The Final Judgment on “The Final Countdown”

Thanks to that TV commercial for Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, in which various chunky Wii gamers train under the watchful eye of their pixellated masters while cheese rock booms in the background, Athena’s been exposed to that most hideous of 80s hair metal anthems: “The Final Countdown” by Europe. More to the point, because she saw me wince when the snippet of the song’s synth fanfare barfed out of my TV speakers, she’s made it a point to torture me with it, coming up to me at inopportune times and singing “It’s the final countdown!” and then running away giggling.

Well, I can’t have that, so this morning before school I finally did what I should have done a long time ago, and made her listen to the whole damn thing, the idea being once she listened to its entire flaccidly vomitrocious length, she would be forever cured of the need to sing any part of it, to me or anyone else. Of course it meant I had to listen to it again, too, but these are the sacrifices parents have to make for their children.

Naturally, it was no surprise to me how craptacular this particular song is, but I had largely forgotten the reason why, which was, aside from being insipid and banal popcraft in that peculiarly Swedish way, instrumentally, every part of the sounds like substandard apings of other 80s rock bands. The synth riff is a clunky transposition of the synth riff from “Only Time Will Tell” by Asia, lead singer Joey Tempest sounds like he spent his teenage years in front of the mirror, attempting to imitoot exarctly Scorpions lead singer Klaus Meine, and the tunelessly finger-mashing guitar solo sounds like a smudged photocopy of every other tunelessly finger-mashing 80s faux-metal guitar solo, which in themselves are smudged photocopies of the fretwork of Randy “I’m the only person who can actually pull this shit off” Rhodes.

Individually it’s all crap, but put it all together, and it apparently becomes the sort of super-synergistic hypercrap that goes to #1 in twenty-six countries; apparently only the US maintained relative sanity in the face of such musical manure, allowing it to reach only #8. But that was bad enough, people. Even so, the next time some smug European starts lecturing you about how America has lost its moral compass, and tortures people, and is turning its Constitution into hamster bedding, you can look them straight in the eye and say “at least we didn’t let ‘The Final Countdown’ go to number one, you tone-deaf bastard.” And do you know what they will say to that? Nothing. Because there is nothing to say. You held the line, America. Stand tall.

Once Athena was done listening to the song in its entirety, I asked her what she thought of it. She said, “It’s okay. But the thirty second version of it is better.” Which is possibly the very best anyone could ever say of “The Final Countdown,” and, really, all you need to know about it.

86 Comments on “The Final Judgment on “The Final Countdown””

  1. “at least we didn’t let ‘The Final Countdown’ go to number one, you tone-deaf bastard.”And do you know what they will say to that? Nothing.

    Maybe you should have. Maybe that would have taught you that torture is bad.

  2. Well John do not watch “Hot Rod” the movie (a spoof? of Daredevils and stunt people…Good movie really) but it has ALOT of Europe’s music in it….

    P.s.Thanks for the Great site…

  3. This is the kind of thing we 80’s children must bear. I am sorry. Yeah, and the parachute pants too. And here I was about to call the ’70s and rip them about the Starland Vocal Band and “Afternoon Delight” . . . .

  4. John, clearly you’re not a fan of Arrested Development. That’s too bad. While before having watched AD, I would have had to concur with your assessment, now that I’m an AD veteran, “The Final Countdown” brings fond memories of GOB’s perpetually botched attempts at magic tricks—er, illusions.

  5. It pains me to say that I bought this on cassette when it came out. Now that you pointed it out John, I think the rip-off Asia keyboard riff is what sucked me in, but that is also the same thing that makes the song so bad. You have to love the hair though, just perfect.

  6. Ian Sales:

    Well, there’s good music from Sweden, too, of course. It’s not a blanket condemnation.

  7. 1. I, too, have been suffering from the (otherwise quite lovely) vocal stylings of my 7-year-old as he works over this song, which he’s only ever heard in the Mario-and-Sonic connection.

