Joey Tempest of Europe

by Greg Prato

It's the keyboard riff that can give you chills: "The Final Countdown." When you hear it, there's a good chance you're in an arena and something big is about to happen. This famous lick was written by Europe lead singer Joey Tempest, who also wrote the lyric about leaving Earth behind and heading to Venus (which he was kind enough to decipher for us).

Hailing from Sweden, the band has been in business since 1979 (although they went into hibernation for most of the '90s), specializing in a sound that MTV and Top 40 radio embraced for a spell, thanks to songs like "Carrie," "Rock the Night," "Superstitious," and the aforementioned "Final Countdown," which was the title track to their 1986 album.

After reuniting in 2003, Europe took a turn towards the heavier side of things, as evidenced by their tenth studio album overall, 2015's War of Kings. Around the same time as the album's arrival, Europe singer Joey Tempest spoke with Songfacts, covering such topics as following up the success of The Final Countdown, his favorite singers and songwriters (who he lists may come as a surprise), as well as the story behind his band's biggest hits.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): After hearing the leadoff single/title track, I was surprised by how heavy it was. Was it a conscious decision to go in a heavier direction?

Joey Tempest: I think it's been an organic journey we've been on since we started up again 11 years ago. Just going on our own adventure musically. Every album's got its own life. I suppose this record is - in ways - heavier than the others, but it's also more tender in other aspects, like on "Praise You" and "Angels (With Broken Hearts)." It just happened that way, to be honest. The bass player supplied us with a few more riffs on this record to write music to. He has some heavy notes in there. It just happened this way.

Bag of Bones, the last record that we recorded with Kevin Shirley, that's when we started recording live again - around the drum kit. It took about two or three weeks: just pick the best takes and move on. With War of Kings, we did the same but we also added a bit of vintage gear and Mellotron and Hammond. We wanted to create an atmosphere for the record.

But yeah, it is quite heavy in places, but it doesn't surprise us - it's more of a natural thing for us.

Songfacts: Let's discuss the title track a bit, including its lyrical inspiration.

Joey: When we wrote the track, I was singing melodies. I was starting to think about an old book that I read when I as a kid called The Long Ships. It's called something else in Swedish [Röde Orm by Frans G. Bengtsson], but it's a Swedish book about the Vikings' early beginnings and the big battles between Norwegians, Danish, and Swedish people, before they started traveling to Ireland and England. There were important battles early on, where self-proclaimed kings were fighting - elected kings. It was chaos in Scandinavia. I thought it was a fascinating background for a lyric, and the melodies and the riffs lend themselves to it. So that's how it started.

And then the title we liked a lot when we were in the studio, so we thought, "Maybe this can be the album title." And everybody was liking the song, so we said, "Maybe it should open the album." There was something new about it, something a bit "left field" for us, to do that kind of riff. And it felt fresh for us, because we want to be excited with every record. We changed the producer, we changed the studio - we wanted to be on a journey. And we felt, "This song could raise some eyebrows." We were pleased with that one.

Songfacts: It sounds like you're describing a trip into space on "The Final Countdown." What did you have in mind with that lyric?

Joey: The music to that song was very much inspired by British rock bands - that sort of galloping tempo. But lyrically, one of the first singles I bought was "Space Oddity" by David Bowie, and I was really fascinated with his fascination with space.

So I was doing the lyrics for "The Final Countdown." That was for our third album, and I had the demo without vocals, and I was singing it over and over again. The music was almost like a soundtrack to a movie, about leaving Earth, and that the Earth was spent. And one day, we'll probably have to leave this place. It was kind of a dream-like lyric, but that was the backdrop for it.

Songfacts: What are some memories of filming the video?

Joey: There was a TV team there. We did two shows in Stockholm. We had just started The Final Countdown tour, and there was a TV team filming us for TV, and the video team filmed them filming us. It was two live shows, two nights. It was at the beginning of everything. It was in early '86, before it took off everywhere else. I remember a guy was over from New York from Epic Records, and he was really excited - he was going to bring it to America. It was an exciting time.

Songfacts: Was there a real Carrie behind the song "Carrie"?

Joey: Not really. We were young then, the normal breaking up and finding a new girlfriend. It was more of a general thing, actually.

