Few bands have worn their origins on their sleeves quite the way Foreigner has.
Guitarist-founder Mick Jones was indeed in a foreign land, coming to America from his native Britain during the mid-70s, first with Spooky Tooth, then as part of the Leslie West Band. For Foreigner he tapped fellow Brit Ian McDonald, of King Crimson fame, and some Americans, including then-new discovery Lou Gramm from Buffalo to front the fledgling group.
Foreigner was a hit from the start, with a five-time platinum and top-5-charting debut album in 1977, and the group didn’t look back, at least not for the better part of a decade as an album-oriented-rock titan both on record and on the road. Each of Foreigner’s first six studio albums and a hits set (1982’s Records) sold platinum or better, tallying sales of 50 million copies worldwide and fourteen top-20 singles on the Hot 100.
The group, with Jones still at the helm, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and has just announced a new stage musical, “Juke Box Hero,” debuting next August in Canada. There have also been reunions at some shows this year with original band members which, as if you had to ask, have felt like the first time…
Here’s our list of the 10 best Foreigner songs.
10. Foreigner – “Double Vision”
The surging title track from Foreigner’s sophomore album is probably the biggest hit to ever come out of a hockey, inspired by New York Rangers goalie John Davidson getting knocked out and subsequently woozy in a game against the Buffalo Sabres. It was a knockout on the charts, too, hitting No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
9. Foreigner – “Seventeen”
A quick rocker from the Head Games album that’s a bit of hidden gem in the Foreigner song canon. There’s even a touch, albeit just a touch, of New Wavey energy in its eighth-note attack.
8. Foreigner – “Headknocker”
A gritty, stomping rocker from Foreigner’s debut album. The tough-guy posturing may be a little hackneyed but the muscle is real, and Gramm sounds like he’s belting it out from behind chicken-wire in some roadside bar.
7. Foreigner – “I Want To Know What Love Is”
The Big Ballad and, really, a bona fide hymn. From the moody synths to the carefully constructed swell and choir choruses, it’s convincingly heartfelt and counters any of the myriad ‘tudes that have dogged the group throughout its career.
6. Foreigner – “Cold As Ice”
The insistent, pounding piano (played on the one at Atlantic Studios that Aretha Franklin used for many of her hits). The full-bodied verses. The faux operatic backing vocals. All of that makes the second single from the Foreigner album a rock-cum-pop classic and a diss track with enough lyrical bite to make most reappers proud.
5. Foreigner – “Juke Box Hero”
A cautionary tale with a timeless, “be careful what you ask for” narrative. Foreigner’s crash wouldn’t come for awhile, and the crushing dynamics make it a fail-safe entry in the realm of rock anthems.
4. Foreigner – “Hot Blooded”
And speaking of rock anthems…This one set Jones’ amp on fire while the group was jamming on initial ideas for the song in the studio. You can’t ask for a more accurate harbinger than that.
3. Foreigner – “Feels Like The First Time”
The opening track of Foreigner’s first album is a perfect introduction and statement of purpose, brimming with optimism and intent. It establishes a dynamic template the group would use on any number of subsequent songs and still sounds fresh and, oh alright, like the first time whenever you hear it.
2. Foreigner – “Long, Long Way From Home”
Jones, Gramm and McDonald used the side two opener of the Foreigner album to vent their feelings about being, well, exactly what the title says as they launched their new venture in “the Apple in decay.” McDonald’s sax honks and solo put the icing on this sublimely constructed, under three-minute corker.
1. Foreigner – “Urgent”
It sounds like nothing before, or since, in the Foreigner catalog, from the edgy guitar pattern to Thomas Dolby’s subtly deployed synthesizers and an icy, implied funk funk motif. And Junior Walker’s saxophone is an inspired, value-plus addition to a track that would have been killer even without it.