FOREIGNER’s RICK WILLS Says ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ Was MICK JONES’s Song: He ‘Had That Whole Thing In His Head’

In a new interview with The Jeremy White Show, longtime FOREIGNER bassist Rick Wills addressed former FOREIGNER singer Lou Gramm‘s claim that “greed” was the reason Lou wasn’t listed as one of the songwriters for the band’s smash hit song “I Want To Know What Love Is”. The power ballad, which is credited solely to FOREIGNER‘s founding guitarist Mick Jones, was released in November 1984 as the lead single from the group’s fifth album, “Agent Provocateur”.

“Well, in the case of ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’, that was Mick‘s song,” Rick said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET). “I mean, it really is. To be perfectly honest, at the time Lou was getting a little bit — he was sort of saying, ‘There’s too many ballads, Mick. It’s too soft. It’s all keyboard-orientated. I want more guitar stuff. I want it to be guitar-based and more rocky.’ And Mick was just going down that road at the time. He wrote so much stuff on guitar that once he discovered what he could do on a keyboard, and you’ll notice, if you know the music, it’s mostly in sharps and flats, because he writes everything on the black notes on a keyboard… But that’s just the way he writes, and that’s the way he does it.”

Rick continued: “[Mick and Lou] worked together in a very good way. Mick usually had the musical idea for the song, whereas Lou often had the lyric idea more so than Mick. And as far as I remember, and I think I’m right in saying, Mick had that whole thing in his head, ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’, it was something he came up with, he knew what he had, and he just wanted us to get it across. The way it came across was right. I mean, it wasn’t just done in a heartbeat; it took some time to get it right. Mick‘s very particular about how things are layered, how things are done. And sometimes that can seem a bit laborious, but nevertheless, it’s worked.”

Less than two years ago, Gramm discussed his supposed lack of contribution to “I Want To Know What Love Is” during an interview with The Sessions. Speaking about his involvement with “I Want To Know What Love Is” and another FOREIGNER smash hit, 1981’s “Waiting For A Girl Like You”, he said: “I did help co-write them, although I didn’t get any credit for ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’.

“I’ve always loved writing melodies and lyrics,” he continued. “I liked working on arrangements and everything too. And [Mick] was the master of arrangements. So we crafted both of those songs together; [I’m] extremely proud of both of ’em.

“After we would record an album, Mick and I would sit down and we’d run down a list of the songs, and he would say, ‘What do you think you want on this song?’ And I would say, ‘I think this one I contributed quite a bit. I would ask for about 40 percent.’ And he said, ‘That’s fine.’ And there were a lot of songs, like ‘Hot Blooded’ and things like that, that were [split] 50-50 — a lot of songs. And ‘Waiting For A Girl’, he really wrote most of that, but I had a good part of that too. I think that was 65-30, and then Ian McDonald had a little piece of that too. I was fine with it.

“But then ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’… The two of us… [Mick‘s] home was about 15 minutes from my home. So I would drive over to his house and we would work on that song,” Gramm explained. “There’d be moments where it was just magic and then we’d hit our head on something creatively that we couldn’t get to the next point. And so we almost had to put the song away for a couple of weeks and come back to it again. I felt we had worked our tails off to make that song what it is. And at the end of that album, when it was time to decide what the percentages were, I wrote down what I thought it should be and he wrote down what he thought it should be. I think I wrote down 65-35 — 35 for me, 65 for him. And I opened the little piece of paper that [contained his note on] what he thought [the correct split] was, and he wrote down 95-5. I was so stunned and crushed that he’d think I contributed next to nothing to that song.

“And here’s another [detail] for you,” Lou added. “[Mick] was working with a choir in one studio while we were recording that song. I was in another studio with an engineer singing the lead vocals. I did them by myself — I did all the ad-libs, I did all the emotional little nuances and stuff. And usually when I’d sing the lead to a song, especially a song as potentially important as that one, he was right in the control room commenting on every line: ‘This could be better,’ ‘You could do that,’ ‘You could do this.’ I did the whole thing myself while he was working with the choir. And that ended up being the lead vocal. I don’t even remember him saying, ‘Good job, Lou.’ But that was the lead vocal. I thought that was a pretty serious accomplishment for me, only to be denigrated to [being] an author of five percent. That put a wedge in us that was the beginning of the end.

“After it was recorded, we would discuss who put what into the song, and here’s what the split should be. And for the most part, we were always within five to 10 percent and we’d iron it out. I said 65-35 — 65 to him, 35 to me — and he comes back with 95-5? I should get 25 [percent] just for the vocal performance. All I could think of was greed. It was an awesome song. We all knew it was gonna be a smash. This was his chance to step on me. And you know what I told him after [I saw his proposed split of] 95-5? I said, ‘Five, Mick?’ I said, ‘You should just keep it all.’ And he did. He didn’t say, ‘No. Please. Let’s work it out.’ I said, ‘Five percent for me after all the work I did on the song?’ I said, ‘You should just keep it all.’ And he didn’t say anything. He just kept it all. And you know the millions and millions that that song has brought in? Over the years, it’s been covered by at least three or four artists who have gone to Number One with that song.”

Gramm was the voice on FOREIGNER‘s biggest hits, including “Feels Like The First Time” and “Cold As Ice” from the band’s eponymous debut in 1977, and later songs like “Hot Blooded” and “I Want To Know What Love Is”.

The 73-year-old Gramm left FOREIGNER for good in 2002 and has battled health issues in recent years, including the removal of a non-cancerous tumor. He told the Democrat & Chronicle in 2018 that he was planning to retire, but still reunited with FOREIGNER for several shows that year to celebrate the band’s 40th anniversary.

FOREIGNER replaced Gramm with Kelly Hansen in 2005. Jones, the only remaining original member of FOREIGNER, suffered from some health issues beginning in 2011, eventually resulting in heart surgery in 2012.

Gramm and Jones‘s June 2013 performance of “I Want To Know What Love Is” and “Juke Box Hero” at the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in New York City marked the first time the pair performed together in a decade after Gramm left FOREIGNER for a second time. Hansen has fronted the group for the past 19 years.

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