How difficult is it to rank your own discography? Ian Haugland and Mic Michaeli from Europe face the mission of ranking the band's albums from worst to best. Not an easy task considering that sometimes they have completely different opinions about the albums.
We also get to hear stories and anecdotes of the albums' creation, about the producer who angrily threw his birthday present from the band against the wall, that the legendary cover designer Storm Thorgerson was a grumpy man and how the band in secret borrowed ABBA-Benny's expensive synth during one of the recordings.
Stefan Sundberg: "How difficult is it really to rank your own discography? In this episode of SkivSnack, we give two members of Europe, drummer Ian Haugland and keyboardist Mic Michaeli, this exact mission. To rank Europe's eleven albums from worst to best, and at the same time share anecdotes and stories about the recording of these albums. So let's go. This is SkivSnack and I'm Stefan Sundberg."
Stefan: "Welcome Ian Haugland."
Ian Haugland: "Thanks."
Stefan: "Mic Michaeli."
Mic Michaeli: "Thanks."
Stefan: "Keyboardist. And you are going to rank Europe's albums from worst to best, so I've received a list from each of you, in which you've done your respective rankings, and I've calculated an average score which has resulted in the list that we'll be going through in this program. And you have no idea how it's turned out. Has it been difficult to rank these albums? What do you say, Mic?"
Mic: "What I thought was difficult about ranking the albums was that I couldn't remember the songs on certain albums, so I had to go back and listen to them in order to put this list together, and in the end it worked out."
Stefan: "I thought about just that. We're talking about a production of eleven studio albums from 1983 to 2017. And as you say, Mic, how often do you listen to Europe albums?"
Mic: "No. Not often."
Stefan: "What do you say, Ian?"
Mic: "It does not happen."
Ian: "No, I barely listen to Europe songs before rehearsals for tours, even."
Mic: "I've noticed." (laughs)
Ian: "It's like how a baker rarely eats his own buns. You get enough of the dough when doing the baking. (laughs) Mic is like, 'What the hell does he mean?'"
Stefan: "But Mic, you've gone back and listened to some of the older albums?"
Mic: "Yeah, as well as some of the newer albums, actually, that we've done on this side of the millennium change, so to say."
Stefan: "Then let's get started. We're starting at the very bottom. The bottom of the barrel. And here you were touchingly in agreement. Both of you have picked Start from the Dark, your comeback album from 2004 after the 13 year long hiatus."
Mic: "In my case it's because... I simply don't think that the songs don't have the strength they should have had. I think in a way it's an interesting comeback album, because there are no attempts to sound like we did in the 80s and there are no attempts to get a radio hit or anything like that. But unfortunately the songwriting is a bit weak on this album, I think."
Ian: "You didn't have much to do. For the most part you had to make coffee during the recording. There weren't much keyboards on this album."
Mic: "No, there's not."
Ian: "I agree with you. The songs... there are some grains of gold. I think the title track is good. We've played it live several times."
Mic: "I agree."
Ian: "But I feel the album is a bit fragmented. It's a bit of this and that and something in between. We're fumbling for something, like 'Who are we today? Let's try this.' It feels a bit fuzzy."
Stefan: "You'd had a break for 13 years. Was there much discussion before the recording? 'What does Europe sound like in 2004?'"
Ian: "We had a meeting at your place where we discussed that ahead of the reunion, didn't we?"
Mic: "Yeah. Actually, if you imagine that we had carried on for these 12, 13 years where we had a coffee break and didn't play together. If we had kept making albums and kept evolving, then maybe we would have ended up in roughly the same place where we were on those albums. But now there was a huge jump from the album we made in 1991 to the album we made in 2004. So that album might have felt like a big departure, but I think we might have ended up there if we had kept making albums."
Stefan: "A lot had happened in the rock world during the 13 years you were gone. There was grunge and there was nu metal with Linkin Park and all that stuff. So it's like you said, Mic, it's obvious that you would have evolved in one way or another if you had kept going."
Ian: "What I thought was fun about the recording of the album was that we went back to our roots. The old Soundtrade Studios in Solna where we did my first professional recording session when we recorded the first version of 'Rock the Night' which was released as a single in 1985. That was recorded at Soundtrade. The cult classic single 'Give a Helpin' Hand' by Swedish Metal Aid was also recorded in that studio. So it was a bit like going back our old roots."
