Today, I found out a former student of mine retired today from the Indianapolis Colts. I got to know Joe Reitz from my time as a varsity assistant basketball coach when he was still in middle school. And, although I became the boys’ varsity track coach, I remained close to the basketball program, constantly trying to get “Big Joe” to come out for track to throw the discus and shot. He always laughed at me because he was playing AAU basketball. He was All-State in both football and basketball and went to college to play basketball. And, even though I had his brother and one of his sisters, Joe never went out for track. Like I told his mom once, “Joe would have been an NFL starting lineman sooner if he had gone out for track.” His mom loved that. And, I still kind of believe it. Throwing would have helped his footwork, which was good, but could have been great. Regardless, this man went from college basketball to professional football, just like he told me he would. Now, Joe is turning to talents to his brain and personality, which are equal to his athletic prowess. So, here’s to you Joe. Not many get to fulfill their dreams, as you have.
After hearing hearing about the retirement of my former student, it got me to thinking rock bands that seemed to have a workman-like attitude toward their music. Recently, I touched upon one band that I enjoyed while growing up, REO Speedwagon. So, my triangulation led me to Foreigner. In the fall of 1977, I was running cross country as a high school freshmen. I was one of four guys from my class to be the first freshmen to letter in cross country in the school’s history. And, he could have had two more letter winners, when our coach took away their letters after they acted stupid at the last meet of the season. I disagreed with the coach’s move, and it broke up a very close class, as those talented guys never ran again.
But, in 1977, a new band called Foreigner had just hit the scene with a hammer. The band had a somewhat infuriating sound that was at times based in the garage but reached for the arena. I never understood why that sound pissed me off so much, but it did. For example, “Long, Long Way from Home” always musically began as a garage-sounding song, but always lost its musical momentum by the first minute. And, the band’s first two singles made me react the same way.
Then, the following year, Foreigner released Double Vision. I bought the album before leaving for Colorado to participate in a national track meet. I dubbed the album on tape for the ride out there, while I had also dubbed the Stones’ Some Girls and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. Personally, I preferred the other two, while the others who were on the trip were constantly listening to Foreigner.
But, everything changed for me when, in 1979, I heard “Dirty White Boy” from their Head Games album. It was obvious to me that the band had been influenced by punk and new wave on that song and a couple of other ones on the album. What I like about “Dirty White Boy” was how the band remained in the garage that allowed them to reach the arena in a more authentic manner. But, little did I know that the brains behind the band, guitarist Mick Jones and singer Lou Gramm, were moving in that direction.
The sound came to fruition on the 1981 blockbuster album 4. The first was the hot-sounding “Urgent”, still one of my favorite songs of 1981. The song indicated what I had hoped for the band: get back to a more garage sound that would naturally fill up an arena. And sure enough, that’s what the band did on 4. They released a fantastic, heartfelt power ballad called “Waiting on a Girl like You”. But, the song that grabbed rock fans everywhere was “Juke Box Hero”, which was a concert highlight. This album was the hottest album in the dormitory that fall. “Juke Box Hero” was all over the Indianapolis radio stations. To top it off, something like 10 to 20 Ball State students that I knew, all road-tripped to Indy to see Foreigner in concert (BTW: Billy Squier was their opening act).
I must admit that I love that album, 4. It is easily the band’s greatest album, arguably making the band worthy of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But, I remain on the fence about this band actually entering the Hall. If they are to get into the Hall, they better get in after Pixies, Hüsker Dü, Replacements, The Smiths, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, New Order, Joy Division, Eric B. & Rakim, LL Cool J, The Spinners, War, Chic, The Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Big Star, Raspberries, Styx, among many others including Boston.
Still, Foreigner 4 is a great album, and one of my favorite of all-time. So, let’s make this “Urgent” and raise a glass to the brilliant minds behind this album!