This is the second single recorded by the "classic" and most well-known Pulp lineup. The band spent the 1980s with a constantly shuffling lineup due to university and changes in musical direction, but for the album Seperations onwards the classic lineup was secured as Jarvis Cocker on vocals, Steve Mackey on bass, Russell Senior on guitar, Candida Doyle on keyboards and Nick Banks on drums. The first single off Seperations was "My Legendary Girlfriend," and combined with "Countdown" were the first singles to really get noticed by the mainstream music press and started the gradual climb towards stardom in the mid-1990s.
At the end of the single version, a sample plays noting "You've just heard one of the most remarkable applications in modern electronics." This is a recording of now-disgraced entertainer Rolf Harris introducing the Stylophone in 1970 in a commercial.
B-Side "Death Goes To The Disco" is a remix of at the time unreleased rarity "Death Goes To Town", which was only released in 2005 on a special CD which came with Sheffield journalist Martin Lilleker's book Beats Working for a Living, before being included on the Seperations re-release shortly after.
In a 1994 Record Collector interview, Jarvis Cocker detailed the band's singles and albums up until that current point. Noting "Countdown," he stated that lyrically it was about "waiting for your life to take off, and then realizing maybe the countdown's never going to stop, you'll never reach zero - and in the meantime, the rocket's getting rusty and if it got to zero, it wouldn't take off anyway."