    2. I had forgotten that that was Rhodes’s middle name. But just so.

  8. The worst part of this song is that it was the final song in the “Dancing with the Stars” game for the Wii which I had to review for some freelance stuff. Getting through the entire game just to have to listen to this piece of crap was like running a marathon and then getting kicked in the stones.

  9. Our host:

    Well, there’s good music from Sweden, too, of course. It’s not a blanket condemnation.

    Unfortunately the only other Swedish music that comes to (my) mind is ABBA and I personally would not class that as good music

  10. I agree with Pablo — that song was such an institution on Arrested Development, I found myself forced to place it on my iPod.

    That said, the opening synths are damned fun, but after that, there is no there, there. It’s one of those songs that inadvertently gets lumped in as “heavy metal” because the band itself looks metal.

  11. Yes, but name one other era in which the men had better hair and makeup than the women. Which leads how I get over these bits of nastiness. Just imagine the entire band dropped into ‘Deliverance’.

    Though this is not recommended for immunizing pre-teens to such tripe.

  12. Adam Lipkin:

    Well, they’re pop metal, whose relation to metal is the same relation grape soda has with a grape.

  13. thanks. i haven’t seen that stupid commercial since before xmas, now the song’s stuck in my head again :/

  14. Hmm. I seem to remember that “Hooked on a feeling” with Björn Skifs made it to #1 in the 70’s. In my world that’s worse than Europe. (ooga chacka!)

    Personally I must say that some of the music that was bad in the 80’s now induce a not unpleasant nostalgia in me. It’s still not good, but fun!

  15. Ian Sales: That makes more sense than my answer: The Restoration. “Stand and Deliver — your money or your life!” Hell, yeah.

  16. Your proposed rejoinder has two problems, John:

    (1) It’s too mild and too complicated. All you really need to say is “EuroVision.” After living in Europe for the tail end of the 1980s, I think I’m entitled to say “ewwwwww!” on general principles.

    (2) It ignores the obvious comebacks: “Yeah, maybe, but that’s just the record companies’ uneven distribution. You had Van Halen instead.” And, embarassingly, the EuroAdvocate would be right.

  17. CEP: With the exception of the entirety of Van Halen III, nothing in the VH discography sucks as much as The Final Countdown. Just not happening.

  18. For those of us who never made it to an age above 5 before the 80s ended, that music which both is and is not a part of our cultural heritage does indeed tend to stir up nostalgic amusement. The whole “catchy-but-bad” genre is a treasure trove of amusement.

  19. ugh. Did I mention the amusement, and how amusing its amusement is? Curse you, mental thesaurus! You have failed me for the last time!

  20. I would contend, and it’s contentious, that any band named after a geographic region sucks. Boston, Asia, Europe, Kansas? Blech. If there were a band called Antarctica, they would suck as well.

    (Chicago fans can content themselves that they were originally the Chicago Transit Authority which isn’t a geographic region.)

  21. I adore this song. In fact, I have an unabashed and unashamed love of pretty much their entire oeuvre. Europe was the first band I ever really discovered on my own, having spent my life listening to my parents’ music up until that point–and that’s probably one of the reasons I love them so.

  22. Good Swedish music = Anekdoten, Paatos, Anglagard, Landberk, Trettioariaga Kriget, The Flower Kings etc. The aforementioned list comes with the disclaimer that you have to like Progressive Rock, which may open up another can of worms in itself.

    – Jeff

  23. My dad brought back some steel drum music from Antigua and loved to play it full blast through the house in the waning winter months to remind him of my parents trips to Antigua.

    There was a version of “The Final Countdown” on it.

    It was better than the original.

  24. John, as the author of the Rough Guide To The Universe, you have to give Europe props for creating a song where the singers are heading to Venus, and only Venus. I mean, can you name another rock ballad where Venus is a destination, and not the other, more mainstream planets?

