The Final Countdown is the third studio album by the Swedish hard rock band Europe. Released on 26 May 1986 through Epic Records, the album was a huge commercial success selling over 3 million units in the United States alone, peaking at number 8 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and reaching high positions in charts worldwide. It was recorded at Powerplay Studios in Zürich, Soundtrade Studios in Stockholm, Mastersound Studios in Atlanta and Fantasy Studios in San Francisco.
Five singles were released from the album: "The Final Countdown", "Love Chaser", "Rock the Night", "Carrie" and "Cherokee", the first one was responsible for launching Europe into mainstream popularity.
Eight of the ten tracks on the album were featured in the 2007 comedy film Hot Rod.
The recording of the album began in September 1985 at the Powerplay Studios in Zürich, Switzerland. At the suggestion of their record company, Epic Records, the band decided to work with the American producer Kevin Elson, who had worked with bands like Journey and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Originally the band had approached Scorpions producer Dieter Dierks and Bon Jovi producer Bruce Fairbairn to produce the album, but in the end they decided to go with Elson. Elson would also produce the band's sixth studio album, Start from the Dark in 2004.
During the recording sessions, vocalist Joey Tempest got a cold, which delayed the recording for a while. The vocals for the title track were recorded at the Soundtrade Studios, Stockholm, Sweden, while the rest of the vocals were recorded at the Mastersound Studios, Atlanta and the Fantasy Studios, San Francisco.
The album was mixed in March 1986 at the Fantasy Studios, San Francisco. Guitarist John Norum was not pleased with the result, claiming that the keyboards had "buried" the rhythm guitars in the final mix.
"Rock the Night" and "Ninja" were the first songs written for the album, and were premiered on the band's Wings of Tomorrow tour in 1984. "Rock the Night" was released as a single in Sweden in 1985, peaking at number 4 on the chart, and was also featured on the soundtrack EP for the Swedish film On the Loose the same year, together with the songs "On the Loose" and "Broken Dreams". "Rock the Night" and "On the Loose" would be re-recorded for inclusion on The Final Countdown along with "Ninja", all with slightly different lyrics.
Due to the national success of On the Loose and "Rock the Night", Europe went on a new tour around Sweden in 1985, with new songs "Danger on the Track", "Love Chaser" and the power ballad "Carrie" included in the setlist and ready for the album. "Carrie" was co-written by Joey Tempest and keyboardist Mic Michaeli during a jam session. The early version of the song consisted of only keyboards and vocals, and was performed that way on the 1985 tour, but the album version would feature the whole band.
The song "The Final Countdown" was based on an old keyboard riff that Tempest had composed as early as 1981–82, on a Korg Polysix keyboard he had borrowed from Michaeli. In 1985 bassist John Levén suggested that Tempest should write a song based on that riff. The lyrics were inspired by David Bowie's song "Space Oddity". The sound of the keyboard riff used in the recording was achieved by using a Yamaha TX-816 rack unit and a Roland JX-8P synthesizer. "I made a brassy sound from the JX-8P and used a factory sound from the Yamaha, and just layered them together," Michaeli said.
"Cherokee" was the last song written for the album, being written only a week before the band went to Switzerland to start recording the album. Tempest said he had been inspired by the history of the Native Americans to write the song.
When it was time to choose the first single from the album, Tempest suggested "The Final Countdown". Originally the band had never planned to release the song as a single, and some members wanted "Rock the Night" to be the first single. "The Final Countdown" was written to be an opening song for concerts, and they never thought it would be a hit. But when their record company Epic Records suggested that it should be the first single, the band decided to release it. It became a worldwide success, peaking at number 1 in 25 countries,, such as the United Kingdom, France, West Germany and Italy. In the USA it peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 18 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The song has been a regular in Europe concerts ever since its live debut on the premiere of the band's Final Countdown Tour on April 29, 1986 in Gävle, Sweden. One of the most memorable performances of the song took place in Stockholm, Sweden on December 31, 1999, as part of the Millennium celebrations.
