Foreigner – One of the Most Successful All-Time “Arena” Rock Groups

Introduction to one of the most successful rock groups of all time

As one of the most successful soft rock/arena rock acts of all time, Foreigner’s career has spanned more than three decades, having sold over 80 million albums worldwide. Formed in New York City in 1976 by English musician Mick Jones, the band underwent several personnel changes but the initial lineup consists of Jones, Ian MacDonald (formerly of King Crimson) and Dennis Elliot – the British part of the group – and Americans Lou Gramm, Al Greenwood and Ed Gagliardi. With much of the lineup still intact, the group offered power ballads that proved to be eminently successful, and brought them a string of hits especially in the 70s and the 80s music eras. These hits include “Feels Like The First Time,” “Cold As Ice,” “Long Long Way From Home,” “Hot Blooded,” “Double Vision,” “Blue Morning, Blue Day,” “Dirty White Boy,” “Head Games,” “Urgent,” “Juke Box Hero,” “I Want To Know What Love Is,” “That Was Yesterday,” “Say You Will” and “I Don’t Want To Live Without You.” These songs are not only oldies music classics but are also classic rock love songs that have been enjoyed by generations of star-crossed lovers.

They amassed multi-­platinum sales from their albums Foreigner, Double Vision, Head Games, 4, Agent Provcateur and Inside Information. Despite the successes, Jones and Gramm specifically focused on other projects. Gramm left Foreigner in the 1980s and attempted a solo career that proved to be not so successful. Gramm and Jones got together and Foreigner was reformed with newer members.

Even though the band’s more recent releases tanked at the charts, the group remained a popular concert attraction. Their reunion was cut short by Gramm’s illness caused by a benign brain tumor; fortunately he rebounded from the ordeal and started to work again, but he separated again from the group in 2003. Since the group’s inception Jones has led Foreigner and is now the only remaining original member with newer musicians, including new lead singer Kelly Hansen (formerly of Hurricane).

Beginnings and rise to fame

Foreigner has British and American members. In 1976 the band was formed in New York City by English musician Mick Jones, who had previously been with other bands such as Spooky Tooth, Nero and the Gladiators and The Leslie West Band.

Jones soon recruited other members Ian McDonald (sax, formerly of King Crimson), Dennis Elliot (drums, formerly of Ian Hunter), both British; and American musicians Al Greenwood (keyboards), Ed Gagliardi (bass guitar) and Lou Gramm (vocals, formerly of Black Sheep). Jones immediately struck up a songwriting partnership with Gramm.

Naming themselves Foreigner, they were signed to Atlantic Records label. They released their first self-­titled album in 1977, and it immediately became a Top 10 hit (at #4 on the Billboard 200). Foreigner yielded original hits on the Billboard Hot 100 such as “Feels Like the First Time” (at #4), “Cold As Ice” (at #6) and “Long, Long Way From Home” (at #20). Foreigner has sold over five million copies in the US alone since its release.

Unlike other artists, Foreigner didn’t experience the dreaded sophomore slump with their next album Double Vision (1978). It fared even better than their debut album, selling over six million copies in the US and over two million units in Canada. Double Vision yielded pop­ chart hits including “Hot Blooded” (at #3), “Double Vision” (at #2), and “Blue Morning, Blue Day” (at #15).

Experiencing astronomical successes

Foreigner experienced lineup shifts at the time their third album Head Games (1979) was released. It again became a top ten hit, selling over three million units, and produced another group of Hot 100 hits such as “Blue Morning, Blue Day” (at #15), “Dirty White Boy” (at #12), and “Head Games” (at #14). Gagliardi had quit, and been replaced by new bassist Rick Willis.

Despite the enormous hit albums, Foreigner still strove to perfect their craft. When their fourth album 4 was released, it seems that they realized their expectations. 4 became Foreigner’s most successful album to date, yielding such pop hits such as “Urgent” (at #4), “Juke Box Hero” (at #26), “Break It Up” (at #26) and one of their most popular ballads “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” which peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 and went to #1 on the Billboard mainstream rock chart

4 became a massive hit, selling over seven million copies in the US alone (and 4 million in Canada). It w as their best­performing album in their career, topping the Billboard 200 chart. Foreigner became one of the most successful arena rock acts.

It took about three years for Foreigner to release 4′s follow­up. Their fifth album Agent Provocateur came out in late 1984. It gave Foreigner their only #1 hit, the power ballad “I Want to Know What Love Is” (featuring the New Jersey Mass Choir). It also went to #1 on the Billboard rock chart and the UK singles chart. Despite the chart­topping single though, Agent Provocateur “only” sold over three million copies, its sales figures paling in comparison to their previous efforts.

Foreigner spent a grueling nine­-month tour supporting the album. After that, they decided to take a break. Jones had his hands on producing acts such as Van Halen and Bad Company, and Gramm launching his own solo career with some success. In 1987, Foreigner was back with their seventh studio album Inside Information. The album peaked at #15 on the pop album chart, helped by the #5 hit single “I Don’t Want To Live Without You” and the #6 hit “Say You Will.”

Tensions between Jones and Gramm ensued however, and Gramm left Foreigner in 1989 in order to focus more on his solo career. Foreigner recruited Johnny Edwards as their new lead singer. Gramm released subsequent solo records with little success, and Foreigner’s 1991 album Unusual Heat didn’t even make it to the top 100 pop albums list.

Realizing they made a mistake in their recent projects, Gramm and Jones reunited. Their first releases since their reunion were The Very Best… and Beyond in 1992 which has been certified double platinum since its release. Foreigner released its first live album Classic Hits/Best Of Live the following year. Foreigner maintained its stead as a very popular live act, until Gramm was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Fortunately, the tumor was benign, and Gramm made a slow but sure recovery to return to the fold.

Gramm left Foreigner in 2003, and this time for good. The band hired a new front man in former Hurricane singer Kelly Hansen. He remains as the band’s current lead singer. 2009 witnessed a new album Can’t Slow Down, and 2011 saw the release of their latest album to date Acoustique.

Mick Jones and Lou Gramm were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013.