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I Want to Know What Love Is by Foreigner

Album: Agent ProvocateurReleased: 1984Charted:
1
1
  • Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones wrote this song. He told us: "'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."

    Jones' relationship that sparked the song was with his then future wife Ann Dexter-Jones. Ann Dexter-Jones had previously been married to Laurence Ronson, a music publisher who discovered the British group Bucks Fizz. Their oldest child is the successful producer Mark Ronson, the man behind Amy Winehouse's Back To Black album. Jones raised Ronson from the age of 7, providing a rich musical environment that led to his success. On Foreigner's 2009 album Can't Slow Down, Ronson produced a new version of Foreigner's 1977 track "Fool For You Anyway."
  • The New Jersey Mass Choir was brought in to sing the backing vocals. It was their first performance in a recording studio. The New Jersey Mass Choir released its own version of the song, which peaked at #37.
  • Foreigner recorded for Atlantic Records, and their 1981 album 4 spent more weeks at #1 than any album released by the label. Ahmet Ertegun, who was the head of Atlantic, cried when he first heard this song. Mick Jones explains: "Part of my dream at the beginning was to be on Atlantic Records, because of the heritage: all the R&B stars of the '50s, people like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. It meant so much to me and my growing up in music. So it meant a lot to have Ahmet Ertegun, who had been a part of that magical era and a person who I respected and looked up to, come into the studio. I took him aside and I said, 'I have a song to play you, Ahmet.' I took him into the studio, and we just sat there in two chairs, and I put the song on. Halfway through I looked over and indeed, there were tears coming out of his eyes. I thought, Whoa, this is a major moment for me. I've been able to impress this man who has heard some of the best, and produced some of the best music in the world. And here he is, and I've reached him emotionally. By the end of the song we were both in tears. Wonderful moments like that, they're just very meaningful."
  • Jennifer Holliday sang backup. She is an R&B singer who has sung for Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, and Barbra Streisand, among others. She starred in the play Dreamgirls.
  • Most of Foreigner's songs were co-written by Jones and their lead singer Lou Gramm, but this was a solo composition for Jones, and a song that was not met with enthusiasm by Gramm, who felt it might push the band into Adult Contemporary territory and away from their Rock base. Jones spoke to Billboard magazine about Lou Gramm's reservations over this song: "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."
  • In 2009 Mariah Carey covered this song for her second single from Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. When we asked Jones what he thought of her version, he said: "I think she's actually retained the integrity of the song. You know, the arrangement is very similar to the original. They haven't tampered with the song too much. She's captured a certain emotional thing, a feeling. And you know, it's always flattering to have people cover your songs. Well, sometimes not so flattering (laughs) depending on who it is. But I think she's put a lot of emotion into it. You can feel that she's gotten inside of the song." (Check out our interview with Mick Jones.)
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Comments: 33