"Love Chaser" was released as a single in Japan only, and was on the soundtrack for the movie Pride One. "Rock the Night" was released as the worldwide follow-up single to "The Final Countdown". It became a Top 10 hit in France, Ireland, Italy and Switzerland, and peaked at number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 12 on the UK Singles Chart. The next single, "Carrie", peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.. "Cherokee" was released as the last single from the album, peaking at number 72 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Final Countdown was the band's breakout album. Upon its release in May 1986, The Final Countdown peaked at #8 on the Billboard 200 album chart. The album granted Europe international recognition. The Final Countdown achieved triple Platinum status in the United States, double platinum status in Canada, and Gold status in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Allmusic gave The Final Countdown four and a half out of five stars. Reviewer Doug Stone said, "This is the story; this is the legend told by Teutonic guitars and predictable keyboards ringing pure and hurtling through each and every convention perfectly. The quintet's big-boy Epic inaugural, The Final Countdown deftly combines the Valhalla victory of Europe's heroic debut with the American poodle pomposity that devoured the band. You could live without The Final Countdown, but why?"
Rolling Stone writer J. D. Considine said, "The words to "The Final Countdown" make almost no sense whatsoever on paper, but there's genuine drama to the way Tempest's keening vocals surge through the mock-orchestral morass of synths and guitar. Maybe it's trite, maybe it's derivative, but it's also undeniably effective. From the stirring stadium schlock of "Rock the Night" to the self-indulgent melodrama of "Love Chaser", the best moments here are insidiously catchy, leaving you humming along against your better judgment."
The Final Countdown included the hit singles "The Final Countdown", "Rock the Night", "Carrie" and "Cherokee", all of which had accompanying music videos. All four placed on the Billboard Hot 100. A fifth single, "Love Chaser", was released in Japan only. "The Final Countdown" was the most successful song from The Final Countdown on the rock charts, reaching number 18 on the Mainstream Rock Charts and number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. "The Final Countdown" arguably became the band's most recognizable and popular song. Its music video received heavy airplay on music television.
The first leg of the Swedish tour started in Gävle on April 29, 1986. The album hadn't been released yet because the cover art hadn't been completed, but Europe was forced to start the scheduled tour. The album was eventually released on May 26, the same day as the band played the last concert on the leg, at Solnahallen in Solna. The band did two concerts at Solnahallen, on May 25 and May 26. These concerts were filmed for a TV broadcast, which would later be released on VHS and DVD, entitled The Final Countdown Tour 1986. A 20th anniversary edition of the DVD was released in 2006. The promotional music video for "The Final Countdown" was shot partly during the soundchecks for those concerts and partly during the actual concerts.
Europe went on a Japanese tour in September 1986, playing four concerts in Tokyo and one concert each in Nagoya and Osaka. During that tour, guitarist and band co-founder John Norum told the other band members that he wanted to leave the band, due to musical differences and a disagreement with the band's manager, Thomas Erdtman. Norum agreed to stay in the band for the second leg of the Swedish tour, which started in Örebro on October 3, 1986, as well as a promotion tour around Europe including TV appearances and interviews. He made his last appearance with the band for a Sky Channel broadcast at the club Escape in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on October 31, 1986.
Norum was then replaced by Kee Marcello, who had just left another Swedish rock band, Easy Action. At first Marcello had been hesitant to join Europe, because he had put a lot of work into Easy Action's upcoming album That Makes One. After some consideration he changed his mind and decided to join the band. He appeared in the music videos for "Rock the Night" and "Carrie", before making his first TV appearance with the band at Peters Popshow in Dortmund, West Germany on December 12, 1986.
The European leg of the tour started in Bergen, Norway on January 24, 1987 and ended in Genoa, Italy on March 3, 1987. A concert done at Hammersmith Odeon, London on February 23, was filmed and released on video, entitled The Final Countdown World Tour.
On April 15, 1987 the band started their first U.S. tour at The Warfield Theatre in San Francisco. The tour ended in Philadelphia on May 17, 1987, as the band had been playing in 23 cities and traveling 14,565 km. A Swedish TV crew followed the band on the tour, producing the documentary Europe in America, which would be shown on TV and released on video.
Europe ended the Final Countdown Tour at the Roskilde Festival in Roskilde, Denmark on July 4, 1987.