"Urgent" started with what sounded like Zeppelin's "Rock N' Roll" riff slowed down and shot through massive reverb. Then came Lou Gramm's "urgent" vocals. Instead of a guitar solo there was wailing sax delivered by Soul legend Jr. Walker. You couldn't have done it better. Also, "Foreigner 4" had the ultimate guitar-destiny song "Juke Box Hero." It was inspired by guitarist Mick Jones' experience playing in Johnny Hallyday's backing band when they were on the same bill as The Beatles in Paris. The song tells the tale of a young lad who can't afford to get into the show but hears "that one guitar" through the walls. That inspires him to buy a second-hand guitar and eventually become (drum roll please) a "Juke Box Hero."
Prior to "Foreigner 4," the group's high water mark, Foreigner had undergone a major pairing down. Starting as a six man group (lead singer, guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald). There were three Americans and three Brits, so no matter where they went somebody was a foreigner, hence the name. In three years, starting in '77, they released three successful albums. Their self-titled debut was followed by "Double Vision" and "Head Games." During this period disco was pervasive. Rod Stewart and even the Rolling Stones tried their hand at finding the disco magic. Not Foreigner. With songs like "Double Vision," "Hot Blooded" and "Cold As Ice" they were clearly Rockers against the pop tide.
By '80 both McDonald and keyboardist Al Greenwood had split. They were not replaced. That obviously changed the group's sound. However, Jones, a former member of Spooky Tooth, was smart enough to seek outside help when needed. Tom Dolby added keyboards on "4." The keyboard drenched ballad "Waiting For A Girl Like You" was such a hit (though it didn't equal the unique sounding "Urgent") that Foreigner recorded it again for their follow-up CD "Agent Provocateur." Only this time they called it "I Want To Know What Love Is." This track employed the talents of Thompson Twin Tom Bailey, Jennifer Holliday and a full-blown Jersey Choir. On "Inside Information" they went to the ballad well for as third time and called that version "I Don't Want To Live Without You." There was none of the "two x four 'tween the eyes" Rock Foreigner delivered in the '70s. Nor was there the quality of material or performance found on "4."
Jones was a perfectionist and that drove Gramm up the wall. Doing the takes over and over and over again. Eventually, Gramm left for a moderately successful, if short-lived, career. Jones continued with a new lead singer but Foreigner was shot. Jones and Gramm regrouped in the early '90s and did some recording and touring. The band ranged from a quartet to its original six-member size. Remember their best-known song had a screaming sax solo. So everywhere they played audiences were expecting
1978 Double Vision
1979 Head Games
1984 Agent Provocateur
1987 Inside Information
1991 Unusual Heat
1994 Mr. Moonlight
2009 Can't Slow Down
Foreigner's late '70s material occasionally sounds forced. They know how to do it but try too hard. In the '80s, they figured out how to make chart topping MOR ballads that sold millions. Their best album, "Foreigner 4," presents a leaner four man line-up. The album has "Urgent" and the thumping "Jukebox Hero."