The Friday Flash Review:

Europe’s “The Final Countdown”

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Hey, Google?

What are some synonyms for “backfire?”  

Well, that didn’t work.

Maybe it wasn’t a backfire after all. But, to be clear, the conceit of this week’s of “Nominate A Favorite for a Friday Flash Review” was that you, the people, would have full, unmoderated agency in determining what I review this week. The whole idea was to not have our beloved site owner mt limit the options ahead of time and just let the people speak!

Turns out, pure democracy is harder than it looks. mt58 (unwittingly, I’m sure!) submitted his own proposal for this review, and being mt, of course got the most votes!

He might not realize it, but our humble leader here at TNOCS.com is a natural vote-getter. Everywhere he goes, votes happen.

“True.”
“… I mean, technically…”

It’s just how he vibes. Maybe he should consider using this superpower for greater social good purposes! I know I’d vote for him no matter what he decided to do.

OK, enough with the process-speak. Onto the review! 

In-a-Flash Review:

Epic. Epic. Epic. Epic. Epic. Epic. 

From that synths-on-steroids intro that absolutely oozes 80s techno-optimism…

…to the rolling tom-tom fill that connects the intro to the chugging light-metal guitar/bass/drum groove, to the highly-melodic and sweet chord progression in the verses…

…to the earworm pre chorus, to the simple-yet-highly-effective arena-anthem choruses, to the the candy cane-sweet arpeggiated guitar solo…

…to the purely instrumental bridge that captures the intro vibe but with even more verve (somehow), to the finale that simply sends us all off into the wild, each of us better for the experience:

The Final Countdown” delivers infinitely more than any single 80s Hair Band song should. 

OVERLY-ENTHUSIASTIC Score: 10/10

The Full Friday Flash Review:

I’m staring at the screen, at a loss for words. This is not an ideal state for a reviewer to be in.

So, as I try to gather my thoughts, let me share a screenshot that might help convey why I’m tongue tied: 

YouTube has this cool little feature where if you hover over the scrub bar, it’ll show you the engagement a video gets through its duration.

Why does YouTube have this feature?

Because the typical video has all kinds of peaks and valleys, and YouTube wants to help users navigate longer videos to skip right to the most popular bits. With “The Final Countdown,” this tool is rendered useless. It’s full engagement, all the time (right up to the weird outro that the video version chose to use, instead of the standard fade-out that everyone heard on the radio, which is what this review is based on).

Production: 10/10

The reason why the engagement is so consistent is production: this song starts, continues, and ends by feeding your ears everything your ears want to digest, and then some. “The Final Countdown” is a sonic Thanksgiving Feast: just when you thought you were full, more amazing food arrives to tempt your already saturated appetite.

Before we move onto other categories, can we talk about the intro for a bit? 

This song kicks off with an everything-burger synthtro, complete with synth-horns-directly-downloaded-from-heaven-above and synth pipe organs from the church at the center of that very same heaven.

And, then, they layer in counterpoint horns to draw you into a multi-faceted melody that sounds more like something out of a Bach étude from 1886 than a Hair Metal band in 1986. Then, a full 52 seconds in, we finally get our first sense that this is not a soundtrack for a planetarium show: the drums kick in, and for another 30 seconds, we get more instrumentals! The first lyrics aren’t even sung until 1:27!

A nearly minute-and-a-half musical intro? That’s almost the entire length of some modern “songs” out today. 

No review of this intro can be complete without two songs that, to me, relate to it. 

First up is a song that I myself wrote during this era that was (obviously) super-inspired by this intro:

Next up is song that actually exists, that I think shares so much of the same introDNA  that I feel like it’s “The Final Countdown’s” sister song:

As for the rest of the song, it’s a non-stop frolic of 80s hair metal genius.

The wall-of-sound. The thematic call-backs. The dirty/reverby/live-in-concert-esque vibe. The strategic rhythmic breaks that add a sense of epicness. The perfect 80s balance of synths and smoothed-out-rough-edged guitars. It just has everything. Look, it might have too much of everything — it comes soooo very close to being a cringy and cheesy song — but, somehow, it doesn’t fall into the trap. It perseveres. 

Songwriting/melody: 10/10

Once again, “The Final Countdown” delivers in spades: As mentioned above, there’s a beautiful connection between Europe and none other than Bach here, and it’s not limited to the counterpoint in the intro. The guitar solo I’m convinced is what Bach would have played if he were an 80s hair metal guitar shredder.

It’s right out of baroque style composition, and brilliantly injected into what probably-wouldn’t-but-could be misconstrued as a Bach cover song.

So, yeah, when you’re hanging with Bach, songwriting is gonna be a 10/10. 

Vocals: 10/10

This was the first category so far where I was like “hmmm… maybe it’s not a 10?” But, no, it’s a 10.

Not only are the vocals spot-on tonally, but there’s just the right amount of vibrato to qualify as an 80’s hair band. And there’s a bit of… urgency?, passion?, yearning?… in his voice that is hard to put into words yet you can feel it.

