Well-polished golden hits still in demand
One of the best-selling acts of all time, Foreigner, keeps moving with old hits and a new line-up, writes John J Moser.
Foreigner, the rock band that sold 35 million albums from 1977 to 1987 to make it one of the top 50 best-selling acts of all time, has hit the road again this summer, continuing a touring schedule that hasn’t slowed down since its heyday.
What is it about Foreigner that gives it such a following, more than 25 years after its last top 40 hit?
"You know, I think it’s just great songs," says Jeff Pilson, a former member of Dokken and Dio who became Foreigner’s bassist in 2004. "Timeless songs that resonate with people, and the songs that still mean something to people today.
"The power of a great song is pretty eternal, and I think we are beneficiaries of having great songs."
Foreigner unquestionably has great songs - nine that made the top 10 in that decade, including the platinum hits Double Vision, Jukebox Hero and the 1984 charttopper I Want to Know What Love Is, and the gold singles Feels Like the First Time, Hot Blooded and Cold as Ice.
The group has undergone multiple personnel changes that have left it with just one original member - guitarist Mick Jones, 69, whose health problems in recent years had kept him off the road for long stretches.
Original singer Lou Gramm left in 2003; current singer Kelly Hansen joined in 2005.
Pilson says Jones’ health has improved and he tours with the band, though he doesn’t play every show.
"His health is fine, he’s all good," Pilson says. "It’s just not recommended that he do all the shows. We have a little more gruelling schedule, I think, than is necessary for him. But all is good, his health is great. He’s in great spirits, he’s playing great."
The nights Jones doesn’t play, guitarist Bruce Watson fills in, and the nights Jones plays, "then we have three guitar players", Pilson says. "And we work out different little parts and we get to give you a little bit of some special stuff."
There have been 25 members in Foreigner’s 38-year history. Pilson says he feels like "an old veteran".
The irony is that Pilson has been on just one Foreigner album, 2009’s Can’t Slow Down, because that’s the only disc of new material the band has released in 20 years.
"It’s funny how that isn’t a huge deal for me, just because I know that so much of the legacy is from the music that we’ve done, that the band has done before I was in it," Pilson says. "But it was sure a joy to be part of a new Foreigner record and I’m looking forward to doing another one."
That next one may be coming soon. Pilson says Foreigner hopes to get back into the studio.
"We’ve talked about it, yeah, " he says. "Hopefully there will be some new music next year. That would be great."
Part of what has kept Foreigner from doing more new albums is the fact that it tours so much, Pilson says.
Foreigner will join Heart and Three Dog Night at Queenstown’s Gibbston Valley Winery on January 31. Tickets available via Ticketek.
Still shining: Mick Jones, Kelly Hansen and Thom Gimbel of the band Foreigner perform in Berlin earlier this year.