A good song can almost always be improved on. It’s a theory that Europe have called upon more than once. In 1988, while preparing their fourth album Out Of This World, the Swedish band revisited Open Your Heart, a power-ballad that first appeared on their ’84 album Wings Of Tomorrow. They reaped bigger dividends still by rebooting Rock The Night, another song written by Joey Tempest that, in repurposed form, helped to make their breakthrough album The Final Countdown one of the biggest of 1986.
“The original version of Rock The Night was raw and instinctive,” Tempest recalls. “Coming out of our more progressive debut album we were still pretty fresh and heavy in our approach and we produced it ourselves.”
Dropped into the soundtrack of the film On The Loose, in March 1985 Rock The Night Mk I dented the charts in their native Sweden. A YouTube clip lifted from the film reveals a remarkably fresh-faced Europe performing the song on stage, Tempest flirting with a blonde female fan in the front rows by throwing her an embossed silk scarf.
“The band appeared in that, portraying ourselves,” Tempest says, sounding mildly embarrassed. “The acting was dreadful, by the way.”
Tempest still remembers playing the bare bones of his composition to guitarist John Norum for the first time backstage at a show in 1984, then making a demo of it with a drum machine.
“It took quite a while,” he remembers. “At first it had a very long intro. I re-did it a couple of times, but I really enjoyed the riff; that’s what makes the song work. Like everything we did, it was inspired by all of the British and German stuff that we loved – Thin Lizzy, UFO and Scorpions. When Ian [Haugland, drummer] got hold of it he added the kick and snare on the downbeat and the whole thing went up another level. And of course Norum loved it because it had two guitar solos.
The lyrics are pretty unusual. Tell us, Joey, how exactly does one ‘rock the night’?
“Good question,” Tempest says with a chuckle. “John Levén assumed it was sexual. Because bass players love innuendo. But no. It was all about the sound of the words. That’s how I wrote in those days. A lot of songs had the word ‘rock’ in the titles back then, and I wanted to have one of my own.”
Second time around, Tempest credits Kevin Elson with maximising the full potential of Rock The Night. Even before recording the album, in Switzerland, the producer had gone to Sweden and made extensive notes about each of its songs.
“Kevin had recently worked with Journey, and I’m sure that he applied some of those same tricks to us,” he explains. “By then we had performed the song live, so the performance was more rehearsed and played-in. The production was steeped in the eighties but also has lingering vibes from the seventies, thanks to Kevin. To me it isn’t a typical eighties record. There are still some spontaneous live elements in the performance, and the sound isn’t overly compressed and loaded with effects like a lot of other productions from that time.”
With the album’s title track having achieved its goal by delivering celebrity right across the globe, Europe made an extremely silly video for Rock The Night, the second single from it. Featuring the group miming to the song without their instruments, at the Hard Rock Café in Stockholm, Tempest sings its chorus into a bottle of ketchup, roared on by a restaurant full of cheering, headbanging fans. A bit of a cheesefest, but good, harmless fun.
“You’re right about that,” Tempest says. “At the time, we were a bit embarrassed about the goofing around, but enough time has passed. As a video it’s alright.”
However, as the band’s profile grew rapidly, guitarist Norum felt more and more out of place. In November 1986 he quit for a solo career.
“It [the whole teenybopper thing] was pretty silly,” Norum says now. “The spandex pants and big hair, our image back then was absolutely dreadful. That was not my thing at all. I used to dread putting on those spandex pants. The eighties were just the worst time.”
There were other pressures involved, too.
“I should have partied less and played the guitar more,” he admits. “That’s one of the reasons I left, it was getting too crazy.”
Europe brought in Kee Marcello from fellow Swedish band Easy Action as their new guitarist, and continued their meteoric climb. It lasted until 1992, when they went their separate ways. Norum rejoined when the band reconvened on New Year’s Eve 1999 and since then Europe have released a further six albums. Now performing to a whole new generation of fans, it’s a fairly safe bet that many of those same followers would cite Rock The Night as their second-favourite Europe song.
“It was amazing to have it as a follow-up to The Final Countdown,” says Tempest. “Whatever you might think of the song The Final Countdown, Rock The Night brought back the rock element. It kept the band’s momentum moving. The song was on the Billboard chart and American radio loved it. And then as the third single we had Carrie, the ballad, which further broadened our appeal. Without Rock The Night, things would have been slightly different.”
Back in 1986, Rock The Night reached the US Top 30 and hit No.12 in the UK. Today, Tempest insists that the song remains as popular as ever.
“We never tried to drop Rock The Night from our live set, because it’s such fun to play,” he says enthusiastically. “It always used to be one of the last songs of the night, but in recent years we moved it towards the start because it gets such a great reaction. It really gets the show moving."
Europe’s 40th-anniversary tour, Time Capsule, is currently in Europe. The UK leg kicks off on October 17. Dates and tickets are listed on the Europe website.