Today’s totally telephonic tune tells the travails of a terribly troubled troubadour trying to talk to his tootsie.
By the time Foreigner released their third album, Head Games, in 1979, they had been running roughshod over the charts for two years with their first two albums combined selling nearly twelve million copies. Head Games would be their third major album coming in with another five million in sales. With all this success they still somehow had not had a number one hit.
Head Games would not be the album to provide one either. Even though the sales of Head Games were strong indeed, I remember well my own reaction to the album when it came out. I bought it and only ever played one song. “Dirty White Boy.” I wasn’t bothered by the title track which was a constant on the radio of the day, it just kind of left me flat.
In fact, the entire album left me with a bit of a who cares feeling.
Foreigner were going through the first round of personnel changes that would become a standard feature of the band and for the first and only time, Foreigner would be produced by Roy Thomas Baker. (RTB having made a name for himself producing all the classic Queen albums, it seemed like a great idea at the time.)
While certainly not hurting the bands album sales at all, it did leave an impression. Out of five singles released from Head Games, none made the top ten and two of the singles, “I’ll Get Even With You” and “Love on the Telephone” didn’t even chart.
This was not exactly what Foreigner had planned on.
When a high flying band like Foreigner in 1979 want’s to make a change in musical direction, the record companies are almost always resistant. For good reasons. Why change what is working? But after selling that 12 million copies of the first two albums, band leader and guitarist Mick Jones and lead singer Lou Gramm wanted to expand their horizons a bit so the deal went through.
Five million copies is hardly a failure by any reasonable measure. Head Games may have sold all those copies but other than the title song being played on classic rock radio does anyone ever hear another song being played from this album? I personally wouldn’t mind seeing “Dirty White Boy” get out there on the airwaves from time to time but other than that, Head Games is a forgotten album that deserves it’s fate.
When a band is big enough to get the chance to have a say or even make the choice of who they want as producer, sometimes you get magic. Oddly, it’s more common that you get a painful awakening that things were better with the producer that brought you up.
In 1980 when Cheap Trick got their wish to work with Beatles’ producer George Martin for their All Shook Up album – leaving behind the little known but brilliant Tom Werman - it was a painful disaster. It was much the same for Foreigner and Roy Thomas Baker.
“Love on the Telephone” is one of the more interesting songs from the Head Games album. First, it actually doesn’t suck and it makes a solid attempt to rock.
“Monday, Tuesday, three days and more
Pretty soon you don’t know anymore
Friday, the sixth day, Saturday seems late
Don’t know how much longer I can wait.”
Opening with a bit of cycling synth soon joined by the classic Foreigner piano riff this seems to be going well. Then the drums kick in and you’re soon swallowed whole by what is perhaps the first and only time the lead part of a song seems to be played on drummer Dennis Elliott’s cymbals. (You can’t blame Elliott, this is a production decision.)
To say the cymbals are a distraction would be a mild response.
Gramm is in full tortured voice here as he’s trying to reach his lady on the phone.
“Ooh, could ya wait ’til I get home, Ooh, we need to be alone
‘N’ I don’t wanna lose My love on the telephone.”
“Love on the Telephone” is so close to being a great song… But it just misses the mark. Gramm’s vocal is passionate as ever and the backing harmony is still in the same style Foreigner used so successfully on their first two albums but, it’s just not – right.
After the first verse the whole mix of “Love on the Telephone” gets very thin and compressed for a few seconds. Perhaps to make you think you’re hearing it over a telephone? What a clever idea. If only it haddn’t just made it sound weird – then Mick Jones hits his first guitar solo. It only gets weirder.
Can you tell that RTB had just been working with Brian May of Queen?
Jones is a great guitarist in his own right and really didn’t need a bit of May’s sound injected into his style of playing. Then again, that’s why Head Games really doesn’t work as an entire album.
A great and talented band working with a great and talented producer combining to produce something that is brilliantly recorded, energetically played and performed, and yet it never feels like Foreigner.
It does sound like them. I mean you would never mistake this album for anyone else but, there is something gone terribly wrong in the collaboration of Roy Thomas Baker and Foreigner. They must have known it as well for when Foreigner returned in 1981 for their next album, 4, they had Mutt Lange behind the console and, they also had their first number one hit with “Urgent.”