25
Jan 10

EUROPE – “The Final Countdown”

FT + Popular110 comments • 7,172 views

#580, 6th December 1986, video

The first metal song to get to number one, which more than anything else tips you off as to what a strange, broad, inclusive-despite-itself church metal is. And yes, this surely qualifies. “The Final Countdown” puts its fanfare riff atop a gallop of power hair and Valkyrie guitars and the result is impeccably pop – so much so it split the band! – but their roots were heavier, trading personnel with Yngwie Malmsteen, paid-up members in good standing of the Swedish Metal Scene.

My experience of metal in the 1980s was entirely vicarious – people at school would buy Kerrang! or RAW or Metal Hammer, and I would read them with an amused disdain I guess I’ve never fully managed to shake, even though I’m ashamed of it: metal is the most vocational of fandoms and it didn’t choose me. I later started reading the NME instead and felt myself much smarter for it at the time – but of course what strikes me now is how similar, and how precarious, both magazines’ worlds were.

In an environment where access to music was through specialist gatekeepers – radio stations and print magazines – genres became coalitions. Metallica were truer metal than Cinderella? Perhaps, but the economics of genre meant that gatekeepers had to pitch a product that would capture fans of both. And the very existence of the umbrella thus held over them would exaggerate the similarities as well as the differences. Even so the coalitions had to be policed – the very first issue of NME I ever bought agonised on its cover over whether certain bands (The Darling Buds, The Wonder Stuff) joining major labels meant disaster. To a great extent the story of popular music in the 80s and 90s is the story of these grand coalitions – hip-hop and dance music, too – forming, winning and facing the consequences.

Even to an outsider the world of metal seemed particularly split-prone, perhaps because the temptations were greater: the marketplace seemed unlikely to put the integrity of The Wedding Present under too great a strain. But metal bands had the chops and the stagecraft and the gumption to fit right into a stadium rock world – all they needed were the songs, and “The Final Countdown” is such a song. Not that Europe necessarily realised – the riff had been kicking around since the early 80s and Joey Tempest wanted to press it into service as a tour curtain-raiser, not as a single. You can hear exactly what he meant: but the label knew a monster when they heard one.

Is it much more than the riff, and the headlong charge of the rhythm guitar? Does it have to be? The lyrics are well-documented nonsense but Tempest puts in the yearning and abstract conviction they need to not spoil the record, and really they’re just placeholders to get you back to – “It’s the FIH-NAL COUNT-DOWN!”. And there’s a welcome crispness and space in the production which gives Tempest’s voice and keyboards room. It lessens “The Final Countdown”‘s heaviness but if you’re heading to Venus you don’t need too much ballast.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    swanstep on 26 Jan 2010 #

    @MikeMCSG, 49. Thanks, I understand your comments at #44 now! Blimey, the offending party is truly hilarious. (But the youtube video has thousands of appreciative comments and relatively few dissenters. I guess I am/we are a tough crowd by comparison!)

    Seeing this now has made me think a little more kindly of Tom’s genre as coalition/broad church party idea. To have supported and voted for the grunge party, and then get *those guys* at #1 (in your name, as it were), really is a little like the exquisite torture of being a hard core leftie, who worked hard to elect Labour etc., who suddenly finds they have a load of Blair (in Baghdad no less) to deal with that *they* voted for/worked for.

  2. 62
    taDOW on 26 Jan 2010 #

    u.s hair metal #1 singles (very possible last uptempo u.s. rock #1 is among these):

    van halen – “jump”
    bon jovi – “you give love a bad name”
    bon jovi – “livin on a prayer”
    whitesnake – “here i go again”
    g’n’f’n’r – “sweet child o’ mine”
    def leppard – “love bites”
    poison – “every rose has it’s thorn”
    bon jovi – “i’ll be there for you”
    jon bon jovi – “blaze of glory”
    nelson – “(can’t live without yr) love and affection”
    extreme – “more than words”
    mr. big – “to be with you”

    #1 hair metal albums:

    quiet riot – metal health
    van halen – 5150
    bon jovi – slippery when wet
    van halen – ou812
    def leppard – hysteria
    g’n’f’n’r – appetite for destruction
    bon jovi – new jersey
    motley crue – dr. feelgood
    skid row – slave to the grind
    van halen – fuck
    g’n’r – use yr illusion ii
    def leppard – adrenalize
    aerosmith – get a grip
    van halen – balance
    van halen – best of vol 1
    vampire weekend – contra

  3. 63
    Alfred Soto on 26 Jan 2010 #

    taDow, you forgot Boston’s “Amanda” and “Bad Medicine.”