While the song can mean a number of things (the hallmark of a great song), I certainly sense spiritual overtones even in the lyrics alone. Climbing mountains, seeing love (perhaps in the form of the sun) shine through the clouds, the need to "read between the lines" for Biblical purposes, even knowing above all that the one and only God can truly show us what love is. Lou Gramm's passionate vocals and the keyboard melody add the artistic ingredients. While I do feel sorry for Gramm that he couldn't appreciate these types of songs, they fit me and other listeners like a glove. I used to think the lead character was simply begging his or her would-be love interest to give love in return, but careful listening and closer research revealed so much more.David - Orlando, Fl
Patti Labelle is not the soulful chick wailing on the end of this song. It is Jennifer Holliday.Sean - Syracuse, Ny
Absolutely love this song, such a classic I was in high when I first heard this song and now my fiance and I have marked it as our song!!!!Sheryl - Kennewick, Wa
When I first heard this song..I liked it. Mariah Carey does a good version of it tooLarry - Coral Springs, Fl
Hearing the entire audience, which consisted of folks from 18 to 40+, sing the chorus of this song was POWERFUL and awe inspiring. Wow! I get duck-bumps just recalling it.Scarfgoat - Buffalo, Ny
I agree, Victor. Too bad their best song was shut out of the #1 spot for 10 weeks. But 10 weeks at #2 is one hell of an achievement.Paul - Detroit, Mi
I remember listening to it in the new house we got in my new girlfriend and I on a saturday mornig with the sun rising in the windoe during the winter of 1984. Warm memories, we are stil together after 25 years. Guess it was a sing.
Gilles, Canada
Gilles - Hull, Canada, Qc
An amazing song, that in my youth, like other's that have posted, I dismissed as "girly" or "too sappy". With time and experience I have matured. As part of this maturation process, I have come to recognize things I had written off in the past and have rediscovered them. I can honestly say that this is one of the most powerful songs that affects me almost to the point of haunting. I'm surprised no one has mentioned the eery, though happy enlightenment, that one who is Christian and seeking God's love and guidance can experience from listening and thinking about the lyrics. The subject is searching for divine love and what it feels like. In my interpretation, the subject is seeking a higher power to answer this. Quite a spiritual song for me. The wondeful choir reaffirms this emotion, and feeling, brilliantly in this song. Just my viewpoint of this awesome song.Adrian - Toledo, Oh
A great tune till I figured it was actually a "remake" of Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. Try Gilmour solo at the end, and the end of I want to know what love is. Plus the intro sound and the tempo (starting with the cymbals) is just faster for IWTKWLI.Marcel - Singapore, Singapore
Guy from Washington, that was Patti Labelle as I stated earlier.Martin - Los Angeles, Ca
I love the Patti Labelle rift at the end of the song.Martin - Los Angeles, Ca
I think Lou Gramm's great voice and all the powerful, emotional singing keep it from being just another ho-hum love song. "Waiting for a Girl Like You" used to be my favorite, but, for me, this one has surpassed it. It cuts straight to the heart.Debra - Lee's Summit, Mo
Lou Gramm is a GREAT SINGER.I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it and am still in love with it.Not a better song about what love is and how to find it than this one.Pam - Circleville, Oh
I thought this song was sooooo sappy when I was a teenager (like Daniel from Springfield, MA). Then I grew up, got married and found out about being "in love". You have to face heartache & pain, and there are always mountains to climb. This song reminds me that love's a commitment, not a fairy tale, and now that I'm older I understand why Lou Gramm sings it the way he does. Blessings to all of us trying to figure out what love is..........Deanne - Harrisonburg, Va
righteous song, the first verse and first 2 lines for that matter set you up for a great song a comin!
and yes, jukebox hero is a fist pumpin shoulder junting hit! love it!!
oh and I hate Cold as Ice ( puke)
Susan - Westchestertonfieldville, Va
Foreigner enjoyed a number of hits in the '80s, but none reached a level of over-the-top romantic longing as this keyboard-heavy love ballad. Guitarist Mick Jones has always been an underrated songwriter, and his command was never on finer display than when the calmness of this tune's verses explode into a crescendo of a chorus perfectly suited for Lou Gramm's impressively high vocal range. When the gospel chorus kicks in at the end, it's a perfectly appropriate topping for this confection.Bertrand - Paris, France
I love this song so much I had it and it was destory in Hurraine Katrina,I was looking at cold case and this song was playing and it took me back in the days, and I said I have get this song again, Because its beautiful.

Jovanka, N.O La./Duncanville Tx.
Jovanka - New Orleans, La
Sorry Tita...Tina Arena's version of this song was'nt bad......it was awfull !!!!!Dean - Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
So, who's the woman who adds the vocal highlights, "Let's talk about love" etc? One of the New Jersey Mass Choir? She's the best part of the song. I hope she's been compensated accordingly.Guy - Woodinville, Wa
Mick Jones is a great tunesmiths. His sense of melody is simply impeccable, as is the raw emotion of his writing. I used to think this a cheezy love song when I younger, but I've come to revere Foreigner's songs with time. Only better-"Jukebox Hero", makes me cry like a girl.Daniel - Springfield, Ma
This song made me 'stop in my tracks' the first time I heard it back in the '80's, as it does today. The genius of the combination of words and music is magical; the rhythm and timing is from the heavens. It truly is 'other-worldly' to me and, hopefully, will be the finale song in play I'm writing. Dreamer, Rhonda, Miami, FLRhonda - Miami, Fl
And 'Cold As Ice' is the best foreigner song, in my opinionLuke - Manchester, England
Hey Alex, if you're such a rock fan, why say "peace" like some chav hip hop fan?Luke - Manchester, England
This song is amazing. This is arguable their best hit. In my life.Matthew - East Brunswick, Nj
This song, a favorite of mine, is also the favorite of Bill Pullman's character in the 1996 comedy "Mr. Wrong", where at one point is sung in spanish by a kids' choir.Jorge - Mexicali, Mexico
I don't know what's wrong with you people, this is one of the greatest songs ever created. Just cause some people think it's a "cliche" to like this song are just being ultra-conforming robots who couldn't hit good music if they crashlanded in Robert Plants private collection.

Peace
Alex - San Diego, Ca
Their biggest hit. And their biggest steaming turd. Does no-one have any taste?Nessie - Sapporo, Japan
Tom Bailey from Thompson Twins played piano on this UK No.1Merritt - Dublin, Ireland
this isn't the best song by Foreigner...it's "Waiting for a Girl Like You"Victor - Vienna, Va
In my opinion "That was Yesterday" is a better song than "I Want to Know What Love is",equally dramatic but stronger.Janet - Perth, Australia
big hit in Australia as well, they had another song similar called Live without your love , it was even soppier, but didn't chart that well in Ozz, film clip featured a young Ronald Reagan and some footage of Grace Kelly's wedding. It was a good song Lou Gramms got a great voice ,by the way Lous real surname was Grammatico.....Pete - Nowra, Australia
Tina Arena did an amazing cover of this song.Nora - Richfield, Mn
Detective Dee Dee McCall sang I wanna know what love is in the tv serial Hunter in the 80sTita - Bandung, Indonesia