  25. Sorry, John, but it’s such a close call in poor musicianship, derivative BS, and bad hair between Van Halen and Europe that we simply can’t do more than agree to disagree (other than that they suck, and we’re just arguing over how much). Admittedly, some of that’s from the classically trained musician perspective… one of the reasons I prefer Mark Knopfler to Eric Clapton, and that I taught my sons early on the Guitar Commandment:

    “For I am James Marshall Hendrix, and thou shalt have no god before me.”

  26. I laugh every time I hear that song. That is only when I am watching Arrested Development. I don’t go out of my way. And the 30 second version is the only version I have ever heard.

  27. I was saved by punk/alt rock. Whew. The new romantic movement was early-mid eighties so I think it was part of the same era as big hair pop rock. Who knows maybe the former inspired some of the later. Fashion wise at least.

  28. Other good contemporary Swedish music:

    The Hives (garage/punk rock)
    Jens Lekman (bouncy pop, a little bit twee but fun)
    Annie (bouncy bubblegum dancepop)

  29. Fortunately, when my first born was a teenager (he’s a couple of years older than you, John) he was into alt/punk stuff so Europe and other crap rock albums never made their way into our house. My 25 (almost 26) yr old daughter has also always been into alt/punk stuff. My youngest (22) kid hurts my ears by listening to loud avant garde hip hop stuff (but fortunately he has very eclectic tastes and also listens to classical music as well as rock oldies).

  30. My eldest son is deaf and unfortunately thinks the ‘Final Countdown’ is a ‘good’ 80’s rock song. Ack.

    be well,

  31. O Heinous Scalzi, this time you have gone too far. The Executive Committee of The Official Ghlaghghee Fan Club has spent the last 20 years trying to forget Europe opening for Def Leppard – and playing that “song”. (Not that the Executive Committee is actually proud of the Def Leppard angle, but they were free tickets.)

    The Official Ghlaghghee Fan Club, a quorum having been duly assembled, RESOLVES

    That Scalzi has committed a grievous offence against the Purity of Magnificent She,

    And that to atone for this offence, must display a new picture of The Beauteous Ghlaghghee, perhaps even a video, immediately.

    The Official Ghlaghghee Fan Club

  32. “The synth riff is a clunky transposition of the synth riff from “Only Time Will Tell” by Asia, lead singer Joey Tempest sounds like he spent his teenage years in front of the mirror, attempting to imitoot exarctly Scorpions lead singer Klaus Meine, and the tunelessly finger-mashing guitar solo sounds like a smudged photocopy of every other tunelessly finger-mashing 80s faux-metal guitar solo, which in themselves are smudged photocopies of the fretwork of Randy “I’m the only person who can actually pull this shit off” Rhodes.”

    I understand that Geoffrey Downes (of Asia), Klaus Meine, and Ozzy Osbourne are suing.

    No bass players were harmed in the making of this attrocity because you can’t really hear the bass.

  33. Haven’t seen anyone dare to venture in this direction. Europe has nothing on Laibach.

    And if you manage to survive that there is always……this

  34. I still prefer the Laibach rendition of the Beatles “Let It Be” album (which covered every track, except “Let It Be” itself).

  35. You had “Jump” by Van Halen instead. In addition to somehow mistaking that bit of pseudo-disco cheese for heavy metal (snigger) you people seem to still labor under the illusion that VH were somehow a perfectly respectable rock band (giggle) and that EVH is or was a good guitarist (roflcopter).

  36. “It sold well, ergo – it must be good, because people liked it.”

    Ha ha ha. Funniest thing I’ve read today. If it’s popular, it must be good. Like Harry Potter, Crazy Frog, Bush, Dan Brown, then?

  37. It’s like a Eurovision song that got away although Europe don’t have the repertoire of the other Swedish pop bands like ABBA, Ace of Base, Roxette and the Cardigans (or individuals like Jose Gonzalez, Neneh Cherry, Eagle-Eye Cherry, and Sami vocalist Mari Boine). Heavy metal fans would include Yngwie Malmsteen.