    Also: note how these bands hit #1 with ballads.

  4. 64
    taDOW on 27 Jan 2010 #

    “amanda” seemed borderline (truth be told the van hagar’s borderline, esp balance, and aerosmith only really felt hair metal around permanent vacation), and i thought if i listed that then foreigner, journey, reo speedwagon, some other midwest mallrat aor i’m forgetting would qualify also. probably should’ve listed heart’s ‘alone’, thought for sure desmond child wrote it but no. i knew that ballads were the way to #1 for hair metal (was actually surprised how many weren’t ballads actually), but it’s striking just how progressively softer they get (almost listed ‘when i see you smile’ cuz it seemed too soft and noone ever bought waite’s makeover – i might as well list richard marx – but that thing sounds like ‘when the levee breaks’ compared to mr. big and extreme). in a better, more just world bon jovi records ‘heaven is a place on earth’ and it’s up there also.

  5. 65
    wichita lineman on 27 Jan 2010 #

    Rather late to this but… wasn’t ‘heavy metal’ a Burroughs line? (I’m using Hammer Of The Gods as source material here, to my deep shame). Which probably predates Born To Be Wild. Plus I always guessed ‘heavy metal thunder’ in that instance was a literal bike reference.

    And if metal vocals define metal (ie sound like stuck pig Plant) then this is is the first metal no.1.

    I like dumb. I like Wild Thing. And I like good (ie quite rare) AOR – from Keep On Lovin’ You to Eye In The Sky to Hazard to Over My Shoulder. And good hair metal ballads – Alone can give me the shivers. But The Final Countdown is none of the above, just foil-thin metal, and – cough – affection for it is on a par with fancying She-Ra.

    Re 50: Fudge were def proto-Tap, if that’s a definition of the beginning of metal. The Beat Goes On is one of the funniest albums ever – the entire history of music (not just pop) in 35 mins!

  6. 66
    Elsa on 27 Jan 2010 #

    #65 I think you’re right about “heavy metal” as a literal bike reference. And yes, Burroughs wrote about the “Heavy Metal Kids” in The Soft Machine, I believe (1962). But if we’re going back that far, chemists have talked about “heavy metals” for a long time, predating Burroughs.

  7. 67
    taDOW on 27 Jan 2010 #

    dudes it’s 1968 and they named their band steppenwolf – very totally a burroughs ref. apparently barry gifford (!) was the first to use it as a genre term but even there it’s used like it’s a common term – was ‘heavy metal’ the ‘glo-fi’ of 1968?

  8. 68
    fivelongdays on 27 Jan 2010 #

    Coming late tot the party, but I’d still argue the toss in this song’s favour. A lovely piece of Hair Metal/Glam Metal/Cock Rock (and one can argue there’s a bunch of lads from South Wales who we’ll be meeting later who liked a bit of this stuff), and it is rather said that a wonderful, fun, subsection of music is now rather maligned.

    As far as metal=provinces goes, I’m a metalhead, and I grew up in a small town in West Oxfordshire, and there were maybe three or four other fans in my year at school in the 90s. However, most of the metalheads I know are also from the small towns.

    Love how Tom calls metal ‘vocational’. Fair point!

  9. 69
    Conrad on 27 Jan 2010 #

    68, Yes – heavy metal is/was in the 70s and 80s anyway, a very provincial thing. And very popular in places like the midlands, west country, yorkshire.

    Might have been a reflection on the different type of entertainment on offer. So, for example, you live in let’s say Taunton in 1980. You aren’t going to have any fancy electro clubs on your doorstep, or metropolitan scenesters forming bands (a la Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield). But you are going to have plenty of gigs/live music to go and see, and no doubt Saxon and Girlschool will be in town on their latest tour.

    The South-East was of course much more proximate to London and so not subject to the same factors

  10. 70
    wichita lineman on 27 Jan 2010 #

    Re 69: Growing up in the middle of Surrey I had no venues or ‘fancy’ electro clubs either, but we did have the radio which is how I got to hear stuff. So did Taunton, Shrewsbury, West Runton and other metal strongholds. Plus the second biggest conurbation in Britain is metal’s heartland. So it isn’t quite that simple.

    Possibly metalheads are an extension of the rockers/teds who held out against the Beatles, Stones et al in the 60s? Were they a noticeable presence in small town Britain and the Midlands?

