyboards, that in part defined rock music during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Foreigner formed in 1976 and released their self-titled debut in 1977.  The band’s penchant for hard-driving songs that were lyrically clear.

About Foreigner

The band formed in New York City in 1976. By 1977, when the band released their first album, America’s popular music soundscape was populated by disco, singer-songwriter vehicles and hard rock bands. In a market that was no stranger to rock ‘n’ roll, Foreigner managed to stand  out.

Foreigner’s classic sound consists of Lou Gramm’s full-throated vocals and the guitar work of Mick Jones. Time would prove that Gramm’s vocals were capable of not only belting out powerhouse rock songs, but could soften a bit to capture the heartfelt messages of love songs. The most obvious examples are 1981’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and 1984’s “I Want To Know What Love Is.”

Unfortunately, the oft-repeated story of a band that helps to define one era, struggles to find an audience in subsequent eras is true of Foreigner. While Gramm left the band twice and scored hits on his own, Foreigner continues well into the 21st century with singer Kelly Hansen, formerly of Hurricane.

Despite the changing course of popular music trends, Foreigner has sold more than 80 million albums worldwide. Approximately half of which were sold in the US.

What follows is a subjective and brief re-cap of Foreigner’s greatest hits.

“Cold As Ice” by Foreigner

The keyboard riff is austere and melds effectively with guitars and drums. Not necessarily a love song, the tune is more about love gone wrong. The lyrics are not difficult to understand, but Gramm’s vocals sear and cut through the soundscape, making listeners believe it when he sings that the woman he is addressing will pay for her emotional misdeeds.

“Double-Vision” by Foreigner

The title track from the band’s sophomore album, “Double-Vision” is almost as in-your-face as Foreigner is likely to get. Lyrics such as ” Feelin’ down and dirty/Feeling kinda mean…” immediately distinguishes this song from any Nice Guy rock tendency Foreigner might be alleged to have. The guitar riff, a fast chug that drives through the song steals the show.

There are no pretty harmonies or  lomg breaks to save listeners from the song’s onslaught. Gramm does show his ability to raise his voice and to emphasize phrases without screaming. The backing vocals echo the sentiments of the lead singer. Also, the bass and drums thud heavy enough to supply a sort of menace that the song needs. There is a reason the song is a rock radio staple.

“Rev on the Red Line”: Foreigner takes on street racing

A less-appreciated track from 1979’s “Head Games,” it caught less traction than the album’s title track. Still, there is something about the song and its quite specific storytelling about the world of street racing. From descriptions of the action “Two in a row/everybody knows/at the green light you rev it on the red line…”

The song is an invitation to a world of high revolutions per minute, horsepower and flashy paint jobs. The lyrics also detail the narrator’s struggle to get his license back after getting caught. The keyboards crest during the chorus in a way that reminds some audiences of fast cars cresting a hill. The keyboards are supported by the drums and listeners can feel the successful racer’s triumph. Maybe the song didn’t garner as many listeners as Foreigner’s earlier work, but it is certainly not without merit.

Foreigner’s other hits include “Jukebox Hero,” “Head Games” and “Urgent.”



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