“The Final Countdown” is a song by Swedish rock band Europe, released in 1986. Written by Joey Tempest, it was based on a keyboard riff he made from the early ’80s and inspired by David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. Originally made to just be a concert opener, it is the first single from the band’s third studio album, also named The Final Countdown. The song reached number one in 25 countries, including the United Kingdom, and was certified gold in that country in 1986. In the United States, the song peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 18 on the Billboard album Rock Tracks chart. A music video by Nick Morris was made to promote the single that features footage from the band’s two concerts at the Solnahallen in Solna, as well as extra footage of the sound checks at said concerts.
The song was based on a keyboard riff which Joey Tempest had written, as early as 1981 or 1982, on a Korg Polysix keyboard which he had borrowed from keyboardist Mic Michaeli. In 1985, bassist John Levén suggested that Tempest should write a song based on that riff. Tempest recorded a demo version of the song and played it for the other band members. At first, the members expressed mixed reactions to it, including guitarist John Norum who was put off by the synth intro but said that he was glad they didn’t listen to him. Tempest described their uncertainty: “Some of the guys in the band thought it was too different for a rock band. But in the end, I fought hard to make sure it got used.”
The song’s lyrics were inspired by David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity”. The sound of the keyboard riff used in the recording was achieved by using a Yamaha TX-816 rack unit and a Roland JX-8P synthesizer, as described by Michaeli: “I made a brassy sound from the JX-8P and used a factory sound from the Yamaha, and just layered them together.”
When it was time to choose the first single from the album The Final Countdown, Tempest suggested the song “The Final Countdown”. The band had not originally planned to release the song as a single, and some members wanted “Rock the Night” to be the first single. “The Final Countdown” was written to be an opening song for concerts, and they never thought it would be a hit. When their record company Epic Records suggested, however, that it should be the first single, the band decided to release it.
As Tempest stated:
It’s always a nice feeling. Sometimes you hear it on the streets or someone has it on their mobile phone or something… it’s a nice feeling! Actually, I did an interview about a year ago with a newspaper from America and they talked about how much it’s been used in sports in America… which I didn’t know so much about. Apparently it has been used a lot and it was nice to hear. The ironic thing, though, is that the song was actually written for the fans. It was over six minutes long and was never meant to be a hit or anything like that. It was meant to be an opening for the ‘live’ show. We were putting out our third album and we wanted a really ‘grand’ opening for the show. So, I had that ‘riff’ tucked away in a drawer since my college years and I took it out, found a tempo for it, wrote lyrics, and it turned out to be a great opening for that album and for the show, as well. Nowadays, we don’t rehearse it, but when we play it live, it is still just so amazing! It does communicate so well with the audience and we really love playing it.
In 2009, Tempest told the BBC’s Liam Allen, “I can trace bands like UFO in it, sort of a galloping theme like Iron Maiden had on The Number of the Beast album on quite a few songs. I wanted to make a combination of guitars and keyboards. That was a statement on that and it sort of worked out nicely.”
The song is a favorite at sporting events, often being played to rally crowds. It has also become a staple of high school and college pep bands for the same purpose.
On 2 October 1990 just a few hours before the German reunification, the English segment of international radio broadcaster of former East Germany RBI, played the intro of the song with the female radio announcer says: “Our broadcast came to you from Radio Berlin International, the voice of the disappearing German Democratic Republic”.
Blender listed it as the 27th worst song ever, and both VH1 and Blender included it at 16 on the list of the “Most Awesomely Bad Songs…Ever”. However, VH1 later ranked it at number 66 on their list of the best hard rock songs of all time.
The song and band Europe appeared in a 2015 USA television commercial for GEICO insurance, playing in a lunchroom as a microwave oven’s timer is counting down to zero seconds; the script touts the intrinsic activity of the band, saying if you’re Europe, “you love a final countdown: it’s what you do.”
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