  11. 71
    admin on 27 Jan 2010 #

    READER VOTING HAS BEEN RESTORED (nb you still need to be logged in to see and use this)

  12. 72
    Garry on 27 Jan 2010 #

    #46 That big synth riff sounds more like Prog to me, I can imagine Rick Wakeman playing it wearing a cape.

    I can remember Mike Oldfield being surprised one of his songs was called metal (something off Crises I think); he said he’d just always called heavy guitars rock. The link between Prog and the metal is obvious, especially 80s stadium metal: the showmanship, the great riffs, the bad hair, the bad costumes, and epic songs (though rarely 20 minutes long).

    #51 I was turning ten when Final Countdown came out in Australia. It was one of the first songs I recognised as a chart hit.

    While I was aware of songs on the radio from quite young (Golden Brown, Stop the Cavalry etc), I just knew them as individual from an electronic box, not as part of some chart or broader narrative.

    In 1987 I started listening to Take 40 Australia, and the Final Countdown was one of the earliest songs I knew as being a popular song. In fact, it was on the first commercial tape I owned – Smash Hits 87 – whose track listing in all it’s full glory was:

    01 Respectable – MEL & KIM
    02 Witch Queen – CHANTOOZIES
    03 He’s Gonna Step On You Again – THE PARTY BOYS
    04 Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now – SAMANTHA FOX
    05 He’s Just No Good For You – MENTAL AS ANYTHING
    06 Locomotion – KYLE MINOGUE
    07 The Final Countdown – EUROPE
    08 We Gotta Get Out This Place – THE ANGELS
    09 I Heard A Rumour – BANANRAMA
    10 Love & Devotion – MICHAEL BOW
    11 Walk Like An Egyptian – BANGLES
    12 Take Me Back – NOISEWORKS
    13 Funky Town – PSEUDO ECHO
    14 Slice Of Heaven – DAVE DOBBYN WITH HERBS
    15 Sugar Free – WA WA NEE
    16 Suddenly – ANGRY ANDERSON

    Such was my very important first step into music collecting.

  13. 73
    Martin Skidmore on 27 Jan 2010 #

    taDOW, how is Steppenwolf a Burroughs reference? I always took it to refer to the Hermann Hesse novel.

  14. 74
    thefatgit on 27 Jan 2010 #

    The Prog to Metal Arc:

    ELP
    Focus
    Gong
    Yes
    Genesis
    Marillion
    The Mars Volta
    Mastodon
    Cradle Of Filth
    Children Of Bodom
    Nile

  15. 75
    farflung sukrat of very metal shr3wsbury on 27 Jan 2010 #

    that list begins with king crimson! they invented metal and prog!

    actual real metal begins with judas priest though

  16. 76
    Steve Mannion on 27 Jan 2010 #

    Marillion to Mars Volta is an insane jump. Or rather, yay the 90s!

  17. 77
    MichaelH on 27 Jan 2010 #

    I think talking about this in terms of metal misses the point. I was a metal fan till the mid-80s, when my allegiances shifted to indie, but my group of friends included a lot of metal fans. They didn’t like Bon Jovi, but they respected them, and some of them bought Bon Jovi records. Same with Def Leppard. Van Halen were the inventors of modern metal (ie metal that wasn’t recylced blues) and were venerated. Quiet Riot were considered proper metal. Coverdale’s past earned Whitesnake kudos. There were violent schisms over Motley Crue. But not one of them thought Europe were a metal act: they were a pop act with long hair. No one even cared about Europe’s existence.
    If there’s a hair metal continuum that runs Aerosmith-Halen-Crue-Ratt-GNR and so on, I think there’s a parallel one, filled with the “metal” bands who weren’t really metal, one that features the likes of Europe and Extreme, with Jovi floating somewhere in the middle, JBJ clearly realising that to keep a career you needed the metal core onside, but to keep the career enormous, you needed the pop fans too. Extreme and Europe only realised the second part, to their cost.

  18. 78
    David L on 27 Jan 2010 #

    Do I detect a touch of score inflation over the past few years? I can certainly accept that TFC is silly but in a good way, but is it really on a par with Space Oddity, Are Friends Electric, Jailhouse Rock, Help!, Day Tripper, etc., who also got 7s?

  19. 79
    Pete Baran on 27 Jan 2010 #

    I always like to think that The Final Countdown as a sequel to clouds across the moon, and the galactic battle having moved to Earth has destroyed it and thus we are scurrying off to Venus to retreat.

    I will come back to this thread vis a vis my own metal past. Just safe to say I was the singer in a band called Stormchild for a while (until they threw me out for refusing to wear leather trousers).

