Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” Lyrics Meaning

From the onset of “I Want to Know What Love Is”, the narrator portrays himself as someone who is compelled to take “a little time to think things over”. This is another way of saying that he intends to break his daily routine – even if for a brief period of time – to analyze the direction in which his life is headed. And the reason he is urged to do so reads as if he wants take certain corrective measures before he becomes too old to implement them.

Heavy Load on his Shoulders

In the second verse, the narrator is presented as someone who is dealing with a heavy burden. So in relation to the first verse, the implication would be that he has decided to embark on a quest whose ultimate goal is akin to self-realization. Basically, if he is able to “climb” this “mountain” which symbolizes his search for fulfillment, its summit lies what it is he is actually looking for. And of course said fulfillment which is actually being pursued, as the title implies, is the realization of true, genuine “love”. 

What kind of love is the Narrator talking about?

Now we all know that there are different types of love. And the particular type of emotional fulfillment he is looking for in that regards is not specified.  So this is an idea which can be interpreted in various dimensions. For instance, it is very much possible that he is looking for romance or an edifying interpersonal relationship, considering that he’s “lonely” and all.

But given the overall tone and sound of this song – for instance considering that it features a gospel choir – has resulted in what he is putting forth usually being interpreted as a deeper love than that. Indeed the aforementioned quest which he has embarked on reads more along the lines of one in search of spiritual fulfillment, i.e. the type of internal satisfaction which can last a lifetime. So in that regard the addressee of the song, i.e. the person whom he is entreating to show him “love”, is often understood to be more of a spiritual than earthly figure. And what the singer appears to be asking for is not only to be the recipient of love but also in the process to be taught how to show love to others.


So in summation we can say that the singer is asking God, if you will, to intervene in his life. He is a convinced that such a force can convincingly reveal to him what love actually means. And he is making this request within the context of having endured a life highlighted by “heartache and pain”.

Lyrics of "I Want To Know What Love Is"
The direction of the music video to this classic was helmed by filmographer Brian Gibson.

But the above being said, if someone were to remove the gospel element from this track, i.e. read the lyrics without listening to the song itself, the sentiments can also be understood as being indicative of the singer’s longing for a long-term romantic partner or even a close friend. Indeed according to his own words, Mick Jones said he wrote “I Want to Know What Love Is” in the aftermath of having endured a number of failed relationships. But he also went on to say that the writing process in and of itself was akin to a spiritual experience. That being said, it is said that the initial inspiration for the song was his feelings for Ann Dexter, the lady who would eventually become his wife.

Release Date of “I Want To Know What Love Is”

Atlantic Records released this song as the lead single from the band’s “Agent Provocateur” album on 13 November 1984.

Remarkable Success

It proved the be the signature song of Foreigner’s lengthy career. For example, it marks the only time the band has and likely ever will top either the UK Singles Chart and Billboard Hot 100. Outside of that, it also scored a number one in 7 other countries, including Canada and Australia. And overall, it charted in 20 nations throughout the world.

“I Want to Know What Love Is” also managed to go double-Platinum in the United States.

Moreover Rolling Stone placed it on their 2011 ranking of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

Backing Vocals on “I Want To Know What Love Is”

This spiritual-like song actually had backing vocals from the New Jersey Mass Choir. And as such they set the record for being the first gospel choir to participate on a pop song that reached number one.

Additional backup vocals were provided by Jennifer Holliday. Miss Holliday is perhaps best known as the former star of the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls”.

Writing Credits for “I Want To Know What Love Is”

This Foreigner classic was written by none other than Mick Jones (a founding member of the band). Not only did he write this classic, but he also produced it alongside Alex Sadkin.

According to Jones, the first time he played this song for Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary co-founder of Atlantic Records, Mr. Ertegun shed tears.

Appearances in TV Shows and Movies

Throughout the years some of the popular television shows which featured this song include the following:

  • “Parks and Recreation” (2009)
  • “Glee” (2014)
  • “Orange Is the New Black” (2015)

There’s also quite a few famous movies which featured this classic tune. They include: “Hot Tub Time Machine” (2010) and “Pacific Rim: Uprising” (2018).

Famous Covers of “I Want To Know What Love Is”

This classic hit has also been covered by numerous artists throughout the years. Some honorable mentions, as in those which actually charted, are Tina Arena (1988), Wynonna Judd (2004) and especially Mariah Carey’s 2009 rendition, which was a hit internationally.

Interesting to note is that Tom Cruise also covered this song alongside actress/singer Malin Åkerman for the soundtrack of the 2012 film “Rock of Ages”.

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