This song's lyric is both apocalyptic and optimistic, describing a trip into Space (heading for Venus) and leaving Earth behind. When we asked Europe lead singer Joey Tempest about it, he explained: "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."
The iconic keyboard riff was composed by lead singer Joey Tempest five years before the song was recorded. The band's keyboard player Mic Michaeli had lent him the instrument.
On VH1's 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders, Joey Tempest said: "It was quite a surprise that the song 'The Final Countdown' became such a big hit because it was written for the band, it was written for our concert, it was written to be the opening song in our concert. It was almost six-minutes long, it was never intended to be a short pop hit or anything, it was very much a surprise and its been used for all kinds of events, anything from Formula 1 to boxing. It's been used for a lot, sort of like an anthem. I know there's been some cover versions of it as well and I know when the Berlin Wall (fell), at the same time that all thing happened I know a lot of other people from that area saw the song as an anthem. I get a lot of letters about that. So its been interpreted in many ways."
One of the first singles Europe lead singer Joey Tempest bought was a good one: "Space Oddity" by David Bowie. That song, which was written in the lead-up to the 1969 moon landing, was a huge influence on Tempest and led to his own fascination with space exploration. He says that "The Final Countdown" lyric was inspired by Bowie's song and how it piqued his interest in space travel.
The music video is very meta, showing the band being filmed for a video. On May 26 and 27, 1986, Europe played at the Solnahallen arena near Stockholm, footage of which was compiled for a home video called The Final Countdown Tour 1986. During these shows, director Nick Morris filmed the band being filmed, which was used for the music video to this song.
When we spoke with Morris, he explained that the first concept for the video was a space shuttle launch, but that was quickly nixed due to cost. Since the band enthralled crowds in their native Sweden, he asked to do the video at the Solnahallen shows, with a control room scene from the Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night serving as inspiration. By going behind the scenes at a concert on their home turf, Morris was able to show Europe on a grand scale wowing their adoring fans. The various clocks, countdowns and equipment that came with the production not only gave it gravitas, but also fit the theme of the song.
Europe released two album on the Swedish label Hot Records before getting a deal with Epic in 1985. The signing was a fortuitous one for the label, as the band was on the cutting edge of the hair metal trend, with a slick, keyboard-driven sound and an MTV-friendly look. "The Final Countdown" was the first single Epic released, and it broke the band worldwide, going to #1 in the UK and #8 in America.
It took a while to break the band: they started their Final Countdown tour in Sweden in 1986, and when their video for this song was filmed in May, an Epic executive from New York was on hand, ready to bring the excitement to a larger audience. The tour continued into Japan and Germany, and in November, the song was released in America. It peaked at #8 in March 1987, and in April the band started their tour of the States, with "Rock The Night" released as the follow-up single. Their third single, "Carrie," ended up being their biggest hit in the States, reaching #3 in October. Despite the success of "Carrie," the band is often considered a one-hit wonder in America for "The Final Countdown," which proved far more enduring.
Joey Tempest: "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." (courtesy: www.rockeyez.com)
This was #1 in 26 countries including Germany and over eight million singles were sold worldwide.
This song has a lot of haters and has appeared on various "worst of" lists over the years. An example: it was listed #1 on VH1's 40 Most Awesomely Bad Metal Songs.
In the video, there are various helicopter shots mixed with the indoor footage. After spending lots of time getting the authorization, a police helicopter was supplied, and "Europe 86" was painted on the roof of the concert venue. When director Nick Morris and his cameraman flew over the venue to get the shot, it was too early so there was no crowd, no excitement. The pilot offered a solution: fly to Stockholm, grab some coffee, then go back to get the shot. Morris told us: "We went round the clock tower a couple of times so we could film that, and just landed in a quiet local square. All these guys were sitting there, bent doubled, watching this police helicopter land. We get out, he locks up the helicopter, and we walk across to get cappuccinos. A couple of minutes later he says, 'There should be people there now, let's go.' We took off again and got the shots that you see in the beginning of the video."
The song is used as the introduction theme at the UK soccer team Blackburn Rovers and its the theme song for the NBA team Detroit Pistons.
Seeking the modern synth-rock sound of the mid-'80s, Epic Records put the band with producer Kevin Elson for The Final Countdown album. He had worked on the 1983 Journey album Frontiers.
This song has been used in the TV shows Arrested Development, Chuck, Glee and Gotham. Movies include Shiner (2000) The Kid & I (2005) and Pitch Perfect (2012). It also gets a mention in a 2015 episode of the animated show Gravity Falls, when a character says, "It's the final countdown! Just like they always sung about!"
