Sep 09

FOREIGNER – “I Want To Know What Love Is”

FT + Popular64 comments • 7,050 views

#544, 19th January 1985, video

Jim Diamond be advised: this is what a power ballad sounds like. Even lined up next to the moral weight of Band Aid it’s like someone’s gone and parked a Hummer in the British charts’ car park – something unbelievably enormous and unspeakably wasteful has rolled into town and it’s best just to stay well out if its way, while maybe sneakily admiring quite how shiny and huge it is.

The structure of “I Want To Know What Love Is” is the same redemptive one as “Hey Jude”, except here’s there’s never any intimacy, and happiness doesn’t come through your friends, but through simply growing as vast as you have to to fill the space provided. Which is pretty bloody vast. The gospel choir? Stained glass window dressing, something else to be rolled up into Foreigner’s katamari of need that by single’s end is ready to engulf the world. “I WANT YOU TO SHOW ME”. “B-but o great one we have shown you everything.” “I KNOW YOU CAN SHOW ME.”

As is often the case, abjection is more interesting than salvation: bluster turns out to be the single’s main appeal, but there’s some lovely stuff going on in “I Want To Know”‘s first section (also the only point I can make any kind of emotional contact with Lou Gramm): the slow-breaking wave of sound at 45 seconds in, the Martian war machine stomp just after a minute. They hint at a stranger, stronger, icier single under this one’s unstoppable carapace.



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  1. 51
    swanstep on 11 Sep 2009 #

    @47,49: I’m sure the musical diversity/chaos of post-punk/new pop is part of the story, but might the bulge in big singles hits between 1981-1984 also be a result of 12″ singles taking off, say from the glorious color-coded Human League 12″ singles in 1981 through to Frankie taking the ’12″ as cultural event’ as far as it could go in 1984?

    After that, IIRC, dance/club mixes became more or less universal, but also separated somewhat from the main charts (and more just for djs, both as routine remixers and as those who played the stuff), and without adding personality to the whole pop-charts enterprise in the same way (except for m/a/r/r/s and a few other bunny-able things).

  2. 52
    poohugh on 13 Sep 2009 #

    Two years ago Julio Iglesias did a version of this song on X Factor, it was great/made me weep slightly. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZ0G9sjkS0A

  3. 53
    intothefireuk on 15 Sep 2009 #

    I can tell you what love isn’t. Actually I didn’t mind Foreigner, back in ’77 I’d bought a 12″ single featuring both Feels Like The First Time and Cold As Ice – both sterling pop tunes from a bunch of ex-proggies. However things seem to have slid somewhat in the interim as 70s rock bands seemed to find refuge in the power ballad – basically a slow rock song with everything inflated. Big guitar chords, huge washes of keyboards, strident and strutting vocals, big drums, and in Foreigners case, a huge gospel choir. It’s well played, nicely produced but totally vacuous (ditto Heart, Chicago, REO Speedwagon, Starship, Toto etc etc etc).

  4. 54
    Brooksie on 11 Mar 2010 #

    @ MikeMCSG # 40: “Foreigner were always a more interesting band than their AOR contemporaries (REO Speedwagon,Styx,Journey et al)”

    I dispute that. The only things those bands have in common was their US popularity and being middle-aged rather than young. Each of those bands are interesting in their own ways, while being different to Foreigner.

    Good song. I thought it was dull and ‘mature’ when I was younger. But we all grow up.

  5. 55
    AndyPandy on 12 Mar 2010 #

    Brooksie at 54: I grew up too – I remember having a lift in a friend’s Granada in about 82/83 and as he was blasting out “Rosanna” by Toto on his cassette-player sitting smugly in the back thinking (he was 17 or 18 too at the time)”how can you be into this shit?!”

    Years later I came to realise that “Rosanna” (like a lot of the kind of soft rock I wouldn’t have gone near back then) was actually a bloody good track.

    Like you say as you mature the pretence slips away and it comes down to (what it should always have been) whether the music is actually any good…

  6. 56
    Auntie Beryl on 10 Feb 2013 #

    Years removed from the original conversation, but one of the biggest selling weeks of the year for downloads is now the week after Christmas – iTunes vouchers, this decade’s Record Tokens, being gleefully spent without the need to leave home to do so; and newly received devices starting to be filled up. Online sales are huge in general that week, as internet shopping is a good excuse to get away from making small talk with relatives, or being forced to watch the Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas special.

    This in contrast to the week before Christmas, where the sales split is still as one sided as 90% physical,10% digital; not that the media ever mention that as the story remains “everyone is downloading now and if you still buy discs you’re a dinosaur”.

  7. 57
    punctum on 12 Jun 2014 #

    TPL deals with the album. A cold, pitiless new dawn indeed.

  8. 58
    Lazarus on 22 Nov 2014 #

    Making a return to our screens (pity about the brutal editing …)


  9. 59
    hectorthebat on 23 Dec 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Blender (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Songs to Download Right Now! (2003)
    Blender (USA) – Top 500 Songs of the 80s-00s (2005) 47
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 730
    Life (USA) – 40 Years of Rock & Roll, 5 Songs for Each Year 1952-91 (Updated 1995)
    Rolling Stone & MTV (USA) – The 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since the Beatles (2000) 83
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 54
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 476
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 479
    Steve Sullivan (USA) – Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (2013) 21-100
    Swellsville, Chuck Eddy (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the 80s (1990) 4
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  10. 60
    Adam on 27 Mar 2015 #

    Woohoo Stork boy! Learned something new today, as Like a Virgin was #1 in Canada I believe… which I prefer. This one’s not so bad though, not something I’d normally comment on, but gives me nostalgia for evening shifts in a gas station as a teenager when I couldn’t switch it away from the 80s dial. I’ve never considered the chorus’s lyrics anything other than carnal… kind of harkens back to the 50s/60s that way, I guess, leaving a bit to your imagination.

  11. 61
    Mostro on 16 Apr 2015 #

    Oddly, when I think of “I Want to Know What Love Is”, it’s always the atmospheric intro and verses (mainly the longer first one) that I associate with it, not the massive gospel-backed chorus.

    This works to its benefit for me. I don’t hate the chorus, but I’m not fanatical either, and it plays on a bit too long towards the end fade out.

    Anyway, I think this verse-centric association means I have it mentally filed in a somewhat different place to someone who thinks of the chorus first.

    To some extent it’s two songs in one, and this makes me wonder if people I’ve read expressing like or dislike for it over the years are judging it on the same merits- or associations- as I am.

  12. 62
    Phil on 16 Apr 2015 #

    Another vote for the verses, which seem to me to express something a bit rawer than your average #1. Reminds me oddly of one of Abba’s later bunnies, which I tried SingStar-ing one Christmas & couldn’t get through for choking up. Both seem like very middle-aged songs to me, but maybe that’s just because I’m middle-aged…

  13. 63
    sbahnhof on 11 Oct 2015 #

    Re 34 Erithian — so, this *wasn’t* Peel’s scathing description of “I Want to Know What Love Is”? Cos it sums it up well for me:

    “And it must have been during this run at number one that we had one of the all-time great lines from John Peel on TOTP: ‘That’s Russ Abbot with his cover of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”.'”

  14. 64
    Mark G on 12 Oct 2015 #

    I think it was during the chart rundown, and very ‘blink/missit” but yes it definitely happened.

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