But wait, aren’t all songs meant to be hits? No, all songs are not written equally. As I discovered when writing about Tin Pan Alley, there are songs that follow a specific formula and are designed to be hits. Most performers, however, cannot fill an album with nothing but hits. Even The Beatles and Queen had some less than stellar songs. Some songs are planned to be filler. And sometimes these songs, against all odds, (a song by Phil Collins that was designed to be a hit) take off and become hits themselves.
Happy New Year!
And since last week many of us participated in a countdown to the new year, I thought we’d begin with The Final Countdown.
Europe, the band not the continent, is a Swedish rock band. They had two albums out and were gaining a reputation as a guitar-centric hard rock band. Then came the third album.
Europe’s lead singer, the improbably named Joey Tempest (born Rolf Magnus Joakim Larsson), had written a keyboard riff years before. He’d kept playing with the baby riff, hoping it would grow into something. Finally, in 1985, the band’s bassist suggested that Tempest finish writing the song. The reaction from the band was mixed when Tempest presented them with the finished song, which originally clocked in at six and a half minutes.
The decision was made to use the song as a concert opener. And, looking at the video, it must have been spectacular at that. But when they went into the studio to record their third album, the powers-that-be wanted The Final Countdown to be a single. The band was against that. Keep in mind, they were a guitar band, and felt that The Final Countdown had too much keyboard. To make it worse, in the editing, the producer had turned down the volume on the guitars and turned up the keyboard.
The Final Countdown was a huge hit. Today, when most people think of Europe, they think of this one song. The band suddenly found themselves wearing spandex and Tempest was on teeny-bopper fan magazines. They lost all credibility as a serious hard rock band. One member, guitarist John Norum, left the band in anger and disgust at the direction the single was leading them into. (He started a solo career.)
Not all is rosy
Following ten years of touring, and tired of the pull in different directions that the group was feeling, in 1992, they broke up. The Final Countdown was their biggest hit but was such a bone of contention both within and without the band, that it was part of the problem that led to the breakup. (Hmm, kind of like Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and The Beatles.)
Of course, the band got back together in 2003 and have put out six albums since then.
The Final Countdown for the Berlin Wall
The Final Countdown has some memorable bonus facts. It was played on German radio in the last hours before the Berlin Wall was brought down in 1990. It has been listed in several polls as both one of the best and worst songs ever. And it is played at many sporting events world-wide.
For me, this remains the perfect song to be sung by GIR. GIR character from the animated series Invader Zim. And, while GIR never sang this song; he should have. I can hear him singing: “du, du, du, du, du” along with the keyboard riff – not singing the actual words.
What is your favorite version of The Final Countdown? Let me know in the comments below. I’ll be posting some of my favorite versions of this and maybe a few others by Europe this week on my Minnich Music FaceBook page this week, so be sure to check them out.
Until next time!