It just goes to show what a hit song can do for a band.
Seven weekends ago, an unknown group called Foreigner came to town for a free concert at American University and two shows at The Bayou, a funky little club located under the Whitehurst Freeway in Georgetown. "We hadn't ever played together in front of an audience," explains Foreigner lead guitarist Mick Jones, "and this seemed as good a place as any to begin."
Saturday night, the same group was back - but this time it was at the Capital Centre, where they stole the show out from under Ted Nugent and Nazareth before a crowd of over 16,000.
One song, 3 minutes and 49 seconds long, is responsible for this sudden change of fortunes: "Feels Like the First Time." In a mere two months it's become the fastest-rising single in the country, pushing Foreigner's debut album to sales of nearly 1 million and suddenly making a hot concert attraction of six heretofore anynymous British and American musicians.
No wonder, then, that disc jockeys and fans are already starting to call Foreigner "this year's Boston" - a reference to the group that came from nowhere in the summer of 1976 to instant acclaim and headliner status on rock's highly competitive concert circuit. Like Boston, foreigner has come up with a blend of heavy metal guitar, space-age synthesizer and bluesy vocals that's perfectly tailored to the tastes of the rock public.
Talk to Jones and the man with whom he founded Foreigner - keyboard player, saxophonist, flutist and rhythm guitarist Ian McDonald - and you get the impression they had it all planned. Both men are veterans of the rock 'n' roll wars - Jones with Spooky Tooth, McDonald with King Crimson - and both had seen what can happen when refugees from margainally successful British bands pool their talents.
Take Bad Company, for instance. Put together by four former members of Free. Mott the Hoople and King Crimson and immediately labeled a "supergroup," it drew on the strong points of each of its parent bands and foreged a style that had broader commericial appeal than anything its ancestors had done.
A similar process was at work in the formation of Foreigner.
"A lot of preparation went into the making of this band," says Jones. "Ian and I knew exactly what we wanted!" Finding singer Lou Gramm, who looks a bit like Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and sounds a lot like bad Company's Paul Rogers, and drummer Dennis Elliott, late of the Ian Hunter-Mick Ronson Band, was easy enough, but over 30 bassists were auditoned before 24 hour old Ed Gagliardi was chosen.
"I wanted part of the band to be young and green," says Jones who at 29 has a dozen years in the music business under his belt. "That way I could benefit from their freshness and they from my experience." As it turns out, all three of the band's American members are relatively new to rock's big leagues, and all three Britons rather sage veterans.
"We're already on our feet," says Jones." Now the problem is to keep us there. That's my responsibility. I'm the daddy in this group."
Drummer Elliott's broken right hand, suffered in post-concert "festivities" four weeks ago, could have easily have upset the equilibrium Jones is trying to maintain. But another British drummer, Ian Wallace, was quickly brought in to help Elliott until he recovers; With a tour schedule that calls for them to be on the road until early October, Foreigner can't afford to cancel any dates.
The other problem at this point is choosing a follow-up single to "Feels Like the First Time." Rock 'n' roll is famous for its "one-hit wonders," and though McDonald says "you've only seen the thin end of the wedge with this band," there's always the danger that Foreigner's success is only temporary.
So Jones is making a point of soliciting advice and opinions. "What do you think would do better," he asks the local Atlantic Records promo man when he comes calling in the dressing room at the Capital Centre," Cold As Ice' or 'Headknocker'?"
When he's told that "Headknocker" seems to be getting a lot of airplay, he shakes his head. "I don't know," he says. "'Cold as Ice' seems to get a stronger audience resonse when we play it, but who can tell?
"In the end, it'll boil down to what we and the record company decide, but I suppose I shouldn't be too worried. I seem to be having a hot streak."
The young woman who runs the Telscreen from a dark little room backstage. Where she's seen a lot of rock 'n' roll acts come and go, agrees.
"They'll be back," she says. "I give Foreigner six months and they'll be headlining here."