|B-side "On Broken Wings"|
Format 7" 12" CD
Genre Glam metal hard rock
|Length 5:09 (Album version) 4:03 (Radio edit)|
"The Final Countdown" is a song by Swedish rock band Europe, released in 1986. Written by Joey Tempest, it was the first single from the band's third studio album, also named The Final Countdown. The song reached No. 1 in 25 countries, including the United Kingdom, and was certified gold in the United Kingdom in 1986. In the United States the song peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at No. 18 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart.
Origin and recording
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: "When I first heard the synth intro to 'The Final Countdown', my reaction was: 'No, this is nuts. We just can't use this.' Thank God they didn't listen to me." 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."
Release and reception
"The Final Countdown" was released in the spring of 1986 and became the most successful song from The Final Countdown on the American rock charts as well as the band's most recognizable and popular song. It appeared on Billboard magazine's Billboard Hot 100 chart, reaching the top 10. The following week it debuted on the Album Rock Tracks, where it peaked at No. 18 in its eighth week and remained on the chart until its 20th week. The band's next hit was "Superstitious," which achieved a higher chart position on the Album Rock Tracks.
In Canada, the song reached the top ten on the Canadian Singles Chart, peaking at number five and becoming the band's highest charting song in that country. "The Final Countdown" reached number three in the UK, eventually spending two weeks at the top of the UK Singles Chart in December, and was the only single from the album that charted in the UK top 10. "The Final Countdown" reached number 1 in 25 countries, including France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden and Italy.
The music video, directed by Nick Morris, contains footage from two concerts the band did at Solnahallen in Solna, Sweden on 26 and 27 May 1986, as well as some extra footage filmed at the sound checks for those concerts.
The song has been a regular in Europe concerts ever since its live debut on the premiere of their Final Countdown Tour in April 1986. One of the most memorable performances of the song took place in Stockholm, Sweden on 31 December 1999, as part of the Millennium celebrations, as it was the first, and to date only, Europe performance with both of the band's lead guitarists, the original guitarist John Norum and his replacement, Kee Marcello.
"The Final Countdown 2000"
In 1999, the dance remix "The Final Countdown 2000" was released. It was produced by Brian Rawling, who had previously had success with "Believe" by Cher. The band's reaction to the remix was less than enthusiastic. "That remix was a disaster," drummer Ian Haugland said, "I wouldn't pass water on it if it was on fire!"
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.
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 toward 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."
A performance of the song by a band named Deep Sunshine was captured on video and later became a variation of a Rickroll on Fark.com, receiving over 1 million views on YouTube. The video has been labeled the "worst cover ever", its success stemming from its lack of artistic value.
Slovenian avant-garde music group Laibach released a cover in 1994 on their NATO album.
"The Final Countdown" is a particular favourite of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, who incorporated elements of it into "Gone with the Wind", his 1999 reimagining of Lev Knipper's "Polyushko-polye".
Swedish metal band Sabaton has "The Final Countdown" playing to the crowd just before they enter the stage at their concerts.
American banjo players Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn performed a version of the song in May 2015 for The A.V. Club's A.V. Undercover series.