The music from the Summer of ’81 was full of great, yet eclectic, music. Although MTV was launched on August 1 that year, it was another year before cable companies began adding it to the basic cable selection. So, 1981 was the last gasp for arena rock. That summer we got albums from the likes of Journey, Pat Benatar, Loverboy, Billy Squier, Stevie Nicks and Foreigner. Oh, Foreigner 4. That magic number placed on the cover of that album says it all to those of us that lived through that summer.
Everywhere I went, I heard that album being played: the swimming pool, blaring out of everyone’s cars as they cruised town, the video arcade, on the radio, seemingly all around. You see, Foreigner was big with my age group, but Foreigner 4 was something altogether different. Here was a band that, like Styx and Journey, was a bonafide hard rock group that scored Top 40 hits. Their first two albums were big with the kids at my school, but their third album was trying too hard to assimilate touches of New Wave into their sound. It was a great attempt because that album, with hit songs like “Dirty White Boy” and “Head Games” signaled to the band that they needed to downsize the number of members of the band from seven to four, hence the title of their fourth album 4.
By doing so, and asking keyboard whiz kid Thomas Dolby to add “modern” synthesizer sounds, Foreigner actually toughen AND modernized their sound. The first single from the album immediately capture the attention of Young America, better known as “Urgent”. Foreigner had never sounded this lean yet soulful. So much so that the band hired Motown great Jr. Walker to lend a powerful sax solo to this rollicking song. To me, this was Foreigner’s coupe d’etat. Yet, that song did nothing to truly prepare the world for the depth of this album.
In addition to “Urgent”, Foreigner’s second single, “Waiting for a Girl like You”, one of the more tasteful power ballads of all-time, captured the imagination of women all around without chasing away male fans. This song should have been their first number one song. The only problem was that “Waiting” was held at the number two position on the Hot 100 by Olivia Newton-John’s megahit “Physical”, which was number one for ten weeks. And, for eight weeks, somehow Foreigner’s most beautiful and heartfelt ballad was kept at number two by Newton-John’s most forgettable song.
The other song that anchored the album was a huge hit on album oriented rock radio, the indomitable “Jukebox Hero”. That song appealed to most males twenty-one and under. The song is a perfect tale of a boy attending a concert and becoming so motivated to become a rock star in his own right. The song touched all the male fantasies of the time. Many of us who grew up in the late-70s/early-80s aspired to the rock and roll dream, so that song became something of a theme song to a generation’s fantasy.
This album was so ubiquitous with my age group that my wife who only has a passing interest in music fondly remembers that album. By the way, I saw Foreigner on the Foreigner 4 tour. Several of my new friends and I traveled the 60 miles from our university to Indianapolis to see this concert. There must have been a caravan of five to ten vehicles making the trip, especially since the opening act was Billy Squier, who was ultra hot at the time. That pairing made of a terrific night of AOR music being played by the artists at the peak of their powers.
I urge you to go back and listen to the Foreigner 4 album. It is truly an album of its time yet timeless at the same time. Maybe after Journey gets into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, Foreigner will join them. Remember this about Foreigner: all you need to own by them is 4 and their greatest hits compilation called Complete Greatest Hits. And you big Foreigner fans will have their eponymous debut, Double Vision and Head Games. Unfortunately, Foreigner lost their way after 4. But, other bands who have killed to have an album like 4. They just don’t make ’em that any more, right Greg Kihn?