Joey Tempest, the band’s lead singer, talks about ‘The Final Countdown’ and 1980s rock.
As rock keyboard riffs go, they don’t come much more famous than Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’. Instantly recognisable, the famous melody has featured in TV shows, such as Arrested Development, as well as becoming an anthem in sports stadiums across the world.
The song’s composer, Joey Tempest, is also Europe’s frontman and continues to perform the song to audiences everywhere from Mexico to Japan. On Friday November 22, you’ll be able to hear the track live for yourself, when the group perform at Dubai Tennis Stadium.
The Swedish rockers have been together, on and off and in different guises, since 1979. It’s an unusually long time in the volatile world of rock music – something which Tempest equates to the band’s shared roots.
‘I met John Norum, the guitar player, he was 14, I was 15 and I was just mesmerised that there was a great guitar player in my neighbourhood. And we formed the band Force and we’ve been together ever since.’
Tempest is all too aware of his country’s reputation for producing bubblegum pop and dance music, but remains devoted to rock. When the inevitable subject of Abba is broached he concedes: ‘I’ve met them all – I know them. When we were kids we didn’t like them but now we can respect those melodies.’
Tempest is equally pragmatic when it comes to the question of whether, after almost 30 years, he ever feels burdened by his biggest hit. ‘We’re grateful – we don’t sing it in the shower or rehearse it or anything but it’s great to play live,’ he says. ‘When that moment comes it’s great to have that connection with the audience. It’s one of those great songs.’
Influenced by famous 1980s rockers such as Whitesnake and Deep Purple, Tempest believes that there are large similarities between ‘The Final Countdown’ and other British rock classics. ‘The tempo was a bit like ‘Run To The Hills’ by Iron Maiden or UFO’s ‘Lights Out’ – it’s a very galloping tempo. Lyrically, it was inspired by David Bowie. I remember the first single I bought – ‘Space Oddity’ – when he was fascinated with space; I was also fascinated with space when I wrote the song.’
The now infamous keyboard sound was a consequence of Tempest’s experimentation with early Japanese instruments from the likes of Korg and Roland. He cites Van Halen as a similar example of a musician who embraced the technology of the time. ‘When he played with an American keyboard – an Oberheim – he came up with ‘Jump’. As song writers you use the tools available and it’s just got that keyboard-influenced, rock sound.’
Interestingly though,Tempest says he never set out for the song to be a hit. ‘We wanted something majestic to start our show with and it was six minutes long so it was never intended to be a single or anything,’ he admits.
It’s not all been plain sailing for Europe though. Following the band’s success with ‘The Final Countdown’ John Norum [the guitarist] left the group, allegedly over creative differences and a disapproval of the band’s increasingly electronic sound. Tempest partly agrees but adds: ‘There were many reasons he left, it was lot of photo sessions, posters, a lot of things. From a rock band we got crossed over into a broader media area. I think there was a lot of pressure on all of us at that point.’
Kevin Elson, the [rock band] Journey producer who worked on the album The Final Countdown and later on Europe’s Start From The Dark record in 2004, is also charged with altering the band’s sound in a way which Norum didn’t appreciate at the time. ‘He was introduced to us by Epic [records] in New York, which was good because we broke America but also the guitars were a bit lower and I don’t think John [Norum] was too pleased with that.’
Norum returned to the band in 2003 and the group are now keen to move forward musically. In the words of Tempest: ‘If we go somewhere new like Dubai, of course people are going to know ‘The Final Countdown’ but they’re also going to be introduced to some songs. Like ‘Last Look at Eden’ – the title track, [from the album of the same name], and ‘Firebox’ from Bag of Bones – there are new tracks that catch people’s attention. We want to show our new stuff as well as the old.’
Europe perform live in Dubai. Dhs200-375. Friday November 22, 8pm. Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Garhoud. www.timeouttickets.com