How Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ Fused Disco With David Bowie
The story that vocalist Joey Tempest tells regarding the evolution of the song has a common thread -- like many bands, Europe wanted a big epic that they could use as a memorable opening song for their concerts. "The Final Countdown" started from a demo idea that had long been in Tempest's mind, years before he finally finished the track for the band's third studio album.
During a conversation with UCR, he discussed the origins of "The Final Countdown," while also digging into the details of "Hold Your Head Up," the new song from the group which previews a planned studio album. As they celebrate their 40th anniversary -- with a documentary currently in the works -- it's clear that there's still many miles ahead for the Swedish hard rockers.
How did the latest Europe single, "Hold Your Head Up," come together?
We managed to squeeze some time in this summer before the tour started. We found a great producer, Klas Ahlund, that we’ve had our eye on for a while. He was willing to go in the studio with us. We went into Atlantis Studio in Stockholm, where we’d been before [to record the] Bag of Bones [album]. So that was kind of familiar territory for us. There’s a great Neve desk in there and the room is great. We know the studio and Klas also knows the studio, so we had a great time. The song came about during the pandemic. My dad passed away, sadly. I had some emotions around that, so I wrote lyrics that were sort of based around that, him being very supportive. He always told me to get up, get going and be proud -- that kind of thing. I presented this idea to the guys and they said, “Yes, I think we can do this!” Everybody contributed to the final song. The demo is a little bit different. We’re so pleased with it and the reception when we play it live, it’s going down a storm. We’re really pleased that we’re producing something now that people seem to like. It’s really cool.
Watch Europe's Video For 'Hold Your Head Up'
I know you all are big Deep Purple fans. This song honors the history of Europe well, but it also has a Purple feeling to it.
Indeed. We’re all big Jon Lord fans as well. We know what a big role he had in Purple at various stages. I mean, some of the riffs come from him, the way he played and how musical he was in himself. We carried that, I suppose, from when we were young. I remember seeing them on the Perfect Strangers tour with the guys in our band. That show was a firestarter for us as well. We were working on Wings of Tomorrow and it just catapulted our dreams, seeing them. It was amazing.
Where are things at with the next Europe album?
We’re throwing around [ideas]. I’d say three or four great ideas, which is really good going into the winter. Then we can fill up on that over the winter and hopefully do some recording early next year -- or spring. Whether we get something out next year or in the beginning of 2025, I don’t know. But there are some great ideas already. We’ve just got to get into a rehearsal room a little bit. Probably, [we’ll go] in the studio in March or April. I’m just guessing.
"The Final Countdown" has been used a lot of places, including AEW wrestling and Bryan Danielson. Reading his comments, it seems like you're pretty selective in how you license the song.
Yeah, we’re a bit careful. To be honest, we get far more requests than come out with that song. [Laughs] There are sometimes requests that I’m like, “Oh, that’s not going to happen here.” So we are kind of protective, but still, we want it to be enjoyed. It is used for many different things. In the ‘80s, they used it for big boxing matches. I remember Sugar Ray Leonard [using it] and [also things like] Formula 1 [racing]. I was always really proud of stuff like that. Those connections are great. But you know, there’s a whole lot of things.
Watch Bryan Danielson's 'The Final Countdown' Entrance
It seems like you took such an interesting journey when it came to writing "The Final Countdown."
It came about early on. We’d already started as a band, but I began messing around with keyboards. I borrowed a keyboard and one night, I just came up with that riff and did a short demo. I just had that little idea demo that we kept for a while. We were hanging out at this bar that had disco starting at 12 o’clock with a huge laser show and everything. They asked me, “Do you have any music for this?” Because we used to hang there. I dug up that little demo. We got to stand there having a few drinks on Friday night at 12 o’clock as the laser show started with that piece of music from that demo. We were standing there going, “Maybe this could be something? This could be the opening of the show. This could be a song. Joey, why don’t you go home and try to finish this?” So I did that and that’s what happened. It took a while to put it together, but it didn’t take too long. We [ended up with] a song that was kind of progressive in this scenario. It was quite different. It made everybody get up and it was cool to have in the arsenal from the very beginning.
How did David Bowie factor into the songwriting process, inspirationally?
One of the first singles that I bought was “Space Oddity.” I also liked “Starman” a lot. I was fascinated with Bowie’s fascination with space and space travel. I got really into it myself. So when I was working on the lyrics for “The Final Countdown,” I played it probably a hundred times, singing until the right words came. One day, it just came, “The Final Countdown,” after that drum fill. I knew that the verses and everything were leading up to the same thing that he was singing about, leaving the Earth, floating out there and going somewhere else. It’s a melodic entertaining song and it kind of worked that way. That’s the funny thing about that song. People use it for weddings and fun things and the message is different, but it’s still an uplifting song.
The tempo was a little bit inspired by British new wave and stuff -- and what Iron Maiden did. Also, earlier hard rock by [bands like] UFO. That galloping witch tempo. I found it very suitable when I was working on the song. Because when we were in the studio, Kevin Elson, a great producer who produced Journey and everything, he just said, “Put the four on the floor on that.” It would have been a very different song if we’d done that. We tried it for one day and then we thought, “Eh, let’s go back to that British thing.” It could have been a four on the floor song and it could have worked still, but it would have been different.
Watch Europe's Video For 'The Final Countdown'
There's a story that's circulated over the years that Europe was offered "Look Away," a song which was eventually recorded by Chicago, while you were working on the Out of This World album.
Yeah, there’s maybe two different accounts [of what happened]. But my recollection was that we had Ron Nevison producing. He had a contact at Epic Records who was floating around a Diane Warren song, basically. They were checking if Ron had an artist. He was working with us at the time and he played it for us on the tour bus. We listened to it and thought it was a great song. But we also had “Open Your Heart,” we had songs that were in that same kind of vein. We felt like we wanted to just be writing our own stuff. We were kind of adamant about that. We’ve never taken an outside song. We’ve always [written them on our own]. It’s been me or a few of us [working on them]. So that was probably part of the decision as well. We didn’t just want to take a song, just to try to get a hit. We want to be part of the process and write our own stuff, so it feels like it belongs to us.
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Gallery Credit: UCR Staff