Joey Tempest was just 17 years old when he wrote Europe’s biggest hit, The Final Countdown.
The song, from the 1986 album of the same name, would go on to change his life dramatically, transforming the relatively unknown Swedish rockers into one of the hottest bands in the world.
Admittedly, it’s the kind of term that gets thrown around a fair bit in this day and age, but few others could say they were number 1 in 25 countries across the globe at one single moment. Their dreams had finally come true.
“It started with me borrowing a Korg Polysix keyboard from [friend and not before long, bandmate] Mic Michaeli, who went to the same school,” begins the Europe frontman, sat in the basement of Gibson’s London HQ on a warm summer’s day.
I write lyrics by a piano, because it’s a rich instrument; you don’t need a whole band with you
“I think it helped me write differently. I thought it could bring another dimension to our future. We only wanted one guitar player, but when the solos came in, it sometimes felt a bit empty, so we put pads in there, even on the first few albums.
“I write lyrics by a piano, because it’s a rich instrument; you don’t need a whole band with you. At the beginning of the '80s, there was the big influx of keyboards, so I borrowed one and came up with it in a night.”
It was in that moment of inspiration, Tempest let his creative juices flow, penning in just a matter of minutes the bare bones of the song that would make him a multi-millionaire for the rest of his life.
The song wrote itself, and you could probably say it was the most productive night of his career, in that sense.
“I found this sweeping sound; it felt special to me,” grins Tempest. “So then I did a one-minute demo of it, with no verses, no nothing - just this hook building up.
“I was still in college, and the teachers always told me off for not concentrating enough. I’d be rehearsing with John and the others at night and partying, going to see bands like Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake or whoever came to town.
“I guess I was a bit aloof - it was a three-year machine technique college course, so it was far removed from music. My mum wanted me to go to that place, and I did okay, but it wasn’t really my thing.”
The one-minute demo, which exists only in the band’s sacred vaults, was the dream of a single teenager - even the guitar solo motif, played by John Norum, came from Tempest’s suggestion of a “Ritchie Blackmore triplet-kinda-thing”.
It was all quickly put together in basement floor of his family’s two-floor house in Stockholm, which Tempest had turned into his own makeshift recording studio, kitted out with acoustics, synths and a Tascam eight-track.
Even at the tender age of seven, Tempest was recording his favourite songs from the television set, purely because if he didn’t, he’d probably never hear them again - “it’s a bit different these days,” he laughs.
I played it to the guys and everybody was surprised, because we were supposed to be a guitar band
And though some articles would suggest Tempest had a hard time selling the hit single to his bandmates, most notably guitarist Norum, the truth is they were all excited by an idea that was wildly inventive, playful and different for the rock scene of its time.
“I played it to the guys and everybody was surprised, because we were supposed to be a guitar band,” admits Tempest.
“While this song was keyboard-driven, we all loved Rush and other things that were more keyboard-based. It wasn’t completely alien; actually, it was kinda cool.
“So, it was only later when John was more negative [about the track]. He actually came to my basement to do the solo on the demo, so he was part of it early on and had no complaints then!
“I got into piano through Elton John and guitar stuff through David Bowie – Space Oddity was one of the first singles I bought, and I was mesmerised by the lyrical content about leaving Earth, which is what inspired The Final Countdown.
“I didn’t have a title for it; I just played the song loud over and over again to myself, improvising stood by the microphone. And then the title came, and inspired by Space Oddity, I thought of what it would be about: leaving ground, leaving Earth, the Earth is spent, we’re going somewhere else, ha ha!”
While it would undoubtedly become the song that put them on the map, it would be foolish would dismiss Europe as one-hit wonders. Their career has been long and fruitful indeed, the quintet still filling the bigger venues in whichever town they’re in.
Even The Final Countdown album itself has much more to it than just a chart-topping title track, its three other singles - Rock The Night, Carrie and Cherokee - proving this was more than just a lucky strike.
“All four singles were huge in America at the time,” continues Tempest.
“We had four songs in the top 40 getting constant radio play! So we are all really excited to play the album in its entirety - some songs it feels like we haven’t played... ever! Love Chaser, not much. Time Has Come, a bit but not much.
“Without the title track, we still would have been a very British-sounding alternative guitar band, but things would have taken a different course. We might not have been as big, necessarily…
“You know, for the final version, we needed 11 keyboards used together to get that! It could have fallen apart right there - the wrong sound or something cheesier and it wouldn’t have worked. We were arguing over the tempo of the song in the studio. We actually called it The Final Breakdown at one point!
“There were a few takes that were slower and straight, more AC/DC-sounding, but it didn’t bounce as much. So I was determined to keep that Iron Maiden gallop thing, ha ha!”
At the top of his voice
Now 52 years old - though his youthful charm and radiant skin would suggest otherwise - Tempest is one of those golden-throated singers whose voices continues to sound better and better.
The only techniques he’s ever needed are the ones he was taught during the making of The Final Countdown, when he came down with a bug just as he was about to track his vocals.
“I’ve been lucky,” he modestly shrugs. “At the time, I found a vocal coach in Stockholm who taught me how to build up my vocal power, and that’s always been there if I need it.
“There’s nothing really that different about my voice these days; it’s slightly rounder and huskier, while it was bendy and thinner when I was younger. That’s what happens with singers. Listen to Rival Sons - their singer [Jay Buchanan] has that bendy thing, and he’s amazing at it… acrobat singing!
“Singers have a really tough job. I always avoid air conditioning; I remember Dio saying he would gaffa-tape all the air conditioning in the rooms he stayed in, because you can’t call down and ask them to turn it down… it’s always the whole building.
“I could never party as much as the others; alcohol dries the voice out. Luckily, though, my voice has held up fine.”
Europe play the following Final Countdown 30th Anniversary shows in Europe.
8 November – Sweden – Stockholm, Cirkus
10 November – Belgium – Brussels, Ancienne Belgique
11 November – Germany – Cologne, E-Werk
12 November – UK – London, Roundhouse
14 November – Holland – Utrecht, Musikzentrum Vredenburg (MCV)
15 November – France – Paris, Olympia
16 November – Switzerland – Zurich, Volkshaus
17 November – Switzerland – Lausanne, Metropole
19 November – Italy – Rome, Orion
20 November – Italy – Milan, Alcatraz