Foreigner, “Juke Box Hero” (1981)
Last summer, a friend offered me her extra ticket to the Styx and Foreigner concert at Chicago’s Northerly Island. Foreigner was playing first, so I suspected there was absolutely no rush to get there, as the only track I wanted to hear was bound to be at the very end. I was right: The band wisely saved its best song, “Juke Box Hero,” for an encore.
In the grand (and generalizing) tradition of pop songs focusing on love, and rock songs on sex, early Foreigner songs are mostly about getting laid (“Hot Blooded,” “Urgent”), laced with some intense partying (“Double Vision”). Out of all the “I’m not looking for a love that will last / I know what I need and I need it fast” sentiments, though, Foreigner penned a true classic and that eventual encore, the second cut off of the seminal 4.
As story songs go, “Juke Box Hero” offers an irrepressible combination of dark, foreboding imagery with an undeniably appealing chorus, as the storylines in the verses deftly reflect each other. The rain is used to poetic effect to juxtapose these two chapters from “Juke Box Hero”: At first a young fan listens through a wall in the pouring rain to a sold-out concert. A slow build leads to the guitar’s first dramatic entrance, bringing the song (and the fan) to life. After the first bout of the earworm chorus, that same fan is now a rock star on the road, with some wonderfully effective imagery: “In a town without a name / In a heavy downpour / Thought he’d passed his own shadow / By the backstage door.” He’s reminded of that previous day in the rain, as he realizes that no matter what, he will always be propelled by the music. The fact that the song was written by a band at the top of its own game helps that rock-focused sentiment ring sincere, along with the hookiest chorus Foreigner ever penned.
4 also predicted the band’s eventual evolution from hard rock to schlock ballads: The defiantly sweet “Waiting For A Girl Like You” on that album gave way to the over-the-top theatrics of “I Wanna Know What Love Is” only a few years later. The romantic, lovelorn Foreigner was almost worse than the permanently on-the-prowl version. But “Juke Box Hero” remains a definitive ode to those driven by rock music above all.