The Jukebox Junkyard: Europe's "The Final Countdown"

Is the joke on us?
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Europe - Band - The Final CountdownTo fans of sports and the late, bereaved television show Arrested Development, Europe’s “The Final Countdown” is a song they are quite familiar with. You would probably be hard pressed to find somebody who couldn’t recognize its synthesizer hook and, despite its less than celebrated state in the modern era, aside from ironic appreciation, it was an exceedingly popular song when it was released, reaching number one in many a country and number eight in the United States.

Now? It’s the song that plays when G.O.B. Bluth goes about his over the top machinations in his magic act, and the song appears to be part of the joke. However, is the joke on the song? Or does it’s over the top, bombastic nature just provide the perfect backdrop to G.O.B. prancing about the stage waving brightly colored scarves? Perhaps the reason people disparage this song is that it is just too much.

The first thing you hear is that synth hook, and to be fair it does suck me in. Sure, the synth may now be considered a bygone relic of a different musical era, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used well, and this song does definitely start off by making me want to listen to it. It sounds good, even if it does come ever so close to being a bit much. If you don’t cross that line, however, you can keep the listener engaged in your magical world of sounds instead of creating some sort of musical overdose.

Unfortunately, things start to get a bit worrisome when the song hits the minute mark and we’ve yet to hear any singing. The rocking and, perhaps, even the rolling were fine at first but Europe needs to bring something new to the table if they want to keep up with the likes of Asia and Africa. Finally, at the 1:28 mark, lead singer Joey Tempest (who, tragically, wasn’t in The Scorpions and thus couldn’t sing “Rock You Like a Hurricane”) gets to singing, and just by the tone of his voice the song starts its slow decent into the land of cheese.

He already sounds frantic and like he’s trying to yell over the instruments from word one. Ever heard of building to a crescendo? Europe is really going to have to strain themselves to raise the stakes later in the song (of course, they manage to do it). Tempest informs us, “We’re leaving together, but still its farewell,” though we don’t know who it is he’s singing to. I presume it isn’t the listener, and since it’s a song my guess is it’s a woman. Also, if they are leaving together, it clearly isn’t farewell. The crux of music to me will always be how the song sounds, but poor quality lyrics certainly can dampen things, especially when sung with such urgency.

Things get worse, however, with the next couplet. The next line is, “And maybe we’ll come back,” then there’s a pause, followed by, “to Earth who can tell?” I can’t abide any songwriter trying to get away with that. If your line needs an ellipses in the middle of it, that’s not a good sign. Also, more importantly, we now know what the song is about; space travel! They may be named after a continent, but they’ve got their eyes on the stars.

There’s a long history of songs about outer space, and most of the best ones come from David Bowie. There’s certainly plenty Europe could do with this song at this point. They could tell a story about a man who isn’t ready to leave the Earth behind. He’s worried he’ll never see it again, and the titular final countdown, the countdown to launch, is this horrible burden on his soul. You throw a solid synth hook on that and this could go down as a good song. Some people would dismiss it as passé because synths aren’t used much anymore, but those people are jackasses.

Unfortunately, things are about to get silly. In the second verse, Tempest informs us that he’s headed to Venus and, additionally, he’s still standing tall. Well that’s just a bad idea right there! What moron at NASA (or whatever aeronautics institute was behind this mission, but since we’re talking 1986 here our choices are limited) signed off on this mission? Typical rocket scientists, always sending rock bands to their doom.

I know these are just the lyrics to a rock song, but I demand at least a bit of scientific accuracy here. To make matters worse, the next part of the song states, “’Cause maybe they’ve seen us, and welcome us all.” This implies some sort of life on Venus, which is even more ridiculous. Look, when the Melies brothers made A Trip to the Moon in 1902, they could get away with that shit because nobody knew anything about space travel. A few planets hadn’t even been discovered. However, in 1986 to be singing about a trip to a planet with a hyper dense atmosphere with clouds of SULFURIC ACID surrounding it? That just won’t fly. Here’s what really bothers me about this part of the song, though; he clearly just used Venus because it rhymes with “seen us.” That’s lazy song writing at its worst. Bowie got away with “Life on Mars” because at least his lyrics were interesting and because the song was as much about sailors fighting in the dance hall as anything else.

And… that’s it for the narrative. We don’t hear anymore about the plight of this crew. We don’t get to hear about them burning up in the atmosphere of Venus (which, in a way, is nice I suppose). However, in grand overkill fashion, there is still almost two minutes of song left. It’s just a lot more of Tempest singing, “The final countdown,” or, to mix things up, “It’s the final countdown.” Maybe it’s just me, but if you are going to sing a song about a countdown, I’d like to actually hear about the end of said countdown, and I certainly prefer that to hearing the same synth riff repeatedly. At the beginning of the song, it hooked me, but by the fourth minute of the song I was tired of it and there was still over a minute left in this 5:10 song.

Europe’s “The Final Countdown” is a long, loud song that goes pretty much nowhere and by the end is quite repetitive and borderline obnoxious. So, in a way, it’s the ideal match for G.O.B. Bluth’s magic act. In fact, it is almost like a magic trick in and of itself. It hooks you in, misdirects you as it were, with a killer beginning, and in the end it’s taken five minutes of your life without you even noticing. As such, it probably deserves its status as a bad song. It isn’t just some '80s or synth rock backlash, or at least not entirely. What is a shame is that the pieces of a good song are here. They just extended them beyond their limits and threw lyrics about traveling to Venus in and ruined it.