The Story of... 'I Want to Know What Love Is' by Foreigner

25 July 2018, 15:18

By Tom Eames

When you think 'power ballad', chances are this track is one of the first that pops into your mind.

It is physically impossible not to sing along at the top of your lungs to Foreigner's 1984 love song. but who wrote it and how did it come about?

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Here are all the facts about 'I Want To Know What Love Is':

  1. Who wrote 'I Want to Know What Love Is'?

    Mick Jones
    Picture: Getty

    Foreigner member Mick Jones wrote this song for the band's 1984 album Agent Provocateur.

    Mick is married to socialite and writer Ann Dexter-Jones, who is the mother of producer Mark Ronson and his sisters Samantha and Charlotte.

    The song also has an uncredited portion (between 5% according to Jones and 40% according to Gramm) by Lou Gramm.

  2. What inspired the song?

    Like the lyrics suggest, the song was born out of Mick Jones's frustration with not finding a perfect relationship.

    He told Songfacts: "'I Want To Know What Love Is' started off on more of a personal level. I'd been through a lot of relationships that eventually failed, and still searching for something that could really endure. And that sort of took a life of its own as well. It became more of a universal feeling.

    "I adjusted that during the recording of it, and ended up putting a gospel choir on it. And you know, realized suddenly that I'd written almost a spiritual song, almost a gospel song.

    "Sometimes, you feel like you had nothing to do with it, really. You're just putting it down on paper, or coming up with a melody that will bring the meaning of the song out, bring the emotion out in the song."

  3. Who sings the track?

    Foreigner
    Picture: YouTube/Atlantic

    Foreigner lead singer Lou Gramm sang lead vocals on the song.

    The song also features backing vocals from the New Jersey Mass Choir affiliated with the Gospel Music Workshop of America.

    There are also backing vocals from Dreamgirls star Jennifer Holliday, and keyboard work by Thompson Twins frontman Tom Bailey.

    Jones said of the choir: "We did a few takes, and it was good, but it was still a bit tentative. So then they all got round in a circle, held hands and said The Lord's Prayer.

    "And it seemed to inspire them, because after that they did it in one take. I was in tears, because my mum and dad were in the studio too, and it was so emotional."

  4. Lou Gramm wasn't happy with the song at first

    Up to that point, most of Foreigner's songs were co-written by Jones and Gramm, but this was largely a solo composition for Jones.

    Gramm felt it might send the band into an adult contemporary sound and away from their rock background.

    Jones told Billboard: "If you look at our whole history, each album had a couple of ballads on it. I think that Lou aired his opinion about it at the time, and that's what led to people jumping on it as a reason for our differences. But I can never really think that having a worldwide #1 song would be detrimental to a band."

  5. How did it perform in the charts?

    Foreigner
    Picture: YouTube/Atlantic

    The song reached number one in the UK Singles Chart in January 1985, dethroning Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas?', and staying there for three weeks.

    It also knocked Madonna's long-running 'Like a Virgin' off number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US in February 1985.

    It was Foreigner's first and only chart topper in either country, and it was also a big hit in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden.

  6. Who has covered it?

    The song has received a number of cover versions over the years, including:

    - The New Jersey Mass Choir recorded their own 'solo' version in 1985
    - Tina Arena (with added lyrics by Mick Jones)
    - Mariah Carey
    - Wynonna Judd
    - Foreigner re-recorded it in 2016 with singer Nate Ruess
    - Kenny Chesney

  7. What are the lyrics?

    I gotta take a little time
    A little time to think things over
    I better read between the lines
    In case I need it when I'm older

    Now this mountain I must climb
    Feels like a world upon my shoulders
    Through the clouds I see love shine
    It keeps me warm as life grows colder

    In my life there's been heartache and pain
    I don't know if I can face it again
    Can't stop now, I've traveled so far
    To change this lonely life

    I wanna know what love is
    I want you to show me
    I wanna feel what love is
    I know you can show me

    I'm gonna take a little time
    A little time to look around me
    I've got nowhere left to hide
    It looks like love has finally found me

    In my life there's been heartache and pain
    I don't know if I can face it again
    I can't stop now, I've traveled so far
    To change this lonely life

    I wanna know what love is
    I want you to show me
    I wanna feel what love is
    I know you can show me