July 2 – 4th Time The Charm For Foreigner

Down to four members – American singer Lou Gramm and English bassist Rick Wills, guitarist Mick Jones and drummer Dennis Elliott-  Foreigner released their fourth album on this day in 1981. No surprise then they simply titled it 4.

Soon they’d be no “foreigner” to the top of the charts – it became their only #1 album in the U.S. (although the three prior ones had all hit top 5.) The album would end up going 6X platinum in the States and 4X in Canada (where it is their biggest-selling album) adding up to somewhere in the range of nine million copies worldwide. In Britain, it was the first of theirs to hit gold status.

Getting Mutt Lange to produce the record seemed a smart move; allmusic would later suggest that Mick Jones of the band “found his perfect musical soulmate” in Lange because of his “obsessive attention to detail” and suggestion of well-placed studio musicians like Thomas Dolby , who played synthesizers throughout the record and Junior Walker who added the stellar sax solo on “Urgent”. That track went to #4 – in Canada it was their first #1 – and was followed by the uncharacteristically mellow “Waiting For a Girl Like You” which spent a remarkable 10 weeks at #2 on Billboard, a record for the longest run there without ever hitting the top. Another single, “Jukebox Hero”, was inspired by Lou Gramm’s memories of waiting outside an arena in Rochester waiting to see Jimi Hendrix . Making it all the more appropriate, the band recorded the record at Hendrix’ old Electric Lady Studios in New York.  It hit only #26 but remarkably has gone platinum as a digital download!

Foreigner have been busy touring this year and have a number of shows left for the Northeast this summer; sadly only Jones from their 1980s lineup is still a member.

 

July 2 – Foreigner At Home With Being On Top Of Charts

Down to four members, Foreigner release their fourth album on this day in 1981. No surprise then they simply titled it 4.

Soon they’d feel perfectly at home on top of the charts – it became their only #1 album in the U.S. (although the three prior ones had all hit top 5.) The album would end up going 7X platinum in the States and 4X in Canada (where it is their biggest-selling album.) In all, close to ten million copies of 4 were sold.

Getting Mutt Lange to produce the record seemed a smart move; allmusic would later suggest that Mick Jones of the band “found his perfect musical soulmate” in Lange because of his “obsessive attention to detail” and suggestion of well-placed studio musicians like Thomas Dolby , who played synthesizers throughout the record and Junior Walker who added the stellar sax solo on “Urgent”.

That track went to #4 – in Canada it was their first #1- and was followed by the uncharacteristically mellow, Thomas Dolby-driven  “Waiting For a Girl Like You” which spent a remarkable 10 weeks at #2 on Billboard a record for the longest run there without ever hitting the top. Another single, “Jukebox Hero”, was inspired by Lou Gramm’s memories of waiting outside an arena in Rochester waiting to see Jimi Hendrix. It hit only #26 but remarkably has gone platinum as a digital download!

Although 4 shot the band into the rock stratosphere, as with so many other bands who have massive sellers, it also heated up conflicts between the two main players in the group, Mick Jones and Lou Gramm who had differing ideas about which path the band should follow. Although their follow-up, Agent Provocateur sold equally well, it also hastened Gramm’s departure for a solo career. 

May 2 – Hit Records Not Foreign To Lou

Happy 70th birthday to someone who’s right at home on rock radio – Foreigner’s Lou Gramm.

Growing up in Rochester, NY, Louis Grammatico (as he was known to his musical parents) had an early interest in music and learned drums young. In high school he was playing in local bands and soon after he had become the frontman for Black Sheep, a band with a local following in western New York that eventually became the first American act signed to Chrysalis Records. Although their two albums did little, it did get the attention of Britain’s Mick Jones (of Spooky Tooth, not the same Mick Jones as in The Clash, it should be noted) who loved Gramm’s voice and thought it right for a new band he was putting together. Gramm, and his voice “Robert Plant might envy” (according to Circus) joined the band which consisted of three Americans and three Brits.

The name Foreigner replaced Trigger, their original moniker, because no matter where they were someone would be a “foreigner”. As we know they instantly had an impact on AM hit and FM album rock stations upon release of their 1977 debut and would soon rack up five-straight platinum or better albums in the U.S. although in the UK their success was a bit more limited, but they did hit #1 by 1984’s Agent Provocateur. That was about the time Gramm- the rocker – and Jones, more of a pop balladeer were seeing the band’s future differently and Gramm put out his first solo record. By that time, he’s been a part of six platinum Foreigner albums (not counting compilations) and 13 top 20 hit singles, many of which he’d co-written. That list included “Hot Blooded”,“Jukebox Hero”, “Double Vision” and “Cold As Ice.” As a solo artist, he notched two more top 20s in the ’80s at home, “Midnight Blue” and “Just between You and Me.”

A non-malignant but problematic tumor in the ’90s left Gramm’s voice weakened. His spirit too; he said he was “tired of the rock’n’roll lifestyle and not feeling very fulfilled” and became a Born Again Christian. His current band, as Rolling Stone puts it play “a bizarre mix of Foreigner hits (like ‘Head Games’) and Christian rock.” However, he still shows up to sing with Foreigner now and then, and last year toured with Asia, singing their stuff as well as Foreigner’s. Around that time, he told Ultimate Classic Rock he was retired. Sorta. “I’ve decided that I’ve been doing this 45 years, and we have a little one at home. I wanted to spend more time at home with (his wife) Robin and my baby girl.” However, he added that he might play a few more concerts with both Foreigner and Asia on occasion, and was working on getting some unreleased songs from years gone by ready for release. He said there was about a full album’s worth of new songs, but he’d likely put them out online three at a time.

