Today in Music History: Europe reaches worldwide charts with “The Final Countdown”

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The world in 1986 was one in which big hair and bigger guitar riffs ruled. That is the world into which Swedish glam metal band, Europe found themselves a part upon the release of their debut album. Certainly the band couldn’t find success on the virtue of singer Joey Tempest’s glorious hair alone. Their debut album, “The Final Countdown” would have to be good. As it turns out, “good” was an understatement. In 1986, the album’s title track reached No. 1 in 25 countries, including the UK. In the US, the song reached No.8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.18 on Billboard’s Rock Tracks chart.

The appeal of Europe’s “The Final Countdown”

Europe’s album, “The Final Countdown” was a little something different that glam metal fans needed. Some audiences were not sure what to expect from a Swedish rock band. In general, the American knowledge Swedish things was limited to meatballs, Saabs, and the Swedish Chef muppet. None of which could have prepared audiences for the beauty and fury which turned out to be Europe’s soundscape.

Like a number of bands, Europe used a mix of guitars and keyboards to make punchy glam metal. There is a majestic sound to the song “The Final Countdown,” that results from the keyboard motif that serves to remind listeners of the adventure of taking off into space. The sound is lighter and airier than the rest of the song.

But that is not the only song on the album that benefits from the style. The album’s second single, “Rock The Night,” would find Europe making everything bigger and better. The keyboards sound as if they are running up the scales and then stopping suddenly, which an electric growl as the result. The keyboard is also used to punctuate guitar chords. The mixing of sounds serves the song well, especially its anthem-like chorus.

Europe didn’t shy away from certain themes, either. “Cherokee” showcases Tempest’s flexible voice. The song’s subject is the Trail of Tears, the 19th century process that saw thousands of Native Americans displaced from their homelands and into designated areas.

But, because it was 1980s rock, there had to be at least one ballad. “Carrie” was the big melodic single for Europe. The song remains popular, and certainly was at the time. With sweet keyboards, vocal harmonies, and charming chords from keyboards and guitars, the song about a breakup, or falling out of love is one of the better examples of hard rock love songs from the 1980s.

One surprise on the album is “Ninja.” For those who have the album, this could easily become a favorite. The band shows off its hard rock abilities and with lyrics that proclaim things like “If I were a noble, ancient knight/I’d stand by your side to rule and fight/it will always be the same/when I call out your name…” With lyrics like that surrounded by lacerating guitar chords and changing dynamics that put emphasis on the lyrics, it was difficult to forget a song like “Ninja.”

Back in 1986, Europe gave worldwide audiences a new perspective on Swedish things and people. The band’s popularity was gained with songs that were at turns beautiful, searing and rollicking, never boring. All of which created anticipating for the band’s sophomore album.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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