Joey Tempest of the big-haired metal band tellsabout megahit ‘The Final Countdown’ and his time living in this country.
The eighties glam-metal scene is ripe for reappraisal. With their perms, their bandanas and their tiny top hats, groups such as Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe and early Guns ’N Roses may have looked more than slightly absurd. But their music was anthemic and catchy and remains a staple of playlists all over the world.
One of the biggest hits of that period was Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’. With its distinctive opening keyboard motif, its soaraway verses and its killer chorus, the song was an international smash — rocketing to number one in Ireland (and most everyplace else). It would go on to enjoy an unlikely afterlife, soundtracking many TV montages, credits sequences and advertisements.
Further hits would also follow for the Swedes, including ‘Carrie’ and ‘Rock the Night’. After a splitting during the 1990s, the band, led by sometime Co Wicklow resident Joey Tempest, are back with an album recorded at iconic Abbey Road studios and an upcoming Dublin date. He talks about the artists and events that inspired his own music and explains why a spell Ireland made him the artist he is today.
How Ireland changed me as a songwriter
“In the Nineties I lived in Ashford, Co Wicklow for five or six years. Some of the guys from The Chieftains lived nearby. I used to go into Dublin to see shows. My interest in Ireland started early on. I was a fan of Thin Lizzy. But also of Mike Scott and The Waterboys, who would tour Sweden quite a bit. I became fascinated – I would visit Windmill Lane Studios [U2’s stomping ground]. It gave me inspiration. For me, Ireland is a spiritual thing. It brings that extra spiritual layer to my music. Europe was not active when I lived there. But I wrote some material for my three solo albums. I also did a lot of research – listened to a lot of music.
The artist that changed my life
We were all huge David Bowie fans in Europe. When he passed it left us with an empty, strange feeling. It hit us hard. I remember listening to Space Oddity when I was starting to write songs. I was flabbergasted by his production – the string arrangements. It was surreal to hear what he was doing. The lyrics also grabbed me. I was fascinated with space, which you can hear in The Final Countdown. David must have been too, at a younger age. Before I wrote the words to The Final Countdown, I listened to Space Oddity several times. It was definitely a part of my youth.
My love for Phillo
We were all really into Thin Lizzy. One time, they played a secret gig in a basement in Stockholm and I got to meet Phil Lynott. They’d just done the show and he was hanging out in this little bar, standing in a corner. Later on, I discovered this was his tactic to get the girls. He was standing there, very forlorn with his head down, alone. I was 18 or 19.
I plucked up the courage and thought, ‘okay – what am I going to ask this guy?’ I don’t know where I dug this one out of but I went up to him and said,
Hi Phil – it’s such an honour to meet you. But how come you don’t have a lead singer? You play great bass – but you sing too
And he was so courteous. He said, ‘thank you for the compliment – but I like singing’. It was a great encounter. It taught me to be humble to the fans. He could have reacted differently to me and I would have been discouraged forever.
Recording at Abbey Road
We did our latest album, Walk the Earth, there. You can definