As original lead vocalist of Foreigner, Lou Gramm was the memorable, full-throated voice on such indelible hits as "Cold as Ice," "Feels Like the First Time," "Hot Blooded," "Urgent," "Waiting for a Girl Like You," and "I Want to Know What Love Is." But tensions with his main creative partner in the band, Mick Jones, had percolated throughout the 1980s, and in 1987 Gramm struck out on his own with the solo LP appropriately entitled Ready or Not. Gramm was indeed ready; he left Foreigner in 1990 for two years before rejoining the band for another ten-year run. Now, the singer's only two major label solo releases have been collected by Cherry Red's Hear No Evil imprint. The 3-CD set Questions and Answers: The Atlantic Anthology 1987-1989 brings together Ready or Not and 1989's Long Hard Look with a disc of bonus tracks.
For Ready or Not, Gramm actually looked back to find his collaborator. Bassist Bruce Turgon had played with Gramm in the pre-Foreigner days as part of Black Sheep. The New York group released two albums on Capitol before disbanding, paving the way for Gramm to join Spooky Tooth's Jones to found Foreigner. Gramm and Turgon penned eight of the album's ten songs, with Gramm writing the other two solo. While none of the tracks were holdovers from Black Sheep, they did have the rock-and-roll spirit of that group as Gramm bristled from the contemporary pop direction embraced by Jones in Foreigner. Pat Moran (The Searchers, Iggy Pop, Robert Plant) was brought in to produce, and no less than Nils Lofgren took the lead guitar role. Rounding out the band was Philip Ashley on keyboards and Lou's brother Ben Gramm on drums. Naturally with Lou out front, Ready or Not sounded a lot like the harder-rocking side of Foreigner; thanks to the tight playing of the core rhythm section, it also resembled a true "band" album. The hard-rocking title track only made it to No. 54 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, but it made No. 7 on the Mainstream Rock chart. The driving pop/rock anthem "Midnight Blue" fared even better when it reached No. 5 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 Mainstream Rock. Ready or Not was filled with big hooks and big guitars, and it remains one of the eighties' most underrated rock mainstream rock LPs. It performed respectably on the Billboard 200, making it to No. 27.
Gramm returned to Foreigner after Ready or Not, but by the time of Long Hard Look, he was closer to departing the band. He again collaborated with Turgon, but enlisted other co-writers including Peter and Ina Wolf and Holly Knight. In Malcolm Dome's new liner notes, Turgon recalls that the recording process on Long Hard Look wasn't a smooth or organic one. Gramm initially intended for remix master Eric Thorngren to produce the album but was unhappy with his work. Peter Wolf stepped up and reworked the original tracks, adding his own keyboards. (Thorngren retained credit on the cover of the Small Faces' "Tin Soldier.") Ben Gramm again played drums on every track but the busy Nils Lofgren - who contributed so much to the cohesive, driving sound of Ready or Not - only returned for the top ten Pop hit "Just Between You and Me" (which also charted within the top five of the Mainstream Rock and Adult Contemporary surveys). Vivian Campbell and Dann Huff picked up much of the slack elsewhere on guitar, and Wolf gave the album a slick sheen and somewhat softer style throughout including on the top 40 entry "True Blue Love." An impressive array of background vocalists was recruited, too, such as Merry Clayton, Siedah Garrett, and Lani Groves. Bruce Turgon considers it "an odd album for me - neither a real rock nor pop album, but somewhere in between." It's a fair assessment of an LP which showcases Gramm's powerful voice but lacks the cohesion of Ready or Not.
Hear No Evil's anthology is rounded out by a third disc with three remixes of "Ready or Not," the extended remix of "Midnight Blue," single edit of "True Blue Love," and two versions of Gramm's contribution to the soundtrack of teen vampire drama The Lost Boys, "Lost in the Shadows." This disc also features the promotional interview CD Questions and Answers conducted by DJ Dan Neer. The three CDs are each housed in individual sleeves replicating the LP artwork. Those sleeves are housed in an eight-panel digipak; Dome's notes are found a 16-page booklet with images of the original albums and singles. (One wishes, however, that these images were cleaned up so ringwear and age weren't so evident.) No mastering engineer has been credited on this release.
Since Long Hard Look, Lou Gramm has only recorded one more solo album: 2009's Lou Gramm Band, consisting of Christian rock tunes. After announcing his intentions to retire in 2018, Gramm has continued to perform live and to occasionally record including lead vocals on one song for Alan Parsons' 2019 album The Secret.
Questions and Answers: The Atlantic Anthology 1987-1989 is available now from Cherry Red's Hear No Evil imprint. You'll find the track listing with discography below.
CD 1: Ready or Not (Atlantic LP 7 81728-1, 1987)
- Ready or Not
- Midnight Blue
- If I Don't Have You
- She's Got to Know
- Arrow Through Your Heart
- Until I Make You Mine
- Chain of Love
- Lover Come Back
CD 2: Long Hard Look (Atlantic LP 7 81915-1, 1987)
- Angel with a Dirty Face
- Just Between You and Me
- Broken reams
- True Blue Love
- I'll Come Running
- Hangin' on My Hip
- Warmest Rising Sun
- Day One
- I'll Know When It' Over
- Tin Soldier
CD 3: Single Versions / Questions and Answers
- Lost in the Shadows (The Lost Boys) (Vocal/Edit) (Atlantic 12-inch single PR 2051, 1987)
- Lost in the Shadows (The Lost Boys) (Vocal/LP Version) (Atlantic 12-inch single PR 2051, 1987)
- Ready or Not (Rock Remix) (Atlantic (Germany) 12-inch single 786 664-0, 1987)
- Ready or Not (Extended Dance Mix) (Atlantic (Germany) 12-inch single 786 664-0, 1987)
- Ready or Not (Instrumental Remix) (Atlantic (Germany) 12-inch single 786 664-0, 1987)
- Midnight Blue (Extended Remix) (Atlantic (Germany) 12-inch single 786 723-0, 1987)
- True Blue Love (Edit) (Atlantic promo CD PR 3059-2, 1989)
- Questions and Answers (Unbanded) (Atlantic promo CD PR 1020, 1987)