Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones wrote this song. In a Songfacts interview
, he said: "'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."