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A Trip Through the "My 90'sTapes" Collection Pt. 1: Foreigner "Records"

I was gifted a nice piece of artwork called "My 90's Tapes" by an artist named Jeff Klarin. The picture is  seen below and available to purchase at the artist's website ( Klarin has five versions of this theme of his cassettes from the era of the late 80s/early90s, the others are more genre based, but this one felt like I'm looking at my own collection at that time. As you can see, it's a mix of rock/classic rock, pop, new wave, punk, dance, heavy metal and soundtracks. I love it so much that I have it hanging above my desk at work.

As I've struggled to get back into blogging, I decided to use this artwork as a writing prompt to review all 115 albums pictured and share some personal anecdotes along the way. Consider this me dipping my toe back into the Basement Songs pool. I hope you enjoy it. Actually, I hope I enjoy it because there is some music on here I don't look forward to listening to.

Column 1, Row 1: Foreigner Records.

Released at the end of 1982, Records was the first greatest hits compilation for the band Foreigner.  After just four albums (including their Robert "Mutt" Lange produced blockbuster called 4), the Mick Jones/Lou Graham led arena rock juggernaut had amassed enough hits to fill a single LP, and still omit songs like "Blue Morning, Blue Day" and "Break it Up." Coming off the success of 4, it certainly looks like the band's record company, Atlantic, was capitalizing on the band's popularity just in time for the holidays. However, Foreigner had been on a breakneck tear since their 1977 debut, putting out an album a year and touring nonstop. They deserved a break and Records was a way to keep the fans satisfied until they returned two years later.

In my neck of the woods, Foreigner was a staple on the AOR station, WMMS, while their synth driven classic, "Waiting on a Girl Like You" was played endlessly on the Top-40 stations. In November of '82, when Records dropped, I had just turned 13 and music became a priority. I was just starting to play the drums and spending hours in the family basement listening to rock 'n roll and reading comic books, Stephen King or Hit Parader. I didn't have the luxury of buying records, that is until my best friend, Matt, lured me into the Columbia Record Club. 12 Albums for a penny? Sing me up! Records was one of the first LPs I received in the mail and it still floats between my house and my brother's. Looking at the image of the cassette in this particular collection, I suspect it was also purchased from the CRC.

For anyone who is a fan of mainstream rock from the late 70s and early 80s, there isn't a bad track on Records. Therefore, when I sat down to listen to the record again, I wasn't as snide about the music as I had been in the late 80s and early 90s when I ventured into more adventurous alternative artists. When I listen to this album now, it's like a visit from a childhood friend.

Side one begins with "Cold as Ice" and its distinct keyboard opening. The song comes from the band's 1977 eponymous debut album. Not a bad way to open an album. The track order, by the way, is not chronological, which I think is a good choice. It allows you to hear the music in a new way and observe the ways in which Foreigner's sound remained consistent through different producers. True, they weren't the most adventurous band, but Mick Jones knew something about writing a great hook and Lou Gramm had one of the strongest singing voices in rock at the time. "Double Vision" is next, a perfect example of the meat and potatoes type of rock Foreigner concocted. "Head Games" is track three. This is one of my favorite songs that Jones and Gramm wrote together.  I love how Jones' guitar riff echoes the chorus. I can't recall hearing this one a great deal on the radio, which may account for it being a favorite. It wasn't overplayed. At the time of its release I was still an avid listener of G98, WGCL. The music they played was more poppy, which meant that something with a harder edge didn't receive quite as much airplay. 

The band's biggest hit at the time, "Waiting for a Girl Like You" follows. This song was at its peak when I was just beginning to record songs off the radio with my portable cassette recorder that my parents got me for Christmas in 6th grade. I'm sure many of you did the same, placing the recorder next to the radio speaker and sat waiting for your favorite song to come on so you could get it on tape. The evening I captured "Waiting for a Girl Like You," with its Thomas Dolby soaring synths (yes, that Thomas Dolby) and Gramm's aching voice, I was in my bedroom, where I thought no one would be heard in the background as I recorded. My brother walked upstairs and upon hearing the song whistled an ascending series of notes in tune and rhythm just as Gramm begins the second verse. "You're so good..." (insert whistle)... "When we make love it's understood..." To this day I can't listen to this song without hearing those notes my brother added. As I gave this song a fresh listen, I wondered if it hadn't had the name Foreigner attached, maybe this one could have made it on to some modern rock stations. Maybe. Side one ends with Foreigner's first single from 1977, "Feels like the First Time," released just as AOR radio and mainstream rock was taking off. Although it receives much too much airplay on classic rock stationss, I still like this one. It doesn't feel as calculated as some of the corporate rock that eventually ruined AOR radio.

"Urgent," from 4, begins side 2. Apparently this was Foreigner's most popular song on AOR radio at the time, even though "Waiting..." outsold it. It drives and has that stellar Junior Walker (yes, that Junior Walker) sax solo that is worth the 3:57 listen. "Dirty White Boy" is next. Not my favorite Foreigner, but it does appear on my favorite K-Tel record, The Rock Album. What I will say about "Dirty White Boy" is that I began to appreciate how much drummer Dennis Elliott kicks ass. In an era when most rock drummers threw in fancy flourishes to make their presence felt, Elliott is just a solid musician who puts in fills when appropriate and lays down a solid beat. This is especially true on the next song, "Juke Box Hero," which conjures more memories of the Malchus basement. Can't tell you how many times I visualized myself playing on stage as the drummer of a big rock band jamming to this monster hit.

The penultimate song on Records is the funky "Long Long Way from Home." It features another sax solo, this time by original band member Ian McDonald, who sadly passed away in 2022. McDonald's music career began in King Crimson, the British prog rack band credited for helping shape Heavy Metal. When McDonald moved to New York City in the 70s, he met Jones and the rest is history. McDonald and Jones butted heads, though, and the sax player left Foreigner in 1980, just before they achieved super stardom. Records ends with a live recording of "Hot Blooded." The studio version of this song was released on the LP Double Vision. When I bought Records, I was perturbed that the record company followed that long standing tradition of including a live hit on the record. Why not just release the original? That was the thinking of a 13-year old. Now that I'm more mature, there's something quaint about this tactic; I rather like it. Which made discovering that both Spotify and Amazon Music replaced the live version on Records with the studio version annoying. Or maybe it was Rhino Records when they remastered Foreigner's albums? I don't care, you're rewriting history. Now, if I want to hear Lou Gramm egging on a concert crowd to sing the chorus by shouting "We've got the amps, but you've got the numbers..." I have to fish around on a reissue of Double Vision. Lame. You've given my childhood friend an injection of Botox and it's not the same!

Overall, Records remains an enjoyable listen if you're like me and you grew up listening to this kind of music. Foreigner would follow up Records with the studio album, Agent Provocateur. You'll remember that one for the hit, "That Was Yesterday." Just kidding! Agent Provocateur includes the classic, "I Want to Know What Love Is." Maybe someday I'll write about that song, but not while I'm taking this trip through the "My 90'sTapes" collection. 



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