This is a part of our full coverage of the 2018 80s Cruise. Read more about the floating music festival here.
When Lou Gramm took the stage on The 80s Cruise, he was able to do so with the confidence that came with more than 37 million albums sold – and that’s just the Foreigner sales numbers. The former front man for the multiplatinum selling band auditioned for the job early in 1976 and by the middle of 1977, was headlining stadium shows.
Foreigner released their self-titled debut and for the next decade dominated the music charts. That album spawned three hit singles starting with “Feels Like the First Time” and went on to sell more than 5 million copies domestically. Double Vision followed the next year, increasing the band’s popularity and selling 7 million copies on the strength of the title track and the ever popular, “Hot Blooded.” By the time, Head Games came out in the fall of 1979, it seemed like success was built into their brand, but a rift was forming in the band.
By late 1980, the decision was made to fire keyboardist Al Greenwood and multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald because of what was ultimately Mick Jones’ desire to change the direction of the band. Robert John “Mutt” Lange was brought in to co-produce with Jones and the long, arduous process of making Foreigner 4 began. Lange was known to be a perfectionist and the pairing with Jones pushed the patience – and the boundaries – of the rest of the band. In trying to pry the best vocals out of Gramm, the famous producer forced him into ranges he couldn’t replicate once the band went out to tour the album. It took a toll on his voice and, ultimately, according to bassist Rick Wills, his relationship with Jones.
Despite a difficult recording process, Foreigner 4 skyrocketed to 6 million units sold and spawned two top 10 hits, “Urgent” and “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” Two more albums followed with Agent Provocateurfinally producing a number one song in “I Want to Know What Love Is.” By the end of the 80s, Gramm was growing weary of the conflict that had developed between he and Jones over the direction the band should take. Gramm had recently had success with his first solo album, Ready or Not and wasn’t happy with the more ballad-driven direction Jones kept pushing toward. He somewhat reluctantly returned for Inside Information, but when the band asked him to hold off touring his second solo effort, Long Hard Look, Gramm quit.
Foreigner’s next album, Unusual Heat, was largely ignored. When it was time to release a new greatest hits compilation in 1992, Gramm returned to the band to record three new songs to accompany the older tracks, but he returned as a much different man. The singer abandoned his rock and roll lifestyle, went into rehab, and became a born-again Christian. He stayed with the band and they recorded 1995’s, Mr. Moonlight.
Gramm was found to have a craniopharyngioma, a rare type of brain tumor, in the spring of 1997. The surgery damaged the singer’s pituitary gland, resulting in rapid weight-gain and, more devastating, affected his voice. He was able to continue to work and tour with the band, but by 2003, he made the decision to leave again. In the last 15 years, he has worked on several projects, including a solo record of original Christian music, but he continues to perform the hits his fans have loved for over 40 years.
His set on the Cruise was a tight mix of Foreigner’s greatest hits, starting with “Long, Long Way From Home” and “Feels Like the First Time.” If the audience had somehow forgotten the amazing catalog the band had amassed between 1977 and 1988, Gramm was there to remind them. While the singer may have struggled with his voice in a few places, those notes on “Jukebox Hero” haven’t gotten any easier over the years, the crowd didn’t seem to notice. From the time he stepped onto the stage, they were on their feet, singing along at the top of their voices to songs like, “Double Vision.”
More obscure singles, like “Blue Morning, Blue Day” and “Dirty White Boy,” were peppered throughout the set. When he launched into, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” a few couples began to dance together while dozens of others used their phones as though they would have used lighters on the ’84 tour. Gramm saved the most memorable songs for last by closing out the set with, “Urgent,” “Juke Box Hero,” and “Hot Blooded.”
Lou Gramm may not look the way many remembered him, but despite his past health problems, he sounded pretty much the way the audience remembered him. Not all of those songs were forged in the 80s, but they instantly transported the crowd back to an earlier time when most everyone had smaller waistlines. Gary Flanigan, 56 from Cleveland, put it best, “Foreigner was the soundtrack to my high school years.” Flanigan might have a new soundtrack out soon because while passengers were still basking in the Caribbean sun, Mick Jones announced that he and Gramm were considering working together to finish a series of songs they started back in Foreigner’s heyday. Solo career or not, the singer may not be done with the band that made him famous.