    And I would certain;y agree that The Final Countdown is as good as the tracks you mention (except Jailhouse Rock with is an 8 or 9 for me).

  20. 80
    Steve Mannion on 27 Jan 2010 #

    A little bias towards your own time is surely unavoidable.

  21. 81
    Rory on 27 Jan 2010 #

    MichaelH @77: that’s an astute comment, but the trouble is that none of us in the Anglo countries knew anything about Europe apart from this track. I still have no idea what their other songs sounded like, particularly their stuff before this, but can only assume that they were metal and that this was an aberration. Their guitarist objected to it as such, apparently (shades of Berlin and “Take My Breath Away”).

    If all we knew of Van Halen was “Jump”, we would no doubt be saying they weren’t heavy metal either. David Lee Roth’s subsequent “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo” would have provided further evidence. But do those examples really mean that they weren’t, any more than this means that Europe weren’t?

  22. 82
    Tom on 27 Jan 2010 #

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qajDhtnpBhA – here’s the first single from their previous album. Hard rock, yes. Metal? Possibly. Borderline I’d say. No sign of TFC’s pop nous though.

  23. 83
    Rory on 27 Jan 2010 #

    Thanks, Tom. Sounds like standard-issue early-80s metal to me; I used to listen to plenty of stuff just like it. I wouldn’t have called it top-drawer metal, but it’s metal all right. “Hard rock” would have signified quite different vocal styles, guitar solos, the lot.

  24. 84
    Tom on 27 Jan 2010 #

    (actually that solo is definitely metal)

    As for the mark, what can I say? I really like it. Rather than marks creeping up it’s partly a reaction to a run of more or less dreary #1s though: was nice to have something with a bit of ridiculous gumption to review. Think of it as a 7 in the way King Of The Road, Quinn The Eskimo, In The Summertime, Yes Sir I Can Boogie and Pass The Dutchie are 7s if you like.

    Oddity aside you’ve picked a lot of the songs I underrated though! (I get another tilt at Jailhouse Rock I believe so a rare opportunity to revise the mark…)

  25. 85
    anto on 27 Jan 2010 #

    The observations about metal and its fans make a lot of sense.
    One of my best friends at school was a metal-head who was ridiculed by some for favouring Korn and Limp Bizkit (so imagine my bemusement when in my first year at college both groups became astoundingly popular).
    This friend was opinionated about what was heavy and what was not.
    He didn’t share my appreciation for Nirvana (not metal enough) and anything too overtly indie we tacitly agreed to disagree about.
    He seemed honestly surprised when I admitted to ownership of Pulp albums.
    However it was my metal-loving friend who pushed me towards my favourite ever group by loaning me some tapes of Manics album tracks.
    Previously a band who I liked better for their image than their songs
    the Manics appeared to have something in common with Guns n Roses but equally just as much in common with the Jesus and Mary Chain to bridge the gap.
    A few other groups we could agree on Smashing Pumpkins (who I always think of a making a kind of baroque metal), Placebo and Therapy?
    This to me points up the curious commonality between metal and indie fans and how it occassionly mingles as does the fact that two of the few weeklies still on the shelves are Kerrang and the NME.

  26. 86
    MichaelH on 27 Jan 2010 #

    I think Europe having been totally ignored in the UK before TFC is why I can’t think of them as metal. I don’t remember them being in Kerrang!, though of course they might have been. Certainly, I’d never even heard of them till TFC, and by virtue of my friends, I usually knew what was happening on the scene (albeit, that as they’d got older, they moved away from mainstream metal towards Nuclear Assault and the hardcore crossovers. Ot the hardcore continuum, if you prefer).

  27. 87
    MichaelH on 27 Jan 2010 #

    PS Also, this parrticular single shouldn’t be discussed as a metal song, regardless of the rest of their career – that’s what the opening line of my first post was meant to imply.

  28. 88
    MichaelH on 27 Jan 2010 #

    PPS Having listened to the previous single, I’d say this is False Metal. It’s got the skkkrng guitar, the wailing vocal – but the chord progressions are all pop. No sign of the devil’s interval.

  29. 89
    thefatgit on 27 Jan 2010 #

    #76 I kind of agonised over including any grunge or thrash in that list. I suppose I could have included Faith No More. The 90’s seemed quite a chasm although Steve Hillage was still active, I believe. Plenty of proggy metal in the noughties though.

  30. 90
    Conrad on 27 Jan 2010 #

    84, and “Are Friends Electric”, sort of…

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