    Jazz-wise I’d go for Esbjörn Svensson Trio (although I tend to prefer Norwegian Tord Gustavsen Trio, or Ketil Bjornstad’s piano-based albums).

  38. Regan:

    I allow he may be a better guitarist at other times. But the solo in “Countdown” is terrible.

  39. Well by 1984 EVH was openly saying that he didn’t consider his playing and music HEAVY METAL. However, in point of fact, and not to belabor the issue, at any rate, what would 80’s hard rock music be without the mighty VH, this of course is not a question. The thing about Europe was that the gateway for their deal was the concept video of just playing live on a stage with east/west tensions as a backdrop. I dunno, on a visual thematic level I kinda liked it. Didn’t make me buy the record though.

    For some strange reason I now have the music of The Outfield clawing for my attention no matter how hard I try to distract myself.

  40. My soon to be 14 year old niece LOVES THIS P.O.S.!!!! I was on the radio, when radio was still fun, when this “THING” came out and hated it every single time I was forcibly made to play it…I mean guns to my head sort of thing…..and still am not getting the resurgence of it…it was on a karaoke machine Costco was selling at Christmas. THERES your Holiday buzzkill…..!!

  41. Michael: “…still am not getting the resurgence of it…”

    As observed upthread, it’s the Arrested Development connection. The song was a running joke through the three seasons of the series.

    For those who haven’t seen it, the oldest brother in the family is a very, very poor magician — sorry, “illusionist” — and “The Final Countdown” and flash pots open his every performance no matter how inappropriate the venue. Between the kid in the show, Michael Cera, becoming this generation’s “Larry Kroger/Danny Noonan” in the movies, and hipster ad creatives paying homage to a lamented favorite, expect all the cool kids to be going around with a “Ta-ta-ta-taaaa, Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta…” on their lips for a little while yet.

  42. John’s writing Whatever,
    But still it’s farewell
    And maybe AOL’ll come back,
    To John, who can tell ?
    I guess there is no one to blame
    He’s leaving ground
    Will things ever be the same again?

    It’s the final BTW Post.

  43. [she quietly slips her Europe LP out of the stereo cabinet and drops it behind the big-ass entertainment center monolith, aka the black hole where VHS went to die…] Ahem. Pardon me while I crank up the Rush on my classic 80s internet radio feed. I’m still cool! *sigh*

  44. Scalzi, you fool! The Final Countdown is a perfect piece of pop cheeze, incredibly annoying if you actually have some taste in music when you hear it first but still incredibly contagious (who does not have the song running through their head after reading this?), fun and innocent, *AND* it came with Meaning. Slightly confused meaning, but meaning.

    And at least we never took Poision, Motley Crue or Kid Rock serious on this side of the ocean…

  45. My 3 year old son saw the picture on this post and asked, “Who are those ladies?”

    Enough said.

  46. My own “Ninth Cirlce of Hell” story having to do with this song happened in 1999 in a suburb of Moscow called Zelenograd, where I was studying for the summer. About 4:00 in the morning a group of Russian hooligans gathered under my window, six floors down. They were hammered drunk, and played this song on a cheap boombox OVER AND OVER AGAIN, singing loudly, and quite atonally, with their Russian accents. I nearly started the Cold War up again singlehandedly.

  47. I would just like to point out that the New Romantic movement led me to Star Hits magazine, which led me to the alt-punk movement. I never had parachute pants, but I did sport me a pair of brothel creepers throughout high school.

  48. The sad thing is, the Swedes are still inordinately proud of this song. Sweden is so starved for recognition of their cultural feats that anything which put them in the limelight for that long MUST be a good thing.

    (For other actually good Swedish music you should try The Ark. Over-the-top glam rock taking its cue from the original masters. Good stuff.)

