What was famous in the 1970s & 80s as AOR is more the subject of ridicule today, being a way of conjuring up old memories courtesy of songs that couldn’t & wouldn’t stay out of your head no matter how unoriginal or catchy they were. Bands like Styx, Journey & REO Speedwagon (in some eyes, the unholy trinity of AOR) are now groups one admits to hating in public, but liking in secret. One AOR band that I’m sure is still “alright” to admit to liking is Foreigner.
Those aforementioned three bands started out making music that was somewhat more “respectable” (jazz fusion, progressive rock, etc.), but languished for years before finally finding success with something a little more accessible to the public. But Foreigner began their career making rock music with more polish than Mop N’ Glo, and yet made no apologies. It was because of that they still remain reputable in this AOR-free climate of today’s popular music. Even now, their crowning acheivement is their 4th album, appropriately titled 4 (1981).
By this time, Foreigner had recorded 3 platinum albums and were one of the biggest bands in the world. When they recorded 4, only four members were left & as a result, the music had to be augmented with session players. Have no fear though, 4 still contains music to rock the arenas with as well as apply to what is now called soft rock radio. That combination resulted in Foreigner’s largest-selling album of their career with 5 hit singles & a rare high-selling album that is considered to be one of the greatest ever made.
The first single was the scorching rocker “Urgent”, with a smoking saxophone from Motown legend Junior Walker & a vocal from master Lou Gramm that literally oozes sexual frustration. The unholy trinity of AOR could only dream of creating a song this delightfully raunchy. Peaking at #4, the stage was set for 4’s full-scale assault on the pop charts for the next year or so.
If Lou thought he was in need of some quick satisfaction on that song, the second single was a little more commitment-minded: “Waiting For A Girl Like You”. The song topped out at a respectable #2, yet stayed there for 10 weeks thanks to the juggernaut called “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John. However, the ethereally beautiful keyboards by future solo artist Thomas Dolby help make Foreigner’s song much more memorable & a surefire heart-melter even 20 years later.
The third single “Juke Box Hero” is the one classic rock radio still plays regularly to this day, despite the fact it only peaked at #26. However, it shows the way Lou can move from romantic balladry to strutting hard rock in a heartbeat. Mick Jones’ guitar work is among his best, proving that while Lou may have been the voice of Foreigner, he wasn’t its only talented member.
The rockers “Break It Up” & “Luanne” were the other singles taken from 4 and although they only peaked at merely respectable positions (#26 & #75, respectively), they are no less strong than their more famous predecessors. As for the album tracks, they are just as stellar & helped make 4 the blockbuster album it became. Whether it was rockers like “Night Life”, “Woman In Black” or “I’m Gonna Win” or ballads like “Don’t Let Go”, Foreigner could do both fantastically whereas most AOR bands only found success with the latter.
But the album track that is the most memorable and could easily have been the 6th hit is “Girl On The Moon”. Lou Gramm recorded this song when he had a cold, thus explaining the rather rough performance he gave on this haunting number. Also, it just happened to be recorded on the night John Lennon was shot, making it ironic that such great art can be made even during a time of tragedy. In fact, the band could even hear the sirens of police cars arriving on the scene as the song was being recorded. That alone should make hearing the song a humbling experience for the listener.
4 would eventually sell more than 10 million copies by the time it ran its course, and is probably still selling high today. While Foreigner has itself not been so lucky in recent years, at least they can take heart in knowing that they’ve created a true masterpiece like 4. It was their most successful album, but definitely not their biggest single, which would come on their next LP. Who knows, with bands like Journey seeing a bit of a resurgence in their popularity (even if it is on the touring circuit), Foreigner might still have their best work in them. A new album is said to be in the works, and it just might be like 4: a record that in spite of its title is more like a 5 in terms of its greatness.