In the video version, the vocals don't come in until 1:20. When they do, it's with Tempest vocalizing, "ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh." At this point in the video, there's a close-up shot of Tempest singing it. Extended "oohs" don't look very rock and roll on camera, since you have to parse your lips and sing softly. Tempest hated this shot, telling director Nick Morris it was "too girly." The record company loved it though.
In 2015, Europe appeared in a commercial for Geico insurance, performing this song in an office break room while a worker waits for his burrito to microwave. The tagline: "If you're the band Europe, you love a final countdown, it's what you do. If you want to save 15% or more on car insurance, you switch to Geico."
Don from Sevierville, TnI thought this song resembled the Rainbow song "Street of Dreams" from 1983.
Dave from Greer, ScNorther did a pretty neat death metal cover of this song (It's really not as bad as it sounds)
George from Vancouver, Canada@Marc: read the facts given sat the top of the page' they give what the band said the song is about. . . Anything else is just speculation as to subconscious influences. . .
George from Vancouver, CanadaA key song from the '80s. . .
Shandroise De Laeken from Davao City, Philippines@Madison - Norway,Me : Not only in Iceland, this song is also often played (several times a week) in many radio stations here in Philippines. I don't know if there are young people who like this though, but I don't care. I am at present 20+ yr old and I love the entire parts that make this song up! Nothing compares to it among present songs. This is superbly brilliant! Shows how much more talented musicians are back then! (Bleh :p to so-called younger "musicians")
Also glad that this is #1 in many countries. It deserves that honor!
Jim from Pleasant Hill, CaMiles: Do you have band member quotes showing that it's about the Challenger space shuttle, other than guesses based on the year 1986? The lyrics about Venus and light-years don't fit the Challenger incident. I always took this song as a futuristic escape-from-Earth scenario, open to interpretation.
Miles from West Linn, Or@Marc this song is actually about the Challenger disaster.
Noah from Galesburg, IlAlways reminds me of when Gob did his magic tricks on 'Arrested Development'
Zan-d Mack from Springfield, MoI remember hearing this song as the varsity basketball team was introduced at my high school. One of the few good memories I have of high school.
Anurag Smith from Delhi, --I must have heard this about a hundred times, yet everytime I hear it, the lead guitar gets me stumped. It blends so beautifully and takes the song to a different level. Truly one of the greatest works of Rock.
Robert from Zanesville, OhLoved this song and Carrie by Europe. Excellent keyboards and guitar on both!
Marc from Zwolle, NetherlandsBut PLEASE, people... since this is SONGFACTS.... tell us facts about the song! I want to know what it is about! The meaning. Anybody?
Nick from Boston, Machamillionaire sampled this in his song "industry groupie"
Jake from Columbia City, InThis song is GREAT. I absolutely love it.
Mike from Lincoln Park, MiI just love this song. I always want to hear it on radio or VH1.
Madison from Norway, MeThis song is still popular in Iceland, apparently. I listen to an online station from Iceland & they play it all the time.
Scott from West Palm Beach, FlEd from IL: Real musicians are open minded to the "art" of performing music. Glam-rock is a staple of our society, so don't be so quick to judge just because they were pretty boys as you put it (hmmm, good looking guys every girl wants to nail ... yeah I can see how it's a real bad thing Ed). Anyway, they were and still are very good musicians in my opinion, as is evident of their Secret Society sound. Music is an art; art is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. I'll bet as a fellow musician you wouldn't have turned down the opportunity to be their opening act at the time? Don't be ashamed to be a musician based on another's persona ... support your peers Ed! Now, if you are "Ed"die Van Halen - you have my sincerest apologies. ;)
Matthew from Milford, Mahttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pw8sNoodIDk
Absolutely pathetic cover... YouTube is full of humor...
Ed from Incognito, IlThis "glam-rock" bunch of pretty-boys make me ashamed of being a musician!
Wes from San Angelo, TxI take exception to Europe being billed as a "one hit wonder". Does anyone else remember "Carrie"? This late 80's power ballad was a staple on mainstream radio. Sure, it wasn't exactly a smash hit in the purest form, but it was a hit nevertheless.
Pat from Reading, Maon vh1's best songs of the 80's when they asked people what number their song should place, vh1 called that section the final countdown and they had a tape of the singer of europe saying, "it's the finale countdown"