Listen to how he sings “I’m sure that we’ll all miss her so…” there’s just something wonderful about how he sings this with a are-you-kidding-me-earnestness-meets-operatic-spectacle.

Even the tone of the background vocals when they sing “the final countdown” in the chorus advance the song’s disquieted carefreeness.

No wonder this song works: not only do the vocals intone the nature of the lyrics to a tee, but, in a decade arguably defined by disquieted carefreeness spiked with over-the-top spectacle, perhaps nothing better exemplifies the 80s than this song. 

Lyrics: 8/10

Truth Bomb: The production, songwriting, and vocals are so on-point here that even if the lyrics were a disaster, they wouldn’t sink this ship.

The lyrics are along for the ride, simply providing a reason for the vocals to exist.

The remarkable news is that the lyrics are more than just fine: they’re actually pretty good!

Inspired by another epic song, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” we’re (albeit briefly) told a story of shipmates about to leave Earth to explore new worlds, new life, and new civilizations while somberly already reflecting on missing Mother Earth before they even take off.

It’s a nice time capsule of the tug-of-war in the human mind between what is ahead and what we are sacrificing to get there. If you look at it through this lens, I think it mostly gets away with how gosh-darn earnest it tries to be. 

Ear Worminess: 10/10

This rating is not a surprise, right? This song is literally riddled with earworms. The main synth horn theme. The chorus theme. Heck, even the guitar solo is an earworm (arpeggios are a great orchestration tool). Forget limiting the scope to 80s hair bands, “The Final Countdown” will go down in the ages as one of the most durable and compelling earworms in pop music history.

APPROPRIATELY ENTHUSIASTIC SCORE: 9.6 …squeaks its way up to…

an epic 10/10!  

TL;DR: 

Europe’s “The Final Countdown” is one of those songs that seems pretty unlikely to ever have been made – but it was made.

And it was made with hair-metal-meets-pop-music precision that saved it from being yet another cheesy and cringe hair metal entry. In fact, it was made so well that it catapults itself well beyond its genre. To be clear, it’s not an epic “rock” song – it’s too bombastic and, as mt put it, self serious, to be a great rock song.

But it’s just an epic all-around song by pulling off the nearly-impossible task of being an 80s hair metal that transcended the genre. 

Honestly, it might have been an 8 or even a 9 if it didn’t have that nearly 1:30 instrumental intro.

TNOCSer @Dutchg8r called it cheestastic

But it was synth-crack for me.

I would put that intro on “repeat” (via literally lifting and dropping the stylus on a turntable!) many evenings.

And it’s what inspired me in part to become an electronic musician.

That’s some decent impact. 

never cheesy tnocs.com contributing author Jon Deutsch

Unlike so many songs that have epic intros that just don’t follow through on the promise, “The Final Countdown” hands-down comes through and delivers in spades.

There are so few songs that are bordering on being cheesy but are so gosh-darn good that they lift themselves right out of that trap and head straight to greatness.

(Or Venus). 

Cheers!

“Mffff mmm fffmf mffffmfffmf.”
{= “Ready for next time, Jon.“}

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LinkCrawford
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May 5, 2023 4:35 pm

It reminds me of my oldest daughter…she knows I always roll my eyes whenever this song starts playing somewhere. Musically it reminds me of Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”. My gut opinion of both songs is thumbs down. But both songs are so completely over the top and in your face, that I kind of shake my head and admit that I sort of do like them on a campy level. Both songs have certainly left a cultural footprint that continues to reverberate, so I guess they’ve succeeded.

Extra points for the comparison to “Touch and Go”, a forgotten 80s song that is in the same vein.

LinkCrawford
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May 5, 2023 4:37 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Oh, and I listened to your whole song, Jon. It was pretty good!

mt58
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May 5, 2023 5:05 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Same. Lots of great layers; well done!

Virgindog
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May 5, 2023 5:26 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Listening to it now. Good work!

Edith G
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May 5, 2023 6:12 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Bravo! Excellent review Jon, this is one of those songs that I never get tired of.

I didn’t think to compare TFC with “Touch and Go” before, however a long time ago I read in a magazine some reviews of many songs, and this person wrote that TFC could have been inspired by or was copying Asia’s “Only Time Will Tell”, who knows.

Phylum of Alexandria
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May 5, 2023 4:43 pm

Admittedly, my first exposure to this song was via Gob’s magic shows on Arrested Development, but when I heard the song in its entirety I heard the true magic. Every fiber of me wants to dismiss it as cheesy, but it’s far too sweet, not at all a stinker. Sorry, Friday brain.

Great flash review!

Virgindog
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May 5, 2023 4:54 pm

You know, it could be that “The Final Countdown” is actually the hair metal song we would’ve picked anyway. All it took was someone to suggest it and mt58 beat us all to it. Could be.

