LP Review: Foreigner, ‘Live At the Rainbow ’78’

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“ARENA…….ROCK…….GODS!!!” – Text response from a friend re: Live At the Rainbow ’78

We’re going to be digging deep on this post. Admittedly, we may lose some of you on this one… However, there are those of us of a certain age, who can still look back fondly on the early work of Foreigner. It probably isn’t very fashionable to admit that now. Hell, it probably wasn’t very fashionable to admit liking Foreigner in ’77, but we were all in junior high school. We didn’t know what fashionable was. Punk rock may have been ruling supreme in the late 70s, but it didn’t quite reach us out here in the American mid-west. Well, not in Kansas City anyway. For us out here in “Fly-over Country” it was all about classic, arena rock.

Through the gimlet eye of history, it’s easy now to dismiss Foreigner. And sadly, after their late 70s/early 80s heyday they represent a lot of what went wrong with rock and roll. They fired a bunch of original members. The lead singer Lou Gramm left and came back. They went mellow with awful ballads like “I Want To Know What Love Is.” God, I hate that song. They got hit with the worst of tags, “Corporate Rock.” I’m not sure what that is… but I imagine a bunch of suits saying, “turn off the guitar and lets get a choir in here, this could be a hit.” Then they reformed with only lead guitarist Mick Jones and no other original members. They barely let Lou Gramm participate in their 40th anniversary tour. With each succeeding year they tarnish their legacy more.

When I think about that description, “Corporate Rock” I can’t help but think of a lot of the bands who came up as genuine rockers in that late 70s/early 80s era. Bands like Journey – who all met and started as an offshoot of Santana which I would think would make them credible, at least at the start – or Styx or REO Speedwagon, who at least started as middle American rockers. But all of those bands lost the fire. They kicked original members out of the band. Or they let one person or a small sub group take over the band. Styx fell prey to Dennis DeYoung, oh he of the bad toupee and the horror of Mr. Roboto. REO should have thrown out Kevin Cronin instead of let him take over. Steve Perry drove original keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rollie out of the band and they went limp. Suddenly all of those bands went from genuine rockers to pop musicians striving for “hits.” Foreigner went from a six piece to a four piece right before releasing their fourth album, the creatively titled 4. Thomas Dolby of “She Blinded Me With Science” fame came in and played keyboards on that album. Chemistry in a band is just something you shouldn’t fuck with.

It wasn’t always like that for Foreigner. Guitarist Mick Jones from the UK, formed the band in New York with two other Brits, Ian McDonald (keyboards/guitar/sax) and drummer Dennis Elliott. Jones pulled in former King Crimson keyboardist Al Greenwood. They rounded out the group with two other Americans, Lou Gramm on vocals and Ed Gagliardi on bass. They changed their name to Foreigner, as wherever they toured at least half the band would be on foreign soil. With members with backgrounds from Spooky Tooth and King Crimson, one has to think they had some rock credibility. They were pretty far from that Corporate Rock title…

When, in 1977, they released their eponymous debut album it hit all of us like a ton of bricks. “Cold As Ice” and “Feels Like the First Time” were blasting out of the t-tops of Camaro’s and Firebirds from Chicago to Dallas. Those were the “hits” or the tracks rock radio was playing on high rotation but there were great deep tracks on that record. “Long Long Way From Home” is a track that still gets me up and moving. “Headknocker” was another big arena rocker. Even when they did ballads, there was sufficient rock and roll menace there – “The Damage Is Done” was a huge kiss off track. “Fool For You Any Way” is an example of a great ballad and believe me, there’s no fucking choir on that song and it hits with more emotional force than “I Want To Know What Love Is.” “Starrider” was a trippy, almost psychedelic thing that Mick Jones took lead vocals on. Even the deepest of the deep tracks rock, like “I’m At War With the World” (which contains my favorite lyric, “I’ve never had the need for any military aid”), or “I Need You.” In the midwest that album hit the spot. Hell, it sold 4 million copies.

Naturally, they toured the world. Finally, in the spring of 1978 they convened in London to record the follow up album, Double Vision, which sold even better than the debut. Even while recording that second album, they continued to play live. Luckily they recorded a concert in London at the famous Rainbow Theater. And apparently, high on their success they just put the tape of that show in the vaults. Here we are 41 years later and at last this concert document has been revealed. And, as a fan of releases from the vaults, let me say, this is some revelation.

First, let me say a word about live recordings. In the 70s, many bands broke through to the mainstream after years of toiling on studio albums by releasing live albums. Bob Seger’s Live Bullet, Kiss’ Alive and Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan all spring to mind. One could cite Frampton on this list as well, but I’m going on and on. Almost all of those albums have some “touch up” work on them. The band went into the studio and re did some vocals, or maybe cleared up a guitar solo. When a band is on stage, sometimes a microphone doesn’t catch something or there’s some distortion. Even the Stones are thought to have done something similar way back on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. It’s a pretty common practice. What makes Live At the Rainbow ’78 so remarkable to me, is this pretty much sounds like a raw tape of the recording. There are a few moments of feedback, Lou Gramm yells out at odd times. Nothing was cleaned up here and I love it all the more for that. Some people dig live recordings, and others like the Rock Chick, do not. This album is like listening to a radio broadcast, warts and all… not that there are many warts.

On this live recording Foreigner sound like a band at the top of the world. They play with a swagger that I just love. This album just rocks. They open with one of my favs, the track that opened side 2 of the debut album, “Long Long Way From Home.” It’s a bit sloppy but it kicks. It sets the tone for the whole performance. They blow deep track “I Need You” up to a 6 minute hard rock gem. “Starrider” gets a 12-plus minute treatment. The guitar solo is awesome. “Headknocker” which ends the show is almost 12 minutes and is complete with drum solo and guitar solo. They were indeed having fun.

They basically come out and do the entire first album. But what also makes this live album special is they play, probably for the first time live, two tracks from their upcoming second album. “Hot Blooded” and “Double Vision” both get muscular rocking versions here. The album was six weeks from coming out and they’re playing the two biggest tracks off of it already. This was a confident band. Even the ballads here, “Fool For You Anyway” and “The Damage Is Done” hit with a force I wouldn’t have expected.

For those of us who love that first album, or any early Foreigner, this wonderful live album is a must hear. I’ve been cranking Live At the Rainbow ’78 for a couple of weeks now and it always puts a smile on my face. Foreigner is probably a band you wouldn’t expect to hear about here on B&V, but as this album clearly documents, before they were Corporate Rockers, they were just a genuinely great rock band. How can anybody dislike a band who sings, “there have been rumors that my sense of humor, is lacking in some ways…” God, I love that song. Turn this one up, hold a lighter over your head and shotgun a beer… just for old times (and I mean junior high school times, my friends).

Cheers!

 

 

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