Foreigner: There’s a ‘First Time’ For Everything

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Mick Jones and Jerry Greenberg (Photo: Jerry Greenberg archives; used with permission)

It’s said that when English rock veteran Mick Jones recognized that his newly assembled band was split equally with members from both sides of the pond, he seized upon the name Foreigner. And in 1976, it was time for the band—the Brits… Jones, Ian McDonald and Dennis Elliott and Americans… Lou Gramm, Al Greenwood and Ed Gagliardi—and their manager, Bud Prager, to seek out a record deal.

Says Jones: “When we started looking around for record companies, we had three on our list. It was Atlantic, Arista and A&M. Finally, it got brought to the attention of Jerry Greenberg at Atlantic.”

Greenberg was named the President of Atlantic Records in 1974, at 32, the youngest president of a major U.S. record label.

Greenberg oversaw Atlantic’s day-to-day operations during what many will define as the bulls-eye of what we now call the classic rock era… the 1970s period that spearheaded the development of superstar rock bands on FM radio that led to huge album sales and arena and stadium tours.

He has a documentary in the works, tentatively titled Man Behind the Music, which devotes much of its time to many of the acts that he signed and with which he had a huge hand in their development–including Genesis, Abba and Motorhead—as well as dozens of others that he worked closely with.

Says Jones: “We made a deal and Jerry said ‘if you sign to Atlantic then I can promise you a Gold album’.” (Gold reflects sales of 500,000 copies sold.)

The band’s drummer, Dennis Elliott notes: “I was always impressed with the fact that the president of the record company would take the time to stop by and see a brand new band and see how we were doing.”

When it came time to assemble and record the band’s debut album, it became clear that there were plenty of radio-friendly songs.

Lou Gramm remembers everyone getting excited about one song. “It’s a smash! It’s a smash hit! But listen, can you work that guitar line a little bit?”

The self-titled debut was to be released on March 8, 1977. The first single was the one Gramm is talking about and which ended up as Side One, Track One: “Feels Like the First Time.”

The result was nothing short of spectacular. “Feels Like the First Time” was a rock radio smash and reached #4 on the U.S. pop singles chart.

Subsequent singles released from Foreigner—“Cold as Ice” (#6) and “Long, Long Way From Home” (#20)—propelled the album to #4 on the U.S. chart.

Greenberg had kept his promise: the album went Gold and has since sold over five million copies in the U.S. alone.

Celebrating Platinum sales of their 1977 debut LP are (L-R): Foreigner’s Mick Jones, Atlantic’s Bob Greenberg, Foreigner’s Lou Gramm, Ed Gagliardi and Al Greenwood, Atlantic’s John Kalodner, Jerry Greenberg, Atlantic’s Noreen Woods, Foreigner manager Bud Prager and Atlantic’s Dickie Kline. (Photo: Jerry Greenberg archives; used with permission)

Jones will never forget one particular aspect of their original Atlantic contract. “There was one clause in it… [Jerry] wanted to play drums at the Garden when we got there.”

On November 23, 1978, Foreigner headlined New York’s Madison Square Garden for the first time.

Says Elliott: “Mick got on the mic and said ‘We have a very special guest… The president of Atlantic Records, Mr. Jerry Greenberg.’ So Jerry gets up on the stage. I think he’s just gonna wave, say ‘hi.’ But he came up on my riser, set right beside me and he rocked along with the best of us.”

Greenberg on drums at Foreigner’s November 23, 1978 concert at NYC’s Madison Square Garden (Photo: Jerry Greenberg archives; used with permission)

Best Classic Bands will be giving its readers exclusive, regular updates on the progress of Greenberg’s film, like our story about his hand in establishing Led Zeppelin’s career and the inside story of AC/DC’s Back in Black.

Fast forward to 2017… the group is celebrating the 40th anniversary of that debut album with a celebratory tour and new compilation album, Foreigner 40.

The current lineup is Jones (lead guitar), Kelly Hansen (lead vocals), Jeff Pilson (bass, vocals), Tom Gimbel (rhythm guitar, sax, vocals), Michael Bluestein (keyboards), Bruce Watson (guitar) and Chris Frazier (drums).

Related: Original members Gramm, Greenwood and McDonald joined the current lineup for a much-anticipated reunion on July 20, 2017

Watch “The Flame Still Burns” from Foreigner 40

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Greg Brodsky

Greg Brodsky

Best Classic Bands Founder/CEO Greg Brodsky earned his first professional bylines as a reporter for the music trade weekly Record World. He still has all his vinyl albums and enjoys going to flea markets and garage sales to grow his collection.
Greg Brodsky
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  1. Gene
    #1 Gene 31 July, 2017, 13:54

    I recall hearing the songs on the radio in 1977 and in February 1978 joined the Navy and was stationed in Hawaii by July 1978. By then Foreigner songs played regularly on radio. A friend from our ship at Pearl Harbor said we should start going to concerts, first was America, REO Speedwagon, Little Feat, Harry Chapin, Gordon Lightfoot, but then he said FOREIGNER is as the Blaisdell Center, let’s go! I was excited not only to see Foreigner, but he said that is where Elvis had played Aloha from Hawaii. We had a bet on the opening song, he won. The sound was so good in the center and my first recollection was how tall the band members were to Lou, however Lou’s voice was BIG, and they rocked the place and I became a fan. They were here recently in Panama City Beach and continue to rock the house with great songs, old and new.

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  2. Guidopm7
    #2 Guidopm7 31 July, 2017, 15:03

    Great article!

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