Death by Power Ballad: Foreigner, “Waiting for a Girl Like You”

Written by Death by Power Ballad, Music

Rob Smith gives thanks for his friends, readers, and Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You.”

We gather again at the Popdose dinner table this Thanksgiving to enjoy one another’s company, grub on some fine holiday vittles, and listen to our good friend Dave Lifton tell the story of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock, excerpted from the diary he kept on the voyage. We’ve all eaten our fair share of Kelly’s Robyn-themed hors d’oeuvres (the “Cobrastyle” bruschetta rocked, but the “Indestructible” chicken fingers were a little tough), and look forward to Ken’s blessing, which, as I understand it, quotes liberally from “Thunder Road.” Oh, and I personally can’t wait for Jason’s acoustic rendition of “Colors of the Wind,” which of course explains why he’s dressed like Pocahontas.

And though I know everyone just wants to get down to the eatin’, I ask your indulgence once again, to allow me the opportunity to express my gratitude to all my Popdose brethren and sisteren—my virtual colleagues who have become real-life, analog friends. It is the greatest of pleasures to work with you, joke with you, debate with you, insult your mothers, receive your encouragement and withstand your good-natured insults about my baldness and love of REO Speedwagon. To you, I raise this glass of Buzzy Mary (V-8, vodka, and Frank’s hot sauce, on the rocks. Big ups to Lauren Markow, the bestest Jewish aunt I never had, for naming my concoction).

And while I hold my glass aloft, let me also express my thanks to our readers, who support the good ship Popdose with their attention, their comments, and their click-throughs. Your patronage and participation inspire me, even as you make me listen to Shaun Cassidy and Benny Bell records, purely for the sport of making me wince. I’m thankful for you all, even though you try to hurt me.

Back to my colleagues. My dwarf valet Passepartout (who, incidentally, has some great stories from his days as David Lee Roth’s bodyguard) is passing out CDs to you all right now, featuring what is perhaps my favorite example of the power ballad arts, Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” Who can deny the power of Lou Gramm in his prime, wooing women over a hazy bed of synthesizers (courtesy Thomas Dolby, if you can believe that), syncopated with the pulse of the 117th greatest rhythm section in all of rock ‘n’ roll (bested only by Keith Moon and John Entwistle … and 115 others)? Who can deny its sorta-chart dominance—ten weeks at Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100, spent behind Olivia Newton-John and Hall & Oates? Who can deny the fact that it opened the door for more hard rock voices and bands to express themselves in the ballad form, and likewise achieve chart success, notoriety, and more chicks at their shows?

“Waiting” is seduction incarnate, the musical equivalent of both the come-hither gaze and the serious boot-knockin’ that occurs several hours after the come-hither gaze. Its sultry mood is consistent throughout, from the first moments of synth chordage that open the song, to Gramm’s cry of love near the close. There’s no guitar solo to break the spell, not even the power chords that provide the foundation of most power balladry. It’s just Gramm, the keyboards, the 117th greatest rhythm section in all of rock ‘n’ roll, and you, the listener—whatever you happen to be doing or trying to do when you put the song on. Slow dancing? Perfect. Necking? No doubt. Discussing your safe word? Um … sure. Makin’ sweet love all night long (or for an hour before a good night’s sleep)? Absolutely.

Your CD contains seven versions of “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” Now, before you thank me, let me explain each:

  • The original. The classic, from Foreigner 4.
  • The Best Of … Live version. Not sure when this was recorded (the album came out in 1993), but it’s definitely classic-lineup Foreigner and finds Gramm in fine voice. Great version of the song.
  • “Nearly unplugged” version. A short (sub-three-minute) reading, recorded in 2002 and tacked onto a reissue of Foreigner 4. This is a rather sad version for me; you can really hear how cancer and other illness have sapped Gramm’s voice of not just its power, but also its subtlety and nuance, leaving the song sounding rather flat and lifeless.
  • The Extended Versions version. I’m of the opinion that Kelly Hansen was a terrific choice to replace Gramm in the band, and he really shows his mettle in this supposedly live version of the song from a budget compilation. I say “supposedly,” cuz this album is about as live as the brain cells I killed last night—you can actually hear the edits where they piped in the crowd noise. Still, Hansen takes the song and runs with it, and that in itself is pretty damned impressive.
  • Paul Anka’s version. Ever wanted to hear “Waiting for a Girl Like You” done in a hotcha-hotcha big band style, complete with brass section, including an ostentatious tuba and trombone combination that trails the singer for the length of the song? No? Well, you should listen to it at least once. Anka is, like, just slightly younger than Lifton, but he can still sing like he did back in the Fifties.
  • Cliff Richard’s version. “Devil Woman” meets Lou Gramm. He chickens out on some of the high notes, and makes extensive use of cheesy background vocals, but I’m sure all of his tea-drinkin’, crumpet-eatin’, septuagenarian British fans love to boogie ’round their front parlors whenever the BBC plays it.
  • Julio Iglesias’ version. Enrique’s old man gives “Waiting” the Latin lover-man treatment. I find this one strangely alluring; maybe it’s the key change in the chorus (which they truncate on the first go-round, for some reason), or the note-for-note recreation of the synth parts from the original. Or maybe it’s just that voice—so vulnerable, yet so sexily Spanish-sounding. I geet sheevers yust theenking about eet.

So here’s to you my friends, my colleagues, and my readers. I wish you all a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Gobble-gobble, y’all.