Lou Gramm - "Waiting For A Girl Like You"

by Bruce Pollock

They're Playing My Song is a column by Bruce Pollock, where he focuses on the one song that had the greatest impact on a particular artist or songwriter's career. Here, he speaks with Lou Gramm.

"Waiting for a Girl Like You"
Artist: Foreigner
Writers: Lou Gramm/Mick Jones
Album: Foreigner 4
Year: 1982
Chart Position: #2 US, #8 UK
Label: Atlantic
In his 2013 autobiography, Jukebox Hero: My Five Decades in Rock 'n' Roll, written with Scott Pitoniak, Lou Gramm recounts the unusual inspiration behind his fevered singing in Foreigner's breakthrough ballad, "Waiting for a Girl Like You."

"This gorgeous, dark haired woman - an absolute knockout - walked into the control room and plopped herself down in the front row of theater seats near the glass that looks out into the studio where I was singing. I figured she was someone Mick (guitarist/cowriter Mick Jones) and Rick (bass player Rick Wills) knew, and to be honest, I couldn't take my eyes off her because she was so stunning. I began serenading her as if she were the girl I'd been waiting for all my life. I gave it my all for about 45 minutes, and just as I finished my final take, she smiled at me, waved good-bye, and waked out of the control room. Like a teenage boy with raging hormones, I walked into the control room and immediately asked 'Who was that?' The guys looked at me funny. 'What do you mean,' Mick said. 'We thought she was somebody you knew.' We all started acting giddy, barged out of the room, and jogged down the hallway in search of this mystery woman. We never did track her down, and to this day I have no idea who she was. All I know is that she inspired me to hit all the right notes for that ballad. I have never sung that song better than I did that day."

Several months later, when I spoke to Lou, he acknowledged the story, and acknowledged that the mystery woman still hadn't popped out of the woodwork to identify herself (actually, I imagine long lines of women appearing for that particular casting call, should Lou ever announce it). But as far as waiting for someone like her, both for the writing and the performing of the song, Lou did want to backtrack somewhat from his printed sentiments. "I mean, there's always a certain amount of truth in the lyrics and things you've lived, and then you embellish it with a little imagination."

But in fact, by that time he'd already found the girl he'd been waiting for. "Oh yeah," Lou said. "Absolutely."
Lou Gramm:
Basically, Mick would give me a cassette tape with both sides full of just 30 second guitar riffs or piano hooks and if I found one I liked, I could take it and he would elaborate on it and I would work on it with a lyric and a melody. What he had was a couple of lines, including the line behind the verse. What we didn't have was the chorus, which turned out to be "I've been waiting for a girl like you." So I think the instrumental hook and the verse melody were the first things we worked on.

We would get to a certain point and try a chorus hook on it. We tried a number of different things that were okay, but didn't quite do the job that we needed it to do. We thought we had something really good with the verse melody and the lyric line, and we needed something really strong to bring that home for the chorus. We worked on it for a number of days, as I recall. Our working pattern was that we would work on something until we just flat out had no more ideas, then we'd put it aside and work on something else. But the next time we got together we would always come back to it. During that process Mick again gave me a cassette of musical riffs, and he had this thing that sounded oriental the way he was doing it. He was just hitting two notes at a time on a piano. It could have been the makings of another song. But we both stopped when we heard that again and we said, "This has got to work." I think it was even in a different key. But he transposed it and musically it was beautiful. So we hammered away at it and came up with the "I've Been Waiting" lyric line and melody. And after that we were slapping each other on the back.
Before they were Foreigner, the band was called Trigger. When they sent a cassette of "Feels Like The First Time" to Atlantic Records, it was John Kalodner who scouted them, signed them, and changed their name ("Foreigner" because they were multi-national - Gramm was from America, Jones and keyboard player Ian McDonald were from England). Kalodner quickly rose to power, scoring his greatest hit with a re-formed Aerosmith, who he shepherded to sobriety.
Our management had offices all the way around one floor at 1790 Broadway, right near the Brill Building, and in the center was a rehearsal studio and that's where we would work - or we would work at Mick's home. After we finished a song we would do a little cassette demo of piano and drum machine and vocal and then we would play it for management first, and then the record company. John Kalodner was Atlantic's A&R guy for those first three or four albums and he was always calling us, "You guys are going to the studio in two weeks, you ready with songs? I'm coming over, play me something." Even though he really loved to rock, he loved the song. In those days we had plenty of other rock goods to satisfy him.

Thomas Dolby added the synthesizer part. I had a lot of respect for his musicality and his creativeness. I think it was a pretty smart move to have him. When we had him come in, we didn't sit him down and give him a bunch of ideas. We played the song and just let him play over the top of it and wherever else he thought felt good to him. Then he would leave and we would go through the things he played and move them around and pick the ones that sounded the best to us. You know, we wouldn't have it drenched in Thomas Dolby, just the one particular haunting line.

I don't remember what city, but I'm sure we played it on our first show of our next tour. We would integrate at least four or five new songs into our set and by the time we played our first show, a lot of those songs already had album radio saturation. And when it did become the single, it was almost the centerpiece in a way. We would build a set around it and make sure the song was played at the right time, coming off a real hard rocker. We toured a year and a half on that album, and I think throughout the course of the evening we played almost every song on Foreigner 4. "Waiting for a Girl Like You," wound up just about in the middle. Because we would rock right up to it and then we'd just shift gears and slow down into that ethereal keyboard swirl. As soon as the audience would hear it, they would start cheering before we even played a note.

The song made it to #2 on the Hot Hundred. It was #2 for 10 weeks, behind Olivia Newton-John's "Physical." We were always curious about that, but I think a lot of women used that song for their aerobic workouts, and that could sell a lot of copies. But the strange thing is, when "Physical" finally fell, something else took over #1 ("I Can't Go for That," by Hall & Oates). Being that close to #1 with such a strong song and not quite making it, leaves you with a little sour taste, I admit, although our album was #1 on the Album Chart for 10 weeks, which was very satisfying. It was the first Foreigner song that crossed over into easy listening. Surprisingly enough, those listeners buy a lot of records. So not only did the rock stations play it, but it reached saturation with the easy listening stations drenching the airwaves with it. Obviously, it was a very lucrative song, too, because of all that. Having a hit with a ballad gave Mick the impetus to make sure that there was a very strong ballad on all of our albums from that point on. For better or worse.

I was fine with "Waiting for a Girl Like You." That was basically the last big hit from Foreigner 4, but then the first release from the next album was "I Want to Know What Love Is." So here we are with two huge ballads back to back, and our rock audience was starting to drift away from us. And then the next album led off with, "I Don't Want to Live Without You." You could hear me in the next building over, shouting "That's it! I'm out of here." I did my first solo album and got back to rock.

A final question: Did you ever get to meet Olivia Newton-John?

I did not, no. And I would have liked to say something to her. I'm sure she knew that her song kept ours out of #1, because I'll bet you she would follow the charts pretty closely, too. So I'd just like to say to Olivia, "Let's get physical."

May 11, 2013
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