Weekend Songs: Lou Gramm, ‘Midnight Blue’
Classic rock is about heavy hooks, power chords, and tight harmonies, but it’s also about letting loose and enjoying the good times — and there’s no better time than Friday evening, when we pick up our paycheck, punch out of work, and enjoy a couple days of much-needed rest and relaxation.
This weekend, we're paying tribute to one of rock's defining voices between the late '70s and late '80s: Former Foreigner vocalist Lou Gramm, who helped lead the band through a succession of gold and platinum records before kicking off his solo career with 1987's 'Ready or Not' LP.
Frustrated with the more synth-influenced, ballad-heavy direction Foreigner had taken on its 1984 release, 'Agent Provocateur,' Gramm tried taking a more back-to-basics approach for 'Ready or Not' -- and although he didn't get away from synths or ballads completely (it was still the '80s, after all), he did make a persuasive case for his ability to bridge smooth, radio-friendly hooks with raw rock muscle. Of course, it helped that Gramm boasted one of the more powerful and distinctive voices of the era -- something that definitely came in handy when the record's leadoff single, 'Midnight Blue,' made its way to the airwaves.
Gramm's voice was front and center for 'Blue,' a propulsive uptempo song that combines several ingredients familiar to anyone who loved rock 'n' roll in the '80s -- lyrics about restless angel girls and troubled boys, remembered wisdom from fathers, and pouring rain -- with a pleasantly minimal arrangement and a chorus that manages to feel big without straining for impact. The knock against bands like Foreigner has always been that their songs adhere to a simple formula, but 'Midnight Blue' demonstrates why those formulas exist in the first place: Because when they're followed by people who understand what they're doing, they really work.
'Midnight Blue' worked well for Gramm, who watched it dominate Billboard's Album Rock Tracks chart before moving on to become a Top Five hit on the pop charts. In fact, it was one of the biggest singles of the year, even turning into a concert cover favorite for R.E.M. on their 1987 tour; by all appearances, the stage was set for Gramm to pull a Phil Collins and manage a successful solo career alongside his day job in the band that made him famous.
That situation worked for another couple of records -- Gramm returned to Foreigner for 1987's 'Inside Information' and released another solo record in 1989 with 'Long Hard Look,' which included another perfect pop/rock hybrid hit in 'Just Between You and Me' -- but by the early '90s, things had started to fall apart. Gramm quit the group, ostensibly to focus on his solo career, but quickly formed another band, Shadow King, with his longtime friend Bruce Turgon and future Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell. Their self-titled release quickly faded from the charts, as did Foreigner's Gramm-less 1991 release, 'Unusual Heat,' and although he rejoined Foreigner the following year, they were never really able to regain momentum; following a life-threatening health scare in the late '90s, he quit for good in 2003.
These days, Foreigner is anchored by sole remaining original member Mick Jones, while Gramm is a solo artist whose most recent release, 2009's 'Lou Gramm Band,' found him focusing on Christian rock. You can read his version of the story (and much more) in his just-released autobiography, 'Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades in Rock and Roll' -- an entertaining, conversationally written read that fans will be able to speed through in a couple of days. Like, say, a lazy Saturday and Sunday.
Whatever your immediate reading plans might be, the work week is just about over, and a few rounds of 'Midnight Blue' seems like a pretty good way to celebrate. Why wait 'til five? Just scroll down, hit 'play' on that video we've embedded below, turn up the volume, and let your weekend start now.
Lou Gramm, 'Midnight Blue'