“I Want to Know What Love Is” is a power ballad by the British-American rock band Foreigner. It was released in November 1984 as the lead single from their fifth album, Agent Provocateur. The song hit number one in both the United Kingdom and the United States and is the group’s biggest hit to date. It remains one of the band’s best-known songs and most enduring radio hits, charting in the top 25 in 2000, 2001, and 2002 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Recurrents chart. “I Want to Know What Love Is” has continued to garner critical acclaim, and is listed as one of Rolling Stone Magazine’s greatest songs of all time at #479. The song is also featured in a number of films.
The song is part of Agent Provocateur album, the fifth studio album by the British-American rock band Foreigner, released on December 7, 1984. The album was the band’s first and only number one album in the United Kingdom, and it reached the top 5 in the United States. Although album sales were lower than their previous work in the U.S., it contains the band’s biggest hit single, “I Want to Know What Love Is”, which is their only #1 single in the UK and the U.S., staying at the top spot for three and two weeks respectively. The follow-up single, “That Was Yesterday”, also proved to be a sizeable hit, peaking at #12 in the U.S. The album was certified Platinum in the UK by the BPI and triple Platinum in the U.S. by the RIAA.
The song has received positive retrospective reviews from critics, with Bret Adams of AllMusic writing: “It’s not hard to see why it became Foreigner’s first #1 single. Its dreamy, hypnotic feel is due in part to Lou Gramm’s soulful lead vocals and the New Jersey Mass Choir’s background vocals.”
The song was also issued as a 12″ single with a longer time length of 6:23. This version contains a slightly longer intro and an extended vocal chorus/fadeout ending. The single’s B-Side “Street Thunder (Marathon Theme)” is an instrumental track originally appearing on The Official Music of the XXIII Olympiad – Los Angeles 1984 and later on the band’s 2-CD compilation Jukebox Heroes: The Foreigner Anthology (2000).
Soon after Foreigner’s single topped the charts, the New Jersey Mass Choir released its own similar-sounding version of the song on an album that it also titled I Want to Know What Love Is. The choir’s single peaked at #37 on the Hot Black Singles chart and #12 on the Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales chart.
The Foreigner song was ranked by Billboard as the #4 Billboard Hot 100 single of 1985. It was the band’s third Platinum single in the U.S. and their first and only Gold single in the UK.
Originally consisting of three verses, a pre-chorus, and a chorus, the song was extended with a bridge written by original songwriter Mick Jones specifically for Tina Arena’s cover in 1998.
We did a few takes, and it was good, but it was still a bit tentative. So then they all got round in a circle, held hands and said The Lord’s Prayer. And it seemed to inspire them, because after that they did it in one take. I was in tears, because my mum and dad were in the studio too, and it was so emotional.
— Mick Jones on recording with the choir
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