I agree with everything you’ve said about “The Final Countdown.” It’s great in so many ways that I really should like it, but I don’t. It’s an abrasive channel changer for me. It reminds me of “Gonna Fly Now,” another song I should like but don’t. They’re both big and loud and, well, that’s about it.

Yes, it objectively ticks all the boxes, but subjectively hurts my ears. Must be the worm.

Out! Out, damn earworm! Someone put on some Nena!

mt58
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May 5, 2023 5:17 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Obligatory tangential story, Rocky-centric edition:

I bought a ticket and was standing in a line with my popcorn, waiting to enter the theater to see the film. This was pre-Internet, so it was easier to put yourself in a news embargo to avoid spoilers.

As people were exiting the first showing, a guy made a point to say a little too loudly to his date, “Cool movie. Too bad he lost the fight.”

mt58
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May 5, 2023 5:21 pm
Reply to  JonDeutsch

I know it’s shallow, but I like to think karma deemed that his girlfriend asked to be dropped off early that night.

Phylum of Alexandria
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May 5, 2023 6:32 pm
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blu_cheez
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May 5, 2023 8:47 pm

This is absolutely a “this one goes to 11” song – there’s so much much-ness going on here that you kind of can’t resist it. It’s absolutely dumb as a bag of hair, but, damn it, we love it anyways. Another great write-up, sir.

cappiethedog
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May 5, 2023 10:55 pm

It’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The home team just rallied down twenty to close the gap to eight at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The home team breaks huddle first coming out of a TV timeout.

“The Final Countdown” is what you play as they walk onto the court. The fifty-two seconds is enough time for the visiting team to break huddle and adrenalize, too.

But is it enough adrenaline to offset their opponent’s adrenaline, and stave off a comeback?

JJ Live At Leeds
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May 6, 2023 3:54 am

Excellent write up Jon, your enthusiasm for the song is infectious. I loved this song when it came out but its a long time since I listened all the way through. Its surprising to realise just how long the intro is. Thanks for bringing new light to something I thought I knew so well.

I thought the lyrics might bring it down a mark but if you’re prepared to let the flight of fancy pass that there are beings on Venus welcoming us on then on this occasion I won’t quibble.

I loved the song so much back in 1986 that I got the album. Its fair to say nothing else comes close to the title track. They may have been Europe but the tracks Ninja and Cherokee show that their ambitions weren’t limited by geography.

cappiethedog
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May 6, 2023 4:48 pm

Or maybe somebody from Europe had a crush on Siobhan Fahey.

Ozmoe
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May 7, 2023 10:19 am

What certified this song’s cultural impact (if not greatness) to me was this hilarious commercial from Geico in 2016 showing the group playing the song as an office worker warmed his lunch in a microwave oven. I lost it at the end when actress Patricia Belcher gave a turned-on look and shook her hips in response to Europe while another actress next to her looked appropriately disturbed at her display. A great use of an enduring song in an unexpected context: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLxD7Q_mugo

Oh, and a fantastic writeup, Jon!

dutchg8r
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May 7, 2023 10:28 am
Reply to  Ozmoe

Oh man, I loved that ad. Just brilliant. 😂

cappiethedog
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May 7, 2023 9:57 pm
Reply to  Ozmoe

LOL. I have to comment on this ad, too. You’re laughing with them, not at them. Big difference, of course. Europe wants to come across as classic, not has-beens. They look like the former because you can imagine them packing arenas. It’s pretty brilliant. I also like the Geico ad that utilizes Tag Team’s “Whoomp! There It Is”. The parents’ dancing tells a backstory. If it was a short film, you wouldn’t need a flashback. It’s in the transformation of their faces.

There was the caveman upset about political incorrectness. And also, the current Australian gecko series.

I got distracted.

“Sirius” wouldn’t work in this ad. “Time” would.

dutchg8r
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May 7, 2023 10:25 am

Lol, love it!!

I mean, cmon, how many other songs can you think of that prompt you immediately to start showing off your slickest air KEYBOARD moves??! Bonus points if you go the Air Keytar route. Don’t tell me you never made sure to have certain air key stabs be extra emphatic and pointed during that intro (duh-nuh-NAH-duh, duh-nah-NAH-DUH-DUH!!!! Annnnnd finger point to sky. Repeat.)

It shouldn’t surprise us though how effectively they pull off the legit-not-painfully cheesy awesomeness of the entire song – just one more feather in the Swedish pop machine’s cap, only this time it’s perched on a mountain of hair spray.

Thanks for the nomination, mt, you picked a true winner. 😁

Looking forward to our next Flash SAR!

dutchg8r
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May 7, 2023 11:54 am
Reply to  dutchg8r

Oh crap, I just had a sudden flashback I’d totally forgotten about…..

We played The Final Countdown in our MS jazz band in probably 7th grade. It was always a treat when we got to play current Top 40 songs. Us trumpets got the honor of doing the keyboard chords throughout the song. I’m sure as a bunch of 13 year old middle school doofus’ we sounded ridiculous.

But my recall was we sounded AWESOME. 😎

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