March 26 – Virus-free, The ’80s Were Golden Age…

1982 might have been the Golden Age of Synthesizer Music, but on this day 38 years back, Thomas Dolby invited us back to The Golden Age of Wireless, his first individual release. By that point, the then-23 year old had already sung backup for Bruce Woolley (one of The Buggles), worked with Robyn Hitchcock and written songs for Lene Lovich (like “New Toy”). And his work had been heard – albeit fairly anonymously – on a smash single from a #1 album. Dolby played keyboards for Foreigner on their multi-platinum album 4, most notably on the song “Waiting For A Girl Like You.” That anonymity ws heightened by him apparently not being the one “playing” the keyboards in the video for it. 

His solo effort resembled The Buggles more than Foreigner, which was no surprise given that he was British and had begun his musical career by building his own synthesizers years before. The Golden Age of Wireless was definitely a product of the ’80s… but that’s not a bad thing! It was heavy on synthesizers and other electric keyboards, but unlike some of his contemporaries, was also full of melodies and interesting lyrics. As allmusic would put it later on, he sounded rather like a “friendlier, peppier flipside of Gary Numan.” While Dolby wrote the music and sang it, as well as playing a load of keyboards on it, he wasn’t alone in the studio. Tim Friese-Greene of Talk Talk helped him produce it, and among the rather extraordinary 24 other musicians credited were Andy Partridge of XTC, Woolley, Lovich and even Foreigner 4 producer Mutt Lange, who sang some backing vocals.

In Europe, the first single off it was “Europa and the Pirate Twins”, a catchy number but not a major hit; the more ephereal “Windpower” from it just missed the British top 30. And The Golden Age… included several other great tracks that are standouts from his career like “Radio Silence”, and probably “One of Our Submarines.” Probably?

Unlike say, Dark Side of the Moon (or most other albums for that matter), The Golden Age of Wireless is an almost loose, blanket-term for several records. Dolby had a few more songs kicking around than would fit the length of a typical LP and he was signed to different record labels in different territories (the small Venice In Peril in his UK, CBS in the States and Harvest, a division of Capitol, in Canada for example) they tended to issue it in slightly different configurations. Then, things took off for Thomas around the end of the year, when he issued another single – the one that would define his career.“She Blinded Me With Science” is one of the most iconic, fun singles of the decade, albeit not necessarily characteristic of most of his work. That song hit #5 in the U.S. and was a #1 hit in Canada (surprisingly, it didn’t do much in his own country). That in turn got his record labels wanting to re-push the album, adding in “…Science”, often at the expense of the song “Urges” which was dropped from some editions. There’ve been at very least 7 different versions of the album thus far, that may actually be a low estimate.

Regardless of exactly which format it came in, the album was a breakthrough hit. It made it to #13 in the U.S. and #8 in Canada, where it went gold…. and that came a few weeks after an album called She Blinded Me With Science got to #3 there. That album was more or less the same but with a different title…perhaps you’d have to be a computer scientist capable of making your own equipment to keep track of all the different, but the same, Dolby releases back then!

It was different, but the early-’80s were all about finding something different musically. The public liked Dolby and the record, and more surprisingly, critics generally did too. Rolling Stone, not one to often laud Brit rock, nor synthesizer music, rated it 4-stars calling it “one of the most impressive debuts so far this year” and comparing him to David Bowie. They add “unlike many synthesizer bands from England, Dolby eschews morbid, droogy drones.” Sentiments echoed decades later by allmusic which call him a “pop adventurer” and consider this album to be the best of his five studio ones, considering it “an intriguing and very often entertaining curio from the glory days of synth rock.”

Dolby had minor success with his next album and the single “Hyperactive” from it and has recorded periodically since then, and followed in his science-loving dad’s footsteps, becoming a university lecturer as well.

July 2 – Fans Felt Quite At Home With Foreigner By The ’80s

Down to four members, Foreigner release their fourth album. No surprise then they simply titled it 4. Soon they’d feel perfectly at home on top of the charts- it became their only #1 album in the US (although the 3 prior ones had all hit top 5.) The album would end up going 6X platinum in the States and 4X in Canada (where it is their biggest-selling album.) Getting Mutt Lange to produce the record seemed a smart move; allmusic would later suggest that Mick Jones of the band “found his perfect musical soulmate” in Lange because of his “obsessive attention to detail” and suggestion of well-placed studio musicians like Thomas Dolby , who played synthesizers throughout the record and Junior Walker who added the stellar sax solo on “Urgent”. That track went to #4 – in Canada it was their first #1- and was followed by the uncharacteristically mellow “Waiting For a Girl Like You” which spent a remarkable 10 weeks at #2 on Billboard- a record for the most weeks as “runner-up” without hitting #1. . Another single, “Jukebox Hero” was inspired by Lou Gramm’s memories of waiting outside an arena in Rochester waiting to see Jimi Hendrix. It hit only #26 but remarkably has gone platinum as a digital download!