Friday, July 5, 2013

Foreigner Wants You To Know What A Gospel Choir Is

Once the staunchly hard-rocking Foreigner had given balladry a shot with "Waiting For a Girl Like You," and ended up with their most massive hit yet, let's just say the gloves were off. As with a band like Chicago, long-time fans may have still been bemoaning the change in direction, while everyone else probably just assumed this was the sound of Foreigner. But if there were those who thought that "Waiting For a Girl Like You" couldn't be topped, well ... they were sorely mistaken.

For you see, as the music video shows, "I Want To Know What Love Is" isn't just a song about love; it's a song about racial harmony. It's a song about black and white joining forces to create musical magic.

The key to "I Want To Know What Love Is" is that it doesn't start out too powerfully. Oh, but it gets powerful. Lou Gramm stands alone at the microphone. He opens his clenched fist in slow motion. "Gotta take a little time/A little time to think things over." A woman tosses in the darkness. The producer fumbles with the blinds. Outside, a city is awakening.

There's a hint of the power to come at 0:43, when the synthesizer rises threateningly behind Lou, only to swiftly recede. A young black construction worker precariously lifts a beam on a rooftop. "Now this mountain I must climb/Feels like the world upon my shoulders." Well, OK, maybe not the world. I mean, the beam looks heavy, but come on.

But wait, what's this? A new urgency in Lou's voice. "In my lyyy-fffe, there's been heartache and pain/Uh-ah don't know if I can faaaaace it again/Can't stop now, I've traaaaveled so far/To change this lonely lyyy-uy-ffe ..." The white girl is taking a shower. There's the patented "agonizingly long power ballad pause," a drumroll, and then ...

The choir.

The gospel choir.

Foreigner. For shame. It's the oldest trick in the book. And Foreigner totally goes for it. Shamelessly goes for it. Unapologetically dives headfirst into it. It should be embarrassing, insulting, manipulative, exploitative, except ... it works so well.

The images continue to build. A black woman leaves her cleaning job and walks down a New York City sidewalk. Steam rises from the manholes. The members of Foreigner ride in a cab. The second time around, Lou's "in my life" is extra intense as he draws each of the three words out, sounding something like "Eeeaann! Maahh! Lyy-yyff!!" I mean, he really, really wants to know what love is.

Then the video takes a twist. Why are these black kids hopping on a bus? Why are they holding pieces of paper that say "Foreigner" on them? Wait. Could it be? Is the video depicting these young gospel singers ... on their way to the recording session for "I Want To Know What Love Is?"?! Which would obviously be the most exciting thing an inner city black kid could possibly imagine doing, amirite?

Foreigner enters the studio. The choir members enter the studio. This is beautiful. Didn't Martin Luther King mention something about this in his "I Have a Dream" speech? There's only one thing missing: the impossibly hot white girl. Ah, there she is at 3:25, her perfectly coiffed hair bouncing as she runs down the Manhattan street.

When it's time for the fade-out, this stallion finally breaks free from his chains. Now it's Lou and the choir, one on one. His back is so massive and his hair is so curly that, from this angle, he sort of looks like an ogre. But this is one ogre who can belt it. He slips in a nice "Ah I wanna feel" at the 3:28 mark, and an aching "And I know-ah-ohh-uhh" at the 3:34 mark. We're into serious "Hey Jude" territory here. What else have you got for us, Lou?

3:43: "Let's talk about luv"
3:47: "Luu-uuv that yuh feel innnnn-sy-hyyyde"
3:54 "Uh-and ahhm feelin' so much luuuv"
4:00 "Uhh you just cannah hahhyde"

But look out, Lou! Here comes the anonymous, soulful black woman! You can hear her start to warm up at the 4:08 mark. She provides arguably the song's most glorious moment with her seemingly impromptu "Let's talk a-bhou-out luh-huve" at 4:15. Oh damn. You can't compete with the real thing, can you, Lou? Then at 4:32 she throws in a "show me that it's real" for good measure. That said, Lou's subsequent "yeahh-heah!" at 4:35 and "haaa wanna knoh-uh-hohh!" at 4:39 really hold their own against this invisible quasi-Aretha.

It's timeless. It's moving. Ah, but who cares about the massive black choir, because look! Lou's unfathomably gorgeous white girlfriend has finally made it to the studio.


Herr Zrbo said...

An absolutely amazing breakdown, bravo.

I liked how excited all these inner city kids were to meet... Foreigner. You'd think they were meeting Muhammad Ali or Al Sharpton as they stuck their hands out to perhaps get a shake from one of these guys. Are they really that excited to be meeting a bunch of white dudes playing guitar? But, oh yeah, Martin Luther King and all that stuff.

You neglected to mention that that very same group of black kids on the bus morph into a group of middle age black people once they start singing, cause I'm not sure I saw a single kid in that choir.

Finally, is it me, or does he 'steal' the woman's "yee-aaah!" at 4:36? It doesn't sound like his, even if he mouths it.

Little Earl said...

Yes, I, likewise, wondered if Lou had "stolen" the quasi-Aretha's "yeahh-heah!, but the initial note of his "haaa wanna knoh-uh-hohh!" sounds strikingly similar to the "yeahh-heah!," which leads me to believe that Lou would have indeed been capable of singing both lines. I think we need a forensic expert on this one.

But I agree, "stealing" can absolutely occur in a music video. For instance, in the clip for "Maneater," the first "oooh!" after the saxophone solo is mouthed by Oates, but I'm pretty sure that Hall is the one who is actually singing it. Thought you could get away with one there, eh Oates?