Own It or Disown It: #256: Foreigner, Foreigner


The British-American band's smash debut album turned forty years old this week. Why was it a smash? Good question.

It isn’t easy to recall to people who, um, weren’t alive back then to recall either the taste of rock’n’roll in the mid-to-late 70s as well as its perceived impact, but while that time period is marked by great albums by Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin, what’s important to recall is that rock’n’roll purists were afraid that their beloved genre was going to go the way of the dodo. It seems ludicrous now, but back in the day when radio and records were the chief method of listening to music, the sudden rise of disco didn’t just mean that there was a new form of music for people to listen to, it meant that there were suddenly fewer ways to experience that old time rock’n’roll as many radio stations rebranded to keep up with the times. Certainly some distaste for disco likely came from since-dated views on masculinity and homophobia, but I’m loath to lump in everyone that attended Disco Demolition Night as folk who think queering doesn’t make the world work (it gives those in attendance too much credit, for one thing). Instead, from what I understand, people wanted music that rocked hard, and disco was not hard. Enter…Foreigner?

The history of Foreigner is about as tame as their music. Session guitarist Mick Jones, who had played on record for George Harrison and Peter Frampton, teamed up with Ian McDonald, one of the founding members of King Crimson, in 1976 to write dad-rock songs that were called “hard rock” songs because the term dad-rock wouldn’t be coined for a few decades. Their self-titled debut album was released the following year on Atlantic and went platinum five times, so I’m going to guess that a sizable portion of their audience was the sort of rock purist who hated how soft disco was. It spawned two big singles with its opening tracks “Feels Like the First Time”, which is about how awesome it is to be in love, and “Cold as Ice”, which is about how bad it is to love. The rest of the album maintains that form of disconnect, at times shifting into the most stock blues-rock I’ve heard since I graduated from college (“Headknocker”) and, more bafflingly, evoking the aesthetic of bonkers progressive rock without doing the hard work to write an actual progressive rock song (“Starrider”). It all sounds like they’re waiting for the 80s to happen, which is not a good look for an album that was three years off from that going down.

To be fair, Foreigner isn’t the worst album I’ve ever heard. The opening two tracks are catchy, and most of the rest of its forty minutes is competently executed to the point that I can’t accuse them of phoning it in save for fucking “Starrider”. If you’re really into dad-rock, to the point that you’re actually getting mad at my use of the term, I can see how you might get something out of this. If you’re not, though, you’re not missing much here. Foreigner’s more entertaining and worthwhile work (I’m using relative terms here) comes from their subsequent albums, which just makes me wonder how thirsty rock purists were for anything to listen to. Again, this soft rock album went platinum five times at a time when being soft was not in style. I’m sure I’m missing something with all of this, but it is hard to recall what I’m missing since I wasn’t, um, alive enough to remember the sensibilities of the public in 1977.


Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.