Foreigner—Debut Album: The Inside Story

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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 book coming, 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. Further details are coming.

This ad for the album appeared in the March 19, 1977 issue of Record World

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.

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 and Noreen Woods, Foreigner manager Bud Prager and Atlantic’s Dickie Kline. (Photo: Jerry Greenberg archives; used with permission)

Jones, born December 27, 1944, 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.” (Greenberg had started his career as a drummer for his own band and recorded singles for several labels, including Atlantic.)

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)

Foreigner has been nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2024. The February 10 announcement was noteworthy in that, unlike many of their classic rock peers that have been inducted in recent years such as Journey, Bon Jovi, and Cheap Trick, this was the first time that Foreigner had even been nominated. Mick Jones, the guiding force of the group since its start as a British-American rock band in 1976, revealed on Feb. 21, 2024, that he’s been battling Parkinson’s disease.

Foreigner have announced a 2024 tour with Styx. Tickets are available here and here. The current lineup is 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: Gramm, Greenwood and McDonald joined the current lineup for a much-anticipated reunion on July 20, 2017

Best Classic Bands has given its readers exclusive stories from Greenberg’s upcoming book, like our story about his hand in establishing Led Zeppelin’s career, signing Genesis, and the inside story of AC/DC’s Back in Black.

Best Classic Bands Staff

6 Comments so far

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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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  3. Steve
    #3 Steve 29 December, 2020, 18:27

    I was an Air Force Brat at Wheeler and saw just about all the shows you mention. America played at Aloha Stadium with Cecilio and Kapono and Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids. I was 17. Also saw Lynyrd Skynyrd with Pablo Cruise (figure that)! Plus many more…. Peter Frampton, etc

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  4. JMM
    #4 JMM 9 March, 2021, 00:44

    As a former Atlantic executive, I’ve always considered Foreigner my “baby” band. Chills still surface at the first time I heard Lou Gramm’s vocals blasting from Jim Delehant’s office!!!

    Throughout my career at Atlantic (1974-1992), Foreigner was and still remains my favorite band. Smiles forever…

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    • Emma
      Emma 28 December, 2021, 04:42

      I so love Foreigner – such great memories. That’s a voice for yelling, clear & elegant!

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