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Mick Jones & Lou Gramm Do "Urgent" With Billy Joel

Mick Jones & Lou Gramm Do “Urgent” With Billy Joel

Stefan Brending, / CC by-sa-3.0
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Mick looks like a dentist after a bad night, Lou looks like a retired butcher, but when the former picks the notes on that Les Paul and the latter opens his pipes…

It’s 1981 all over again. AND IT FEELS SO GOOD!

Foreigner never had cred. They burst out of the gate with one of the best rock tracks of all time. I heard it on the radio and drove directly to Music Odyssey on Wilshire, I had to hear it again, and again, and again… I LOVED “Feels Like The First Time,” but even though I played the rest of the LP trying to get my money’s worth, I never cottoned to it. But there were two more hits on the LP, “Cold As Ice” and “Long, Long Way From Home,” the latter of which I enjoyed, as well as “Headknocker,” but I did not buy the follow-up LP, which shot lower, right to the groin, with “Hot Blooded.” The band was an FM staple, while the format was on its Lee Abrams codified victory lap, before disco came along to muddy the water and it all imploded.

There was a third LP. And to be honest, I love “Head Games” now, it’s the holding back, the hesitation, but “Dirty White Boy” shot as low as “Hot Blooded” and the band was positively “B” material, fodder for the uneducated flyover people who never got to hear free-format programming on KROQ, when they still joked they had a helicopter and I was turned on to Deaf School.

But KLOS played “Head Games.” But that was when KLOS was the least credible rock station in Los Angeles, funny how it’s the last one standing.

But then, after putting out an album a year, the band took time off, took two years, to release an LP with the hitmaker of the day, the best in the business, the titan from “Back In Black,” Robert John “Mutt” Lange. We knew who he was, this was a weird twist. Was Foreigner buying insurance, what would the record sound like?

Now on that LP, ultimately entitled “4,” there is one of the best rock ballads extant, “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” meaningful lyrics with a vast sonic palette behind exquisite changes, ultimately “I Want To Know What Love Is” was bigger, but that was generic, “Waiting For A Girl Like You” was straight from the heart.

And I love “Juke Box Hero.” The best Bad Company song Paul Rodgers and Mick Ralphs never wrote.

But the track that was released first, to drum up excitement for the LP, was…


And Mutt’s a master of sound, I’m listening on headphones right now and it’s amazing how much is going on, but most people were still listening on the one speaker in the dash of their automobile and what put the track over the top was the sax solo by one Junior Walker, whom every baby boomer knew from his blast from the past, “Shotgun.”

And the amazing thing about “Urgent” was its…urgency. These people were not just going through the motions, this was important, they had something to say, a tone lacking from the television singing shows, never there with the shoegazing rock acts, this was a band firing on all cylinders, this was INDELIBLE and UNDENIABLE! It dominated the airwaves, the band went from a second tier ensemble to the main event, they grabbed the brass ring, it all worked.

And then it faded away. Lou went solo, had a couple of hits, Mick produced some records and the tracks of their past faded into the classic rock format.

And then Billy Joel, the ever more rotund fireplug who refuses to put out new music yet has more cred and veritas with every passing year brings this estranged duo onstage at Madison Square Garden…

What inspired him? Sure, there was history from some awards show… Then again, Billy’s been prone to this stunting, these shenanigans, he’s keeping it interesting, for himself and his audience.

But everybody’s too old and over the hill. It’s cool in theory, but almost no one delivers. They can’t hit the high notes, there’s some thirtysomething no-name musician playing the licks offstage and…

This is an audience video, nothing professional, nothing hyped by those involved, there’s nothing official. And the sound is imperfect, as is the picture, and Billy starts to talk and you can barely make out what he’s got to say and… This is the kind of thing that kids will sit through, but not aged fans and then…

The two of them are wandering on stage, not strutting like they did in the old days, and then Mick Jones starts to pick and…

HOLY SHIT! There’s the sound! The one that emanated from the speaker, the one you thought impossible to reproduce. Keith Richards can’t reproduce the simple sound and rhythm of “Satisfaction” but this guy who most audience members shrug off, this is not a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act, after all, they’re not as good as Joan Jett, starts picking, he’s got the sound, the rhythm, the groove, and you start to smile and tingle, you can’t believe it, this magic moment, that roots you, connects you with who you once were and still are and then…

Lou Gramm puts the mic to his lips and it’s like he’s barely lost a step. He may be peacocking at the speed of molasses, but his voice is high and rich and it’s HIM!

And Billy’s longtime accompanist Mark Rivera blows his horn and it’s like you’re looking through a window with your only desire to be closer. It’s got more energy than any twenty first century act, and it’s just a lark. All you can think is I WANT TO BE THERE, I WANT TO SEE THIS ACT LIVE!

Haven’t we burned out on this paradigm? Hasn’t every band gotten back together and dashed for cash? And they may look young but their voices and licks are positively torn and frayed.

But not these guys.

And when Gramm and Rivera trade vocal riffs they’re having more fun than anybody in the audience, isn’t that why everybody got into this way back when, other than the girls, weren’t you supposed to enjoy playing, weren’t the trappings just that, the penumbra as opposed to the real thing?

“You say it’s urgent
So urgent, so oh oh urgent
Just wait and see
How urgent my love can be
It’s urgent”

They were wiped away by grunge and pop, classic rock, especially from the corporate era, was to be derided and discarded. Then a septuagenarian songwriter and a sexagenarian singer take the stage and blow everybody else off it, sans production, sans dance steps, sans hard drives, only ability and personality, what a concept.

“But sometimes I wonder as I look in your eyes Maybe you’re thinking of some other guy”

Frustration, the human condition. When songs cut to your soul as opposed to making you feel inadequate.

“But I know, yes I know, how to treat you right That’s why you call me in the middle of the night”

The music makes you powerful. You turn it up and think YOU can win.

And Mick and Lou won Thursday night. Because they know the power of a song, the power of playing, the power of rock and roll.

You see it’s URGENT!

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