35 Years Ago: Fractured Foreigner Reassembles for ‘Say You Will’
From the outside, Foreigner's "Say You Will" seemed like just another chapter in a long-running success story. Released in November 1987 as the first single from the upcoming Inside Information album, the song hit No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
That wasn't far behind the group's most recent big hit, 1984's chart-topping "I Want to Know What Love Is," but behind the scenes Foreigner was fracturing: Guitarist Mick Jones was angry that singer Lou Gramm had released a solo album — Ready or Not, featuring the Top 5 single "Midnight Blue" — earlier that year.
“Lou’s album sounded to me very much like a Foreigner record,” Jones wrote in his 2017 memoir A Foreigner’s Tale, “and that wasn’t helpful since we were set on releasing our next album in the same year.”
Gramm countered that he recorded Ready or Not partly to stay busy while Jones took an extended vacation and then co-produced Van Halen's 5150 album, and partly because he felt the success of ballads such as "I Want to Know What Love Is" and "Waiting for a Girl Like You" were pulling Foreigner too far away from their rock roots.
"For me, it was about trying to do things that would never be tried in Foreigner," he explained in his 2013 book Juke Box Hero. "I pulled the plugs on the synthesizers, cut down on the overdubs and kept the contents blunt and direct. ... I want my rock credibility back."
Watch Foreigner's 'Say You Will' Video
The success of "Midnight Blue" led to an uncomfortable situation where Gramm was in the studio recording Inside Information during the day, then rehearsing for his solo tour at night. In his view, this wasn't much of a problem since Jones had taken total control of the band's songwriting, leaving him as little more than a hired hand. “Working for Foreigner had become just that — work,” Gramm wrote in Juke Box Hero. “I would basically show up, sing the songs and put on my hat and coat and leave.”
Although it wasn't a ballad, the highly produced, keyboard-heavy "Say You Will" did little to alleviate Gramm's concerns about Foreigner wandering further into the pop realm. In A Foreigner's Tale, Jones countered that the lack of collaboration was Gramm's choice. He would "be in and out of the studio as quickly as he could," Jones said. "I think he would have preferred if he could have done his parts by phone. He didn't play a bigger part than that throughout the sessions – which was not what we were used to, at all."
With help from a sleek video directed by future blockbuster producer David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven) “Say You Will" still managed to become Foreigner's eighth Top 10 hit. But Inside Information sold one-third as many records as 1984's Agent Provocateur, and Gramm was looking for an exit.
"I definitely felt as if my days with Foreigner were coming to an end," he summarized in Juke Box Hero, "and to be honest with you, I couldn't wait."
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