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"I Want to Know What Love Is" is a power ballad by the British-American rock band Foreigner. It was released in November 1984 as the lead single from their fifth album, Agent Provocateur. The song hit number one in both the United Kingdom and the United States and is the group's biggest hit to date. It remains one of the band's best-known songs and most enduring radio hits, charting in the top 25 in 2000, 2001, and 2002 on the BillboardHot Adult Contemporary Recurrents chart. "I Want to Know What Love Is" has continued to garner critical acclaim, and is listed as one of Rolling Stone Magazine's greatest songs of all time at number 479. The song is also featured in a number of films.
I always worked late at night, when everybody left and the phone stopped ringing. "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.
"I Want to Know What Love Is" reached number one in the UK Singles Chart on January 15, 1985, displacing Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?", staying there for three weeks, and knocked Madonna's long-running "Like a Virgin" out of number one on the BillboardHot 100 on February 2, 1985. It was Foreigner's first and only pop chart topper in either country, although the band had four number one Mainstream Rock hits and a number one Adult Contemporary radio hit in the US. This was the band's third of four number one singles on the Mainstream Rock chart. The song spent five weeks at number one in Australia and also hit the top of the charts in Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden, peaking at number two in Switzerland and South Africa.
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.
The song has received positive retrospective reviews from critics, with Bret Adams of AllMusic writing: "It's not hard to see why it became Foreigner's first number one single. Its dreamy, hypnotic feel is due in part to Lou Gramm's soulful lead vocals and the New Jersey Mass Choir's background vocals."
The song was also issued as a 12-inch single with a longer time length of 6:23. This version contains a slightly longer intro and an extended vocal chorus/fadeout ending. The single's B-Side "Street Thunder (Marathon Theme)" is an instrumental track originally appearing on The Official Music of the XXIII Olympiad - Los Angeles 1984 and later on the band's 2-CD compilation Jukebox Heroes: The Foreigner Anthology (2000).
Soon after Foreigner's single topped the charts, the New Jersey Mass Choir released its own similar-sounding version of the song on an album that it also titled I Want to Know What Love Is. The choir's single peaked at number 37 on the Hot Black Singles chart and number 12 on the Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales chart.
*sales figures based on certification alone ^shipments figures based on certification alone
New Jersey Mass Choir version
In 1985, the New Jersey Mass Choir released the Prelude Records album entitled I Want to Know What Love Is. The album's fifth track, "I Want to Know What Love Is", was released as a single in the gospel music market which garnered several awards within the industry.
"I Want to Know What Love Is" was covered by Australian singer Tina Arena and her recording was released as a single in 1998 from her album In Deep. Arena's version of the song was produced by Foreigner band member Mick Jones, who wrote the song. This version of the song includes a previously unrecorded bridge between the second and third choruses, specifically written for Tina Arena by Mick Jones.
European Maxi Single
"I Want to Know What Love Is" (Single Edit)
"I Want to Know What Love Is" (R & B Mix)
"I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You" (G-Vo Extended Mix)
"Not For Sale"
Australian CD1 Maxi Single
"I Want To Know What Love Is" (Single Edit)
"Now I Can Dance" (Spanglish Version)
"Now I Can Dance" (Live)
"If I Didn't Love You" (Remix)
Australian CD2 Maxi Single - The Remixes
"I Want to Know What Love Is" (R'n'B Mix)
"I Want to Know What Love Is" (Urban Mix)
"I Want to Know What Love Is" (Extended Urban Mix)
"I Want to Know What Love Is" (Single Edit)
The song peaked at number 13 in France and finished 60th on the end-of-year chart of 1999.
"I Want to Know What Love Is" was covered by American singer Mariah Carey and released as the second single from her twelfth studio album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel (2009). The single, produced by Carey, C. "Tricky" Stewart and James "Big Jim" Wright, was sent to European radio stations on August 28 and first impacted U.S. radio on September 14, 2009. Mick Jones said of her version: "I think she's actually retained the integrity of the song. You know, the arrangement is very similar to the original. They haven't tampered with the song too much. She's captured a certain emotional thing, a feeling."
The single was generally well received by critics; Australian magazine Rhyme & Reason stated that "[While Carey stayed] [...] true to the original, this piano-led remake is less an overhaul of the classic '80s hit than it is a modest but impressive update." The UK Daily Star gave it a 5 out of 5 rating: "[The song is] given the Carey treatment and [is] complete with choir and karaoke climax. It's a great rework." Bill Lamb from About.com said that "Mariah Carey's new version could leave you speechless. The diversity of vocal coloring expressed in this recording is stunning. While the single Obsessed remains disappointing, this single is a reminder of just how formidable Carey's talents are given a strong production and arrangement".
Writing in a Los Angeles Times music blog, Todd Martens said, "[T]ackling a well-known power ballad seems like a safe choice. It's a comfortable fall-back plan after "Obsessed" performed well, but did far from blockbuster numbers. It will undoubtedly be a hit, but it's giving me more reason to fear Imperfect Angel. The sort-of-real/sort-of-not feud with Eminem seemed largely a ploy to keep Carey in the headlines, and covering Foreigner seems just as calculated to steer Carey back onto familiar ground."
Performances and promotion
Carey debuted "I Want to Know What Love Is" at her Live At The Pearl concerts in the Pearl Arena at The Palms Casino & Resort, Las Vegas, on September 11 and 12, 2009.
A New York radio station contest featured as its prize a mini concert by Carey at the P.C. Richard Theater in TriBeCa, New York on October 5, where she sang the song as well as "Obsessed" and "H.A.T.E.U.", also from the album.
Carey filmed a music video for "I Want to Know What Love Is" in September 2009 in New York City, directed by Hype Williams.
The video premiered on Mariah's official website on November 13, 2009.
The video features Carey singing in Yankee Stadium, intercut with shots of audience members, often accompanied by loved ones, and some glimpses into the tough times in their past, as they grow emotional from the song's performance. A gospel choir joins Carey at the center of the stadium at the video's end. Carey wears the signature curly hairstyle from the initial stages of her career ca. 1990-1993, maintaining the Memoirs theme of the album.
Formats and track listings
"I Want to Know What Love Is" (album version) -- 3:26
The song peaked on the US BillboardAdult Contemporary chart at number 10 bringing Carey's total number of Top Ten hits on that chart to 20, one short of Celine Dion's record. She has since surpassed this and is now tied with Celine Dion after her single "Oh Santa!" reached number one in 2010. However, it peaked at #60 on the US Hot 100. On the UK Singles Chart, the song debuted at number 19 on the week ending November 29, 2009, becoming her highest debuting and peaking song since 2008's "Touch My Body", which peaked at number five.
The song debuted at number six in France, selling 1,910 CDs in its first week and 39,720 copies in all formats as of late 2009, becoming the best charting version of this song there. It placed 93rd on the Year-End Chart.
In Brazil, the song stayed at number one for a record 27 weeks. One of the reasons for the song's radio success there was its frequent inclusion in a popular new soap opera, Viver a Vida. According to Crowley Broadcast Analysis, Carey's version has broken the record for longest Brazilian Hot 100 Airplay Chart run at 27 consecutive weeks.