Atomic TV: Europe’s “The Final Countdown” hit was inspired by David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”

By on April 19, 2018

About thirty-five minutes into Atomic TV– one of Night Flight’s most popular music video mash-ups, originally airing on April 15, 1988 — is the official video for Europe’s synth-rich 1986 hit “The Final Countdown,” which was reportedly inspired by David Bowie‘s “Space Oddity.”

Watch it now on Night Flight Plus!

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In 2018, as the Doomsday Clock continues ticking down — we’re even closer than we were during the Reagan era to total global annihilation — Europe have hit the re-set button on their careers once again after their ’80s hit launched them back into the stratosphere of pop culture, 21st Century style.

Directed by Nick Morris for The Final Countdown Tour 1986 home video, the Swedish band was filmed in concert in their home country on May 26th & 27th, 1986, at Solnahallen, a basketball arena in the Solna Municipality of Stockholm County.

Additional footage was filmed at their sound checks, and intercut with control room footage of clocks, countdowns and equipment, lensed behind-the-scenes at both concerts and inspired by the TV studio scene in the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night.

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“Rökning förbjuden” means “No Smoking”!

Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” written prior to the Apollo 11 moon mission in 1969, had been one of the very first singles Europe’s lead singer  Joey Tempest — born Rolf Magnus Joakim Larsson in August of 1963 — had purchased as a kid.

Tempest has said he loved the image of “floating in a tin can,” and credits “Space Oddity” with kick-starting his fascination with space travel and the exploration of the cosmos.

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Tempest had composed “The Final Countdown” — without any lyrics — on a Korg Polysix keyboard he’d borrowed from the band’s Mic Michaeli, five years prior to its release on their third album.

Tempest had decided that they needed a really strong opening number for their live concerts, he thought of his nearly six-minute instrumental:

We were putting out our third album and we wanted a really ‘grand’ opening for the show. So, I had that ‘riff’ tucked away in a drawer since my college years and I took it out, found a tempo for it, wrote lyrics and it turned out to be a great opening for that album and for the show as well.”

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Read more about Europe and “The Final Countdown” below.

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Europe, left to right: Mic Michaeli, John Levén, Joey Tempest, John Norum, Ian Haugland

Europe’s Joey Tempest decided to make “The Final Countdown” a song about saying “farewell” to the Earth and leaving the planet behind to colonize a new world elsewhere after a nuclear war, its prophetic underlying theme about the world coming to an end because of mankind’s stupidity.

His somewhat-optimistic lyrics describe a rocket trip through outer space to Venus, which he subsequently rhymes with a really ridiculous thought (” ’cause maybe they’ve seen us!”), which is probably better left unexamined.

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There’s also feeling a sense of dreamy instantaneous nostalgia for leaving his home planet behind, the “final countdown” signifying the end of something old and familiar, but also the beginning of something new:

“We’re leaving together, but still it’s farewell/And maybe we’ll come back to Earth, who can tell?/I guess there is no one to blame/ We’re leaving ground (leaving ground)/Will things ever be the same again?”

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Tempest and the rest of his band — which in addition to Michaeli, also features John Norum (lead guitar), John Levén (bass), Ian Haugland (drums) — began opening their concert performances with “The Final Countdown,” Tempest’s synth trills now played on a Yamaha TX-816 rack unit and a Roland JX-8P synthesizer.

The song got such an immediate response from their fans that they ended up moving to the end of their setlist, before they began saving it as an encore.

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When “Final Coundown” — originally from their third album, released on May 26, 1986 — was released as a single, it rocketed to #1 in 25 countries, including France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden and Italy.

It also charted at #3 in the UK, where it spent two weeks on the UK Singles chart, and here in the U.S., “The Final Countdown” shot up #8 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 singles chart in March 1987 — the band would begin their U.S. tour the following month —  before debuting a week later on the Album Rock Tracks chart, where it remained for twenty weeks, peaking at #18 during its eighth week on the charts.

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Despite the fact that the band now had a huge global hit on their hands, lead guitarist John Norum would end up leaving the band at the end of 1986.

Within six years, Europe — who’d formed in 1979, selling some 25 million albums during their career, and eight million copies of “The Final Countdown” worldwide — announced they were disbanding.

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Of course, since nothing truly disappears forever anymore, Europe soared back to life again in 2004.

Then, thanks in part to a popular 2015 GEICO insurance TV commercial — which featured Europe’s revived original lineup singing “The Final Countdown” — the song shot to #1 again, this time on Billboard‘s Hot 100 (it also charted on Billboard‘s Hard Rock Digital Songs chart too).

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The band can be seen performing “The Final Countdown” in a breakroom while a worker bee waits for the microwave oven to finish cooking his burrito.

If you’re the band Europe, you wait almost thirty years to top the Billboard pop singles charts again, it’s what you do.

Watch Europe’s video for “The Final Countdown” and other great atomic-themed videos in Night Flight’s Atomic TV short, now exploding on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.