By the mid-1980s, '70s arena band Foreigner were absolute rock stars. The band's fourth album, 4 (1981) had soared to the #1 spot on charts, and came packed with hits like "Urgent" and "Jukebox Hero. But it was the atmospheric ballad, "Waiting for a Girl Like You," that proved to be biggest track of the bunch. Soaring to #2 on the Hot 100, it would stay there for a record 10 weeks straight without ever hitting #1, thanks to Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" for nine weeks, and Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" on the tenth.
Followed by a greatest hits album in 1982 (Records), it wasn't until the very end of 1984 that Lou Gramm, Mick Jones and the band returned with a new studio effort: Agent Provocateur, released in December of that year. Clearly motivated by "Waiting for a Girl Like You," the first single from the album was the power ballad of all power ballads, "I Want to Know What Love Is."
Featuring the powerhouse vocals of singer Lou Gramm backed by the majestic New Jersey Mass Choir, Dreamgirls star Jennifer Holliday, and Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins on keyboards, "I Want to Know What Love Is" was released on November 13, 1984. On February 2, 1985, it would be the band's first--and only--#1 hit single in America.
"'I Want To Know What Love Is' started off on more of a personal level," songwriter and Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones told SongFacts. "I'd been through a lot of relationships that eventually failed, and still searching for something that could really endure. And that sort of took a life of its own as well. It became more of a universal feeling. I adjusted that during the recording of it, and ended up putting a gospel choir on it. And you know, realized suddenly that I'd written almost a spiritual song, almost a gospel song. Sometimes, you feel like you had nothing to do with it, really. You're just putting it down on paper, or coming up with a melody that will bring the meaning of the song out, bring the emotion out in the song."
For Jones, the song marks a significant moment for him personally, as it proved to be a bonding moment with industry legend, Ahmet Ertegun, of Atlantic Records.
"Part of my dream at the beginning was to be on Atlantic Records, because of the heritage: all the R&B stars of the '50s, people like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin," Jones explained. "It meant so much to me and my growing up in music. So it meant a lot to have Ahmet Ertegun, who had been a part of that magical era and a person who I respected and looked up to, come into the studio. I took him aside and I said, 'I have a song to play you, Ahmet.' I took him into the studio, and we just sat there in two chairs, and I put the song on. Halfway through I looked over and indeed, there were tears coming out of his eyes. I thought, Whoa, this is a major moment for me. I've been able to impress this man who has heard some of the best, and produced some of the best music in the world. And here he is, and I've reached him emotionally. By the end of the song we were both in tears. Wonderful moments like that, they're just very meaningful."