Mic: "Plus the fact that we used the same producer that we had on The Final Countdown album."
Stefan: "Right, Kevin Elson."
Song break: "Start from the Dark"
Stefan: "That was number 11 at the bottom of your list and you both picked the same album, 'Start from the Dark'. You're also pretty much in agreement when it comes to the album on second-to-last place. And it's an album that neither of you played on, it's Europe's debut album, Europe from 1983. Honestly speaking, is the fact that you weren't band members at the time, a sticking point? Both of you came along on the third album."
Ian: "In my case, it's more the fact that I was just angry. I had my own band around the same time that Europe, or Force as they were called before, took part in the 'Rock-SM' contest. I had my own band and we competed in one of the preliminary rounds, where we competed against Force, or Europe, and naturally we lost. And then to see that those bastards who kicked us out ass-first, wound up winning the whole contest and got to record an LP which also sold well... So when I saw that record, I was like, 'Those bastards...' I was angry."
Stefan: "You were jealous?"
Ian: "Yeah. But I should also add that when I listen to the album, it's exactly what it looks like. I'm referring to Joey's pubertal scooter moustache. They look like four rascals from Upplands Väsby, which is exactly what they are. And I think the music sounds like that. It's damn rough and basement-like, 'What the hell, let's drink a few beers and what will be will be!' There's also a youthful charm to it, I think."
Mic: "I agree about the youthful charm, like 'Screw everything, let's just do our thing,' and there's a charm to it. It sounds a bit clumsy at times, but there's a charm to that too. But then I think the songs might not have held up as well as they did back then."
Ian: "Historically speaking, 'Seven Doors Hotel' might be the song we've played the most from that album."
Mic: "Yeah, that's true."
Song break: "Seven Doors Hotel"
Stefan: "Let's move on up on your ranking list. You're also pretty unanimous about the next one, the other album that you don't play on, Wings of Tomorrow from 1984. But both of you still think it's a notch above the debut?"
Mic: "I think Joey's songwriting talent has improved by several hundred percent here. There's some really good songs. I'm guessing that I've ranked that album higher than you did?"
Stefan: "Let's see, Ian ranked it at number 7 and Mic at number 8."
Mic: "That's how it was, huh? As I was saying, there's really good progress here. Sound-wise and playing-wise it's much better. Cool songs, interesting songs."
Stefan: "Recorded at Polar Studios, right?"
Ian: "Yes, exactly. It was..."
Mic: "Same engineer that Led Zeppelin used."
Stefan: "Exactly, Leif Mases."
Ian: "It was recorded late at night and in weekends when the studio wasn't fully booked. So they had a really good basis, apart from the fact that John Levén spilled a glass of Coca Cola straight into the mixing board so that it caught fire and caused a short circuit, but that's another story. So there were some blunders as well."
Mic: "They still had the youthful rebellion. The Polar Studios was ABBA's studio, really, and around that time Benny Andersson from ABBA had a wonderful synth produced by Yamaha, called the G..."
Ian: "GX-1. The 'Dream Machine.'"
Mic: "Exactly. There were only three of them in the whole world or something like that, and one of them was there. So when Europe were going to record, they were told, 'But you cannot use Benny's synth!' And they were like, 'No, we're not gonna use it!' And then of course they ended up using it on almost every song! So that's a bit funny."
Stefan: "But like you said, Mic, you weren't in the band then, so you didn't to get to use it."
Mic: "No. But the reason why I ended up in Europe was because there were a lot of keyboards on that album, and Joey wanted to concentrate on singing live. So I joined them on the tour following the album."
Stefan: "So that was your debut in Europe, the Wings of Tomorrow tour."
Ian: "But you had to stand at the back... I know there's a video recording of the gig you played at Göta Lejon, and there we can see you standing behind the monitor technician."
Mic: "Not behind the monitor technician, but I was supposed to be hidden a bit and not have so many spotlights on me. And I remember I talked to our lighting technician on that tour: 'Can't I have some more spotlights? Come on!' 'The other guys don't want that, you know. You're supposed to stay in the background.' 'What the hell?!'"
Stefan: "Was it because he thought keyboards were a bit ridiculous because it was hard rock?"
Mic: "Yeah, and in the beginning I wasn't an official band member."
Stefan: "You were a hired live musician."
Mic: "Exactly, so maybe it wasn't so strange after all!" (laughs)
Stefan: "Then there's the album which is both your debut as official band members and your breakthrough album. But it ended up being number 8 here. It's The Final Countdown and here you have bit of a disagreement. Ian, you ranked it at number 5, Mic at number 10."
Stefan: "So explain. Why is there such a difference? How do you feel about The Final Countdown today?"
Mic: "When we were done with that album in '86, it must have been, I was really proud and thought it was one of the best albums that had been made in the world. But now that I go back and listen to it, it's not at all the music that I listen to today. Back then it was the music that I listened to, but not anymore. That's why that album is so low on my list, because I don't think it's that damn interesting."
Stefan: "What kind of music did you play on that album compared to what you're listening to today?"
Mic: "(That album) is too planned out, the songwriting is very square. (Music) feels more alive today."
Ian: "We were following given templates on how to write a hard rock song or a hard rock ballad. We knew how Gary Moore wrote his songs. It was like, 'This is how it should be done!' But that album was also the first time that Europe got to work with an international producer. And it felt more like things were for real, in some way. I think if we had made that album on our own, I think it might have sounded a bit rougher, both soundwise and arrangement-wise. I know there were many things that the producer polished up, so to say, like the sound. I think we were pretty much under the influence of Kevin Elson."
Stefan: "He had previously been a producer for Journey."
Ian: "Exactly. And I thought we got to work in a damn cool studio outside Zurich, Switzerland. In a hole called Maur, wasn't it?"
Mic: "Maur!" (pronounced differently)
Ian: "There were two farms and a recording studio right between them. But it was great because when we went into the recording room, there was a panorama window. If you looked out, you could see a long meadow with cows and there was an alp lake, with the Alps on the other side. It looked great and mighty. Maybe not so rock'n'roll, but it was cool."
Stefan: "But you're in a bit of disagreement here, because you've ranked this album much higher than Mic."
Ian: "I think there are many strong songs and I think it's fun to play these songs live, especially because there's such a positive reaction from the crowds. It's such an energy boost for a musician. I always get happy when playing these songs. You never get tired of tapping into 'Final Countdown'. It's like sleeping with your girlfriend for the first time all the time... Assuming the first time was good, that is!" (laughs)
Mic: "It's like you have to explain your metaphors!" (laughs)
Ian: "Well... If..."
Song break: "Cherokee"
Stefan: "Now you've gone through the first three Europe albums in quick order, but now we're going to jump ahead a bit. At number 7 we have the album from 2012, Bag of Bones. You're pretty much in agreement on this one, placing it somewhere in the middle."
Mic: "It was one of the albums I went back to ahead of making our lists. I went back to listen to that album and hear what it really sounded like because I couldn't quite remember. And then I felt like it wasn't quite... I thought it would have been better than what I actually thought it was."
Stefan: "You thought it was good when it came out?"
Mic: "Yeah. Absolutely. I thought it sounded damn good. Well mixed and everything. But now that I listened back to it, I thought the songs didn't live up to the standard that I thought they did."
Stefan: "What do you say, Ian?"
Ian: "I remember I loved the drum sound. I love the big, open... When you can hear that there are drums in the room, not the separated sound from the 80s. And this was the first album in recent times where we worked with a proper producer. Previously we had produced... Well, apart from Kevin Elson on Start from the Dark. But it felt like now we could let go of the reins and just play, I can remember. Previously, at least I thought, we were still a bit locked into 'Don't take it too far now!' It was still a bit too safe. But with Bag of Bones and the producer Kevin Shirley who had previously worked with everyone. Rush, Iron Maiden..."
Stefan: "He's done many albums with Iron Maiden."
Ian: "Yeah, and we probably discovered him through Black Country Communion."
Mic: "Joe Bonamassa."
Ian: "Right. He really advocated, 'Hey man, just fucking go for it!' I feel it was our first album in recent times where I felt like, 'How fun! Wow! Just turn it loose!' I also think there were several cool songs on that album, for instance 'Firebox' which we usually play live. I think it's a damn fun song. It's on the verge of sounding like progressive rock."