Songfacts: What inspired you to write "Cherokee"?

Joey: It was a book, actually, that [producer] Kevin Elson's then-wife had. I think I saw it laying around, and I thought, "That would be interesting." I started reading the story about the Cherokee Indians, and I thought it would be an interesting thing to write about.

It wasn't so easy to write it, but I thought I had to give it a go. Musically, it was the last song written for The Final Countdown, and I remember having that riff, and we said, "We need to have one more song." I showed that one and the guys said, "Yeah, let's try that." We built the solo part, which is quite nice, and recorded it with Kevin.

Songfacts: What about "Rock the Night"?

Joey: We started touring in Sweden - this was before The Final Countdown. It was just describing the feeling of having fun and the touring life.

Europe is not alone in re-recording a tune that they laid down on an earlier record. Case in point, Todd Rundgren with "Hello It's Me," Kiss with "Strutter," and Gary Moore with "Empty Rooms."

However, Whitesnake may be the undisputed kings of the re-record, as evidenced by re-takes of "Here I Go Again" "Crying in the Rain," and "Fool for Your Lovin'."
There was a version of "Rock the Night" recorded before Kevin recorded the song. That was when we were touring around in Scandinavia, we started touring Japan. It was just describing our lives at the time. It was crazy.

Songfacts: What about "Superstitious"?

Joey: I don't remember that, but I do remember it was the first single after The Final Countdown, from Out of This World. It sort of went back to the day when we used to see early Whitesnake, with Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody. It was a song that had that sort of hard rock with a slight blues feel, but it was also a big chorus. It was just a cool track. It was a good song to start off with after The Final Countdown record. I don't remember the lyric inspiration. I would suspect I was interested in superstitions at the time... I don't know!

Songfacts: Do you feel it was difficult following up the success of The Final Countdown album?

Joey: We just decided not to emulate it. We tried to go on our own journey after that. Out of This World is slightly different: more guitar driven, more classic rock driven. I don't remember having a big problem with it, because we took the decision not to try to write another The Final Countdown. It was just moving on, really. Out of This World was quite a good album and a great tour, I remember.

Songfacts: Something I've always found interesting is quite a few Swedish music artists have been very successful in the US: Abba, Europe, In Flames, The Hives, Opeth, etc. Why do you think this is?

Joey: It is fascinating that Scandinavia and Sweden can produce these bands. I don't really have an answer. Maybe it's the long, dark winters.

It's kind of a melancholic kind of streak to the music that comes from old Scandinavian boat music, perhaps. And the work ethic... I don't know. I know that in other fields we've succeeded. We've had some big tennis players, and then 10-20-30 years after, there were a lot of tennis players. So maybe we get inspired by bands that make it, and we want to do the same thing. Maybe that gives us the drive. There were a lot of bands after Europe that tried to do the same thing, and some of them were successful. I don't know. I can't explain it.

Songfacts: Who are some of your favorite singers and songwriters?

Joey: These days, I really like the new bands that carry the torch for classic rock, bands like Rival Sons, White Denim. I do appreciate what Jack White is doing, too. But in the past, I was very thrilled when Audioslave came out with "Cochise" just after the millennium. That's when we re-started, and we used that record as a benchmark. It's amazing.

In the past, I was a huge fan of Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin. But I also have another side: I did three solo albums in the '90s when I was very much influenced by Jackson Browne, Randy Newman, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan. I did a few years just going to those shows and buying all those CDs. It gave a new perspective lyrically when we started Europe up again.

Songfacts: Do you feel that John Norum is one of the more underrated guitarists in rock?

Joey: Absolutely. He's not much into self-promotion, he's very laid-back in that sense. He knows everything from cables to how to set up a guitar - he works on guitars himself. And as a player, he's one of the best of his generation. I'm so lucky to play with that guy. I saw him play when I was 15 and he was 14, and we've been brothers since then. He's an amazing guitar player - I'm so proud to stand on the same stage. He's one of the best of his generation, without a doubt.

April 16, 2015.
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Comments: 1

  • Kalya from DelhiVery nice read. I too love Europe and there's hardly a song which I might dislike. Each song of theirs is beautiful both lyrics as well as melody!!! Keep it up!!!
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