Agent Provocateur is the fifth studio album by American/British rock band Foreigner, released in 1984. A concept album, the songs tell the story of a spy who sees life through both the inside and the outside. The album was the bands first and only number one album in the UK, and it reached the top 5 in the U.S. Although album sales were lower than their previous work in the U.S., it contains the bands biggest hit single, the albums love theme, “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
All songs written by Lou Gramm and Mick Jones except where noted.
“Tooth and Nail” 3:54
“That Was Yesterday” 3:46
“I Want to Know What Love Is” (Jones) 5:00
“Growing Up the Hard Way” 4:18
“Reaction to Action” 3:57
“Stranger in My Own House” (Jones) 4:54
“A Love in Vain” 4:12
“Down on Love” 4:08
“Two Different Worlds” (Gramm) 4:28
“Shes Too Tough” 3:07
Dennis Elliott – drums, vocals
Lou Gramm – percussion, vocals
Mick Jones – guitar, keyboards, background vocals, multiple instruments
Rick Wills – bass, background vocals
Wally Badarou – analog synthesizer, digital synthesizer
Tom Bailey – vocals
Brian Eddolls – synthesizer
Larry Fast – synthesizer
Don Harper – vocals
Jennifer Holliday – vocals
Dave Lebolt – synthesizer
Ian Lloyd – vocals, background vocals
Bob Mayo – synthesizer, piano, background vocals
New Jersey Mass Choir of the GMWA
Mark Rivera – saxophone, background vocals
Jack Waldman – synthesizer
Year Chart Position
1984 U.S. – Billboard 200 4
1984 U.S. – Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums 49
1984 UK Albums Chart 1
Year Single Chart Position
1984 “I Want to Know What Love Is” U.S. – Adult Contemporary 3
1984 “I Want to Know What Love Is” U.S. – Mainstream Rock Tracks 1
1984 “I Want to Know What Love Is” U.S. – Billboard Hot 100 1
1984 “I Want to Know What Love Is” UK Singles Chart 1
1985 “Down on Love” U.S. – Billboard Hot 100 54
1985 “I Want to Know What Love Is” U.S. – Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks 85
1985 “Reaction to Action” U.S. – Billboard Hot 100 54
1985 “That Was Yesterday” U.S. – Adult Contemporary 24
1985 “That Was Yesterday” U.S. – Mainstream Rock Tracks 4
1985 “That Was Yesterday” U.S. – Billboard Hot 100 12
1985 “That Was Yesterday” UK Singles Chart 28
How Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones wrote a transatlantic hit that he believed came from “a higher force”
Insomnia had its benefits for Mick Jones in the 80s. As night fell on the circus his life had become since Foreigner released their all-conquering 4 album in 1981, the guitarist found himself with room to breathe and time to write.
“I always worked late at night, when everybody left and the phone stopped ringing,” Jones recalls. “I Want To Know What Love Is came up at three in the morning sometime in 1984. I don’t know where it came from. I consider it a gift that was sent through me. I think there was something bigger than me behind it. I’d say it was probably written entirely by a higher force.”
As he sat at the keyboard in the studio of his Kensington apartment, Jones couldn’t decide if his heart was half-empty or half-full. “The song was an expression of my tempestuous private life over the three years before,” he says. “I’d been through a divorce, and met someone else who I was going to marry. There’d been turmoil in the band through the huge pressure of selling millions of albums, and me and Lou [Gramm, vocals] were entering a cold-war situation. I’d just come back to England from New York and was happy to be in touch with my roots. So it was an emotional time that stirred up a lot of things.
“That night I only managed the title, the opening chords and the chorus,” Jones adds, “but that was enough to make me go into the bedroom where my soon-to-be wife was asleep and tell her I had an idea for a song called I Want To Know What Love Is. She just fixed me with this strange look and said [offended]: ‘What do you mean? Don’t you already know what love is?’. I dragged her into the studio to hear it, which must say something. You always know when you’ve got something strong, and this song definitely moved me.”
Jones was happy enough with the song to hand it over to Gramm, bassist Rick Wills and drummer Dennis Elliott for Foreigner’s forthcoming Agent Provocateur album. “But I was still looking for ways to enhance it in a spiritual way,” he remembers. “I’d even considered approaching Aretha Franklin.
“In the end I was having lunch with a guy who ran a gospel music label. He sent me a bunch of albums, and one was by the New Jersey Mass Choir. When I heard them, I immediately had the finished song in my head. So I drove out to New Jersey and watched them in rehearsals, and it sounded fantastic. They were fresh; they’d never recorded a mainstream album before.”
It would take one more divine intervention to get I Want To Know What Love Is down on tape. “We got about 30 of the choir into the Right Track studio in New York,” explains Jones. “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.”
Even the number-crunchers at Atlantic Records couldn’t resist the emotional power of I Want To Know What Love Is.
“Ahmet Ertegün, the late president of Atlantic, had always been my mentor,” Jones recalls. “I invited him down to the studio one night, closed the door and said: ‘Look, I just want to play you one song and hear what you think.’ This is somebody who discovered Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, so his opinion was quite important. So we sat there and listened, and after the first chorus I looked over in his direction and tears were rolling down his cheeks. I thought: ‘My God! I’ve done it!’ He was away with the music’.”
The release of I Want To Know What Love Is, at the end of 1984. confirmed that, for better or worse, this most personal of late-night confessionals had struck a universal chord.
“It was No.1 worldwide,” Jones says, “and I doubt there are many people who haven’t heard it. It was played on the radio all around the world. And I started getting letters from people who weren’t necessarily fans but had found comfort in that song at times of suffering and sadness. Everybody took their own meaning from it. And that’s all you can hope for as a writer.”
Indeed the only dissent came from within Foreigner, with Gramm bemoaning the band’s new public perception as balladeers, and publicly disowning the song that earned them it.
“He started to say that later,” Jones recalls. “I think it was to do with him wanting to break away from the band, and he chose that as something to talk about.
“The truth is, there were softer songs on past albums. But, as it was Christmas, the label wanted to release I Want To Know What Love Is. If we’d gone with a different first single it would have been interpreted differently. But I was always very proud of it, and thankful I was able to write it.”