Jul 152008

I’m still thinking about whether it was Bad Company or Foreigner who completely reduced rock ‘n roll to its cliched essence, adding not a single couplet of insight or emotion. Whether singing insincere odes to imagined hardships of imagined stardom (eg, “Shooting Star”); self-absorbed odes to the little people who make a great rock star’s vital work as troubador possible (eg, Browne’s “The Load Out”); or maybe worse of all, Foreigner’s stock in trade – the immediacy of personal relations as medical conditions (eg, “Urgent”, “Head Games”, “Cold as Ice”), these songs were not of any of us. The possibility of a vital “rock congregation” would be forever threatened. It was Rock as Televangelism.

Does Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love” contain a modicum of soul or personal investment? I sense that it might. Maybe “Can’t Get Enough” too, which seems to have about as much sincere swagger as a mediocre Lynyrd Skynyrd song, don’t you think? Perhaps Bad Company initially set out to develop a vital congregation. But Foreigner… Is there a second half of a couplet that you can’t see coming from a mile away? Do their lyrics mean anything to anybody, or are they the Rock equivalent of an ’80s direct-to-video movie release, something in that aesthetic netherworld between feature film and softore porn, not possessing the qualities of either form? Their late-period smash hit, “I Want to Know What Love Is”, complete with a robed gospel choir for hire, is their apotheosis.

For this discussion to play out, we must agree on some broad definition of meaning and relevance in rock ‘n roll lyrics. We will even accept the meaning and relevance of the liner notes by the Style Council’s mysterious The Cappucino Kid, OK? With agreement on these points, can you cite a single couplet by Foreigner that is not yet another nail in the coffin of rock ‘n roll? Or did someone else drive in the final nails – and nothing else – first?


  18 Responses to “Which Band Reduced Rock ‘n Roll to Its Cliched Essence, Bad Company or Foreigner?”

  1. dbuskirk

    I was hatin’ the Foreigner by the end of their reign of rock (despite enjoying many a grinding slow dance to “Waitin’ For A Girl”) but nowadays the hits of Bad Company and Lou Graham & Co. take me effortlessly back to the formative days when singing songs like “Can’t Get Enough” while hopping curbs on my banana seat bike made me feel cool.

    Thirteen or fourteen was about end of listening to such generic drivel and thinking “Hey! they’re singing MY life!”. Soon after I started developing my pose of only listening to bands of which no one in my school had ever heard (shades of the Mod’s “esoterica” charges).

    It’s really a testament to my barricading myself away from the world that I’ve been able to escape hearing much bad classic rock over the years; getting rid of the TV, staying away from sporting events, and never scanning commercial radio is enough to net most of it out of the pool. I used to work a job where they force-fed us WMMR for forty-five hours a week, and hearing “Lady” from Styx again would drive me into a rabid fury. Now if I catch something like that it usually just leaves me amused. The DJs still drive me nuts though.

  2. I happen to like “Cold as Ice.” It’s good fake Queen, and proto-Jellyfish to boot! Make of that what you will.

  3. Mr. Moderator

    “Cold as Ice” is the band’s relative high point, I agree, but as an early hit it set the tone for rock rhyming dictionary/self-help book lyrics.

  4. I think just with the song “Shooting Star”, Bad Co reduced Rock “n” Roll to cliched essence

  5. Now, you gotta understand. I did not grow up in a rock and roll environment. I’d heard a few Beatles songs here and there, unavoidably. But my exposure to rock came through a neighborhood friend, and the first rock albums I ever heard were the Bad Company and Foreigner first records. So you’re hitting me where I live, Mod.

    I’ve never had any nostalgia for Foreigner, a band that sucks wildly (“Cold As Ice” being the high point, no doubt) but I remain a relative fan of the first Bad Company record. The riffs there are pretty mighty. Even that first record teeters on a lack of ideas though, no doubt about it. “Feel Like Making Love” and “Shooting Star” (from the second record, as I’m sure most of us can’t help but know) reach even greater levels of cliche than anything on the first record, and thus remain monuments of the cliched essence of rock, and quite listenable in their way, as long as you don’t pay ttention to what they’re saying. That initial power chord on “Feel Like Making Love” is to my mind no doubt THE cliched essence power chord of rock.

  6. Mr. Moderator

    I’m glad you get what I’m getting at, Mwall. It’s not that Bad Co and Foreigner began the reduction of rock ‘n roll to its cliched essence, it’s that I believe they perfected that reduction. I’m with you on the first Bad Co album containing moments of real rock ‘n roll power and glory. Andyr made a good point about “Shooting Star” possibly being the “single bullet” that sent the genre into a tailspin. However, I still feel that, as a body of work, Foreigner was unmatched in producing consistently heartless, cliched facsimiles of rock ‘n roll.

  7. Shooting Star was the epitome for me of cliche rock until perhaps surpassed by the little ditty about Jack and Diane.

    In Foreigner’s favor, how great is following up Cold as Ice with Hot Blooded?!! Unless it was the other way around. Either way, don’t correct me, I couldn’t care less.

  8. Bad Company are the definition of BIG DUMB ROCK. Mind you, I’m a fan of BIG DUMB ROCK, knowing that my own band performs its share of BIG DUMB ROCK. It would be hypocritical for me to say that I hate it. There’s just something so pure about crunching power chords and riffs underneath some really cliched and stupid lyrics sung by a posturing front man. Paul Rodgers is your man. I remember seeing Murray Lerner’s Message To Love film (his film of the 70 Isle Of Wight Festival). Paul Rodgers looked like Jesus on that stage. I can’t help but think that Jason Lee studied that film to get his look down for Almost Famous.

    I recently saw Queen perform with Paul Rodgers. I was skeptical of this collaboration, but then I saw them perform “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” with “All Right Now.” It was like a superforce of arena rock was coming together. Paul at the end of the runway in front of the sate and Brian May soloing, legs sparled with his neck up. I loved it for all the stupid reasons. The ultimate front man fronting the ultimate arena band. Everything made sense.

    Foreigner, on the other hand, don’t have the BIG DUMB ROCK substance that make Free and Bad Company work. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but they are mostly just dumb. I have a little hard on for “Hot Blooded” for all the wrong reasons, but that’s about it for me. The rest just doesn’t resonate. I hate to be so hard on Lou Gramm and co., but Lou doesn’t look like Jesus.

    My vote in the BIG DUMB ROCK arena goes to Bad Company. They perfected it and possessed all the right tools.


  9. Mr. Moderator

    The whole Jesus thing really brings it home, TB.

  10. Proof (for those who need it):



  11. hrrundivbakshi

    Man, Free really were the masters of the Big Rock Gesture, weren’t they? Every single band member contributes in that clip. As always, Kossoff teaches us much about the power of the emotive “porn face.”

  12. BigSteve

    I like stoopid, but Free and Bad Company were just stupid. They lack self-awareness.

    I’m not a fan of Foreigner, but I think the chorus of I Wanna Know What Love Is has some inexplicable mojo.

  13. alexmagic

    I think the lack of self-awareness is – in this case only – a point in Bad Company’s favor. I can accept that they were earnest about a song like “Shooting Star”, that they thought “Hey man, this is a story about rock that the people need to hear!” Which, in turn, makes it acceptable to mock sing along to.

    This isn’t to take away any of Bad Company’s generic, cliché rock cred, because Bad Company may well be the distilled essence of generic ‘70s rock. There may actually be an FCC requirement that any classic rock radio station montage must include a clip of “Feel Like Makin’ Love” or “Bad Company”.

    But I’d still say that Foreigner is the choice here, because every Foreigner song sounds like something created by committee in front of a focus group, as if they were working off some kind of generic set of rock blueprints. If a computer had been programmed to generate “rock” music back then, and the punch cards had notes like “add in a sax” and “make sure there’s one for the ladies,” it would have kept spitting out Foreigner albums until somebody tricked it into playing endless tic-tac-toe games against itself.

  14. Mr. Moderator

    Right on, Alexmagic! This “focus group” approach is what I was trying to get at. It’s why I’ve thought Foreigner has the highest degree of generic, cliché rock cred.

  15. 2000 Man

    I’ll agree that Foreigner is the apex of cliche, but Bad Co. is right there with them. I liked Free. I thought they were plenty fun for Camaro’s, Blatz in cans and girls in tube tops. They didn’t push open anything new, but they didn’t bring any shame to anything old.

    Bad Co. on the other hand seemed to have had a focus group that said, “Free is too much of a hippie name, and girls are creeped out by Paul’s stoned stare. Change the name to the more marketable Bad Company, with the built in cool nickname, Bad Co (which DJ’s can use as two cool syllables).” Yuck.

    I still think Free was cool. I like their version of The Hunter.

  16. Mr. Moderator

    We’re getting somewhere, 2K. I agree that they’re a tight 1-2, with Free not in the running. Both Foreigner and Bad Co were groundbreaking in their cliched mediocrity.

  17. 2000 Man

    Bad Co and Foreigner were true pioneers, but Bon Jovi took cliche to levels even Dr. Bob Hartley could have never foreseen.

  18. Mr. Moderator

    Indeed, Bon Jovi stood upon the shoulders of giants.

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