Foreigner, ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ – Lyrics Uncovered
While a quick search of the dictionary for the term “power ballad” might potentially reveal the single artwork for Foreigner’s ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ as exhibit A, guitarist Mick Jones has an interesting viewpoint on the song’s association with the term.
In a 2005 interview with Classic Rock, Jones said he doesn't really think of the song as a "power ballad," but instead, “more of a spiritual song,” one which found its ‘power’ in the “sparseness of the arrangement.”
The stark presentation left plenty of room for Foreigner vocalist Lou Gramm to take center stage with what would become one of his most memorable vocals.
“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.”
Gramm’s emotional interpretation of the lyrics was both powerful and heartfelt. He says that the detectable Christian overtones within the lyrics were definitely there by design (and perhaps a bit of foreshadowing for the musical direction that Gramm himself would eventually take), but it was also especially important to Jones that the song's message “be all things to all people” and a song that everyone could universally identify with.
“Now this mountain I must climb/ Feels like a world upon my shoulders/ And through the clouds I see love shine/ It keeps me warm as life grows colder.”
‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ quickly finds its apex moment when Gramm is joined by the New Jersey Mass Choir [and also believe it or not, the members of the Thompson Twins] for the chorus, an immeasurably valuable addition which not only instantly upped the impact of the song, but also gave it a unique sound which set ‘Love’ apart from everything else that was on the radio and on the charts in 1984.
While writing ‘Love,’ Jones was struggling with his own past romantic failures, something which lent good lyrical inspiration as he was working on the song, but also got him in some hot water. His eventual wife, the future Ann Dexter-Jones, called him out directly on the centerpiece chorus of the song.
As Jones explained to the Daily Mail in a recent interview, “She said: ‘What do you mean you want to know what love is? Don’t you know already?’ And I said: ‘Well, it’s not that kind of love.’ I think it is more like a universal feeling of love. It became an anthem of hope.’”
Ann wasn’t the only one who would give Jones flak about his song. During a later period of rock and roll excess, he remembers flirting with a pretty girl in a bar, who asked him in pointed fashion, “how can an ass**** like you write a song like ‘I Want To Know What Love Is?’”
It was a humbling moment for Jones, who says that out of all of his encounters with people, he hopes that he was “charming to people” at least “90 percent of the time” while acknowledging that there might have been 10 percent of the time where “maybe I was an idiot.”
Whether Jones was charming or not on any given day is all water under the bridge now; ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ certainly had plenty of charm of its own which would bring Foreigner their first number one Billboard single. Nearly three decades later, the legacy of ‘Love’ continues to grow, with the track getting feature placement in the ‘Rock of Ages’ movie this summer.
Jones is happy to be back in the spotlight and even now, he says that the popularity of Foreigner continues to grow, sharing that “thousands of people come and see us and the audiences have got bigger and bigger over the past few years.”