While The Final Countdown is certainly the song that launched Swedish melodic rock back Europe to international fame and acclaim, the band is so much more than just a one hit act. That said, the album of the same title was a masterpiece of blending hard rock musicality with pop lyrics, vocals and harmonies, and featured three top singles.
It was the high watermark for Europe sales-wise, but is just one of 11 studio albums the band has crafted since forming in the late 1970s. Its most recent, Walk The Earth, will be released in digital and physical forms on Oct. 20 by Hell & Back Recordings (Silver Lining Music) and features a darker, moodier and heavier sound those only used to the lilting melodies of songs like Rock the Night, Cherokee, Carrie and the ubiquitous The Final Countdown.
Walk The Earth sees a band that has matured in every aspect of its profession – as musicians, composers, arrangers and on stage performers. In short, this ain’t your parents’ Europe.
“I think there are a lot of messages on the album; although I don’t write the lyrics, I do think there is a theme and a feel throughout the record. It’s pretty dark. We don’t have a lot of pretty poppy power ballads on here. I think there is a special feel to the whole album – a bit mellow, a bit dark,” said bassist John Leven, who has been in the band since 1981, playing alongside co-founders Joey Tempest (vocals) and guitarist John Norum, as well as keyboardist Mic Michaeli (joined in 1984) and drummer Ian Haugland, who has also been in the band since 1984.
“I think many of the songs are reflecting on the world we’re in, talking about democracy and politics and corruption and things like that. A song like Kingdom United is talking about people coming together, whether it’s in your own country or everyone in the world coming together. And The Siege, the lyrics are actually about the French Revolution but it could be as relevant today as people are getting fed up with the wealthy and powerful.”
In 2016, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their massively successful breakout album, The Final Countdown, Europe went on tour and played the album in its entirety, opening their shows by also playing the entirety of their 2015 album War of Kings. Leven said it was a fun experience for all concerned – the band and its fans.
“We got a fantastic reaction. And we dusted off some old songs we hadn’t played live in many years and I think the fans really appreciated that,” he said.
The Final Countdown has truly become an iconic melodic rock song, with the intro keyboard riff and chores still resonating in sports arenas and stadiums around the world. Practically any 1980s rock compilation will feature the song and it’s still played in relatively regular rotation on classic rock radio stations wherever they exist.
It put Europe on the map (ha ha, see what I did there … Europe … on the map LOL) as a global musical force selling more than three million copies in the U.S. alone and 15 million worldwide. But it was in fact the band’s third album after forming in Upplands Vasby, a suburb of Stockholm. The follow up to The Final Countdown, 1988’s Out of this World did not see nearly as well, but was still a top-20 album in most countries, including the U.S. With the onset of grunge, the band’s fifth album, Prisoners of Paradise, which came out in 1991, did not fare well sales wise, and within a year, the band had taken a break.
On the subject of he and his bandmates being known primarily for one song, Leven is okay with it, even though Europe has released six albums (including Walk the Earth) since reforming officially in 2003.
“It still amazes me, absolutely, how popular that song is. Me and Mick the keyboard player were sitting having a cup of coffee at the airport the last time we went out playing and this waitress came up to us, and she was maybe 20 or 25 years old, and she asked if we were a band and we said yes, but we didn’t tell her what band we were in. She came back and asked what was the name of the band, and we said Europe and here was no reaction. She asked us to name a few songs and we asked if she’d heard of the song The Final Countdown and she did. She knew the song but didn’t really know the band. And we get that a lot,” Leven said.
“In many cases I think the song is bigger than the band. It’s more famous. And that can be restricting sometimes but I think most of all the song has been such a door opener for us, which is a great thing to know. Nobody knows what would have happened to us if we didn’t have the song The Final Countdown. I’ll tell you another funny story. One time we talked about not playing the song. It was as we were going to the Download Festival in England and we said let’s not play The Final Countdown and see what happens. Well, what happened was we missed the whole show because the train was delayed. So we are never going to say that again. We’re always going to have to do The Final Countdown.”
The hiatus that began in 1992 was never considered to be a break-up – just a cooling off period that lasted significantly longer than band members expected.
“I think it was because of a couple of big things. Grunge totally came and wiped everything away. And the record sales went down and the record labels, they were in a panic looking for the next Nirvana and everything. And we were actually pretty burnt out too, so we said let’s take a break – and the break ended up being 12 years, which was a little bit too long,” Leven said, adding that in 1999 the band did get back together for a special one-off concert to mark the start of the new millennium, but a full blown reunion still took a bit of time.
“We were offered the chance to play The Final Countdown on the millennium New Year’s Eve, and it was 24 degrees Celsius below zero at this outdoor show, and that was the first time we had got together for a long time. And then we started talking about it maybe being time to reunite, but it still took another four years for everybody to do all their other commitments and stuff. But we did it.
“So we actually have been together longer this time around than the first time. And we are loving being back. We have total control over our careers and our music these days and we didn’t have that back in the 1980s. We were too young and too inexperienced. But now we know what to do and nobody is telling us how to do stuff and it’s totally up to us when we tour and when we want to put out an album. And it’s been an interesting journey because it’s taken time to convince people that we’re not making the kind of music we were making in the 1980s. We didn’t want to get into the position where we were repeating ourselves. And sometimes we still need to remind people, especially in North America, that, yes, we are still around. Some people are surprised when they hear we are and have been for a while, but that’s why it’s important we keep touring and putting out new albums.”
Leven said the band has touring regularly throughout Europe and the Far East, especially Japan, but is pushing to get back to North America.
“We were there two years ago, although we haven’t touring in the U.S. and Canada much since we got back together. And I hope that’s going to change, because I would love to go over there. I love touring America, we all do. We do mostly Europe, Japan and have been to Australia a lot. We do also go to South America pretty regularly. We were in Chile and Brazil just half a year ago. It’s fantastic to play there. Every time we play Santiago, Chile it is unbelievable. They sing along to all the songs and it’s such a nice atmosphere. And they can hardly speak English but they can sing all the songs, even the newer ones,” he said.
For more information on Europe, on Walk The Earth and any forthcoming tour dates, visit www.europetheband.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.