“Waiting for a Girl Like You” wouldn’t have happened if Foreigner hadn’t gone from a six-member to a four-piece band. They could take their foot off the proverbial pedal, leveraging the new space in their songs.
“The part I liked was that it wasn’t really that slow,” former singer Lou Gramm told the Canton Repository in 2016. “It had a semi-slow beat to it and had a lot of dynamics. I think that being the first ballad that got any attention, we saw it as a big plus.”
It also wouldn’t have happened if founding guitarist Mick Jones didn’t experience an epiphany-like songwriting moment.
He said the single, which arrived in September 1981, “just came out. I had no idea what it meant, but it got to the point where I couldn’t even be in the studio when we were recording it sometimes. It left such a deep impression on me,” Jones told Songfacts in 2009. “It’s the kind of song that the pen does the writing, and you don’t even know where it came from. But I feel that it’s stuff that’s floating around at times, and you have to grasp it. It’s kind of flying around in the air, and you just have to be open enough to let that flow through you.”
This ballad likewise wouldn’t have happened – at least not in the same way – if coproducer Mutt Lange hadn’t come on board. His radio-ready vision for Foreigner altered the sessions for Foreigner 4 and ultimately their career trajectory.
“I think Mutt Lange’s production was great. The songwriting was at its best,” Gramm told the Greensboro News and Record in 2003. “I think Mick and I were working as hard as we ever worked. We knew in our hearts that we had something really special, but we didn’t know how well it would be received.”
Listen to Foreigner’s ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You’
Lastly, “Waiting for a Girl Like You” certainly wouldn’t have happened if a then-unknown Thomas Dolby never worked up the nerve to submit a textured synth-focused demo tape in the hopes of getting his career going.
“I was 19, in Paris working as a busker in the Metro,” Dolby told Songfacts in 2011. “I had recorded some songs on a cassette and sent them to a music publisher in London called Zomba. And one of the artists in Zomba was Mutt Lange, the producer. He really liked the keyboard playing on my demos, and he was getting ready to finish up Foreigner 4 in a studio in New York. So he sent for me, and I flew out.”
Call it addition by subtraction: The exit of multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald and keyboardist Al Greenwood gave Foreigner the chance to open up their sound, and Lange suddenly had the perfect place to utilize Dolby’s unique style.
“It was great to work with a top band and a top producer,” Dolby told Songfacts. “I was very inexperienced in the studio. And I associated Foreigner with solid hard rock and AOR radio and things like that, but they said that they had a couple of really great ballads and that they wanted to take a different approach to them.”
But first, they’d have to get past a bit of miscommunication.
“I got a message from a mate in London saying, ‘Mick Jones is trying to get hold of you to do a keyboard session in New York,'” Dolby told Radio NZ in 2016, “and I thought: ‘This is fantastic. The Clash have finally given me the call.’ It turned out to be not that Mick Jones at all. It was the British Mick Jones that had gone to America to form Foreigner.”
Watch Foreigner’s Live Version of ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You’
Dolby’s ghostly Minimoog surrounded “Waiting for a Girl Like You” with a gravitas that it might otherwise have lacked, and then Gramm’s yearning vocal did the rest. (“A stunningly beautiful young woman had been in the control room just before he sang,” Jones later told Redbeard. “I had never heard him sing that way before.”) The second single from Foreigner 4 began climbing the charts, eventually becoming their second platinum-selling song.
“I think to be listening to commercial radio in 1981, or whenever it was, and to hear 15 seconds of ambient music coming out on the front of the song was very unusual,” Dolby told Songfacts. “A journalist said, ‘This is a radical approach for Foreigner, who’s responsible for it?’ They would see my name on the credits and go, ‘Well, who is this guy?’ So I think that it actually contributed in large part to there being a receptive atmosphere for when I came out with my solo stuff.”
Dolby took the stipend he got for the Foreigner session and funded his debut album, home to the Top 5 Billboard smash “She Blinded Me With Science.” Meanwhile, “Waiting for a Girl Like You” spent the next couple of months … waiting at No. 2.
Olivia Newton-John set new chart records with a 10-week stay at the top with her aerobics-themed single “Physical,” with Foreigner right behind her for nine of them. Daryl Hall and John Oates then leaped over Foreigner into No. 1 while “Waiting for a Girl Like You” remained in second place.
No single had ever spent longer as a bridesmaid. But Foreigner seemed to have found a new wellspring of inspiration in ballads. They reached the Top 5 with “I Want to Know What Love Is” in 1984 and then “I Don’t Want to Live Without You” in 1987, but by then Gramm had become disillusioned.
“I really felt that the band should stay a little truer to its guitar-based rock-pop roots,” Gramm told Paul Freeman in 1993, “and those are the things that I really loved about what we were doing. To hang a good vocal hook on a guitar riff was what it was all about. And anything else, in terms of keyboards, etc., were textures and embellishments. I felt that, direction-wise, we had gotten away from what we did the best and had begun to pursue a path that kind of softened the band’s musical image – and I just was not relating to that. I honestly did not want to be part of it.”
Gramm would release two solo albums in quick succession to end the decade before splitting with Foreigner.
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It’s hard to imagine rock radio without the string of hit singles Foreigner peeled off in the ’70s and ’80s.
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