  49. You should be ashamed, Scalzi. “The Final Countdown” was a reaction to its time, a time of imminent nuclear Armageddon betwixt the Soviet Union and the good old U.S.A. Many people–many human beings, many life-loving biological entities–were scared spitless at its inevitability. A few others fought back in their own tiny way. Tears For Fears bemoaned the fact that everybody wanted to rule the world (with the subtext being that not everyone could, and thus nuclear holocaust was the probable result). Some Germans released 99 luftballoons into the sky, resulting in atomic death for the planet. The kids from the Head of the Class went to Russia, and discovered that the Russians were human beings. Al Yankovic caroled about a possible Christmas at Ground Zero. A little band from Sweden tried, in their own modest way, to change the course of world events through art. Europe came from the same proud tradition of Dr. Strangelove and A Canticle for Leibowitz, of Alas, Babylon and Amazing Grace and Chuck. “Will things ever be the same again (after a global thermonuclear war)?” Europe dared to ask.

    I don’t want to credit the song for the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., but in Richard Rhodes’ new book Arsenals of Folly:The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race, Gorbachev is quoted as murmuring to Ronald Reagan in Reykjavik , “…but I don’t want to start the Final Countdown!” (page 276). I think everyone who lived through those times owe Europe a vote of gratitude and a purchase of their greatest hits album.

    One more point before I go calm down. It’s a good thing Athena has the freedom to dislike the song, seeing as how Earth could have been evenly coated by 9 inches of radioactive ash. That would make it hard to enjoy anything! Wouldn’t it?!

  50. “The Final Countdown” is a great song; you just listen to the wrong version. The only true version is the one by Laibach. (Imagine Ahnold doing the vocals, and you’ve got it about right)

  51. “The Final Countdown” was used to most excellent effect during the climactic space battle in “How To Kill A Mockingbird.”

  52. I commend to you the performance of this song by the cast of “Meet the Magoons”, a BBC comedy created by Hardeep Singh Kohli. The key is to actually say the word “pause” out loud during the rests.

  53. At least that way we don’t have to listen to the lyrics. But the solo still sucks.

  54. 3 notes:
    * – Laibach are fashists!
    * – those Latvians are just emulating Apocalyptica
    * – good Music from Sweden: Amon Amarth, Vintersorg, Dimmu Borgir, Tiamat or, to mention something different, of course Clawfinger (who still exist).

  55. Like many others here, I like this song, mostly because of Arrested Development.

    Gob: A good magician never reavels his secrets. OK! I sunk it.
    Micheal: You sunk it!
    Gob: Yeah!

    (Not sure if that is an exact quote or not.

    Before AD I was pretty much indifferent to it.

    Btw, calling somebody Deaf or an idiot because they like 80’s makes you more of an idiot then anything, granted, I don’t like most 80’s pop either, but let people like what they want to like. Jeez. The only music bad enough to call somebody who likes it deaf is Disney Pop like Hannah Montana anyway. That sounds Hypocritcal probably, but get over it.

  56. I for one have to say I love Europe and they are VERY good today and they were yesterday. TFC may not have been the best song, but I see nothing wrong with it. It’s far better than most other songs you hear today on the radio. I think you people are tone-deaf and probably only listen to “radio” anyway. Europe have great songs that are overshadowed by TFC and maybe you should check those out inside of whining about their biggest hit, the only one you probably even know of theirs. Obviously, people back then loved it and still do today.

  57. Someone asked who didn’t have this song running through their head right now. Um, that would be me. I avoided hair bands like the plague.

    Also, as a point of amusement, I had to go look up what you guys were referring to when you talked about Arrested Development.
    For me Arrested Development is a now defunct but way cool Hip Hop group.

    I hope you don’t mind John but here is some musical salvation for this thread:

  58. Well, I have to thank you: upon reading this, “super-synergistic hypercrap” is now an essential part of my lexicon. It fills a verbal need I hadn’t even been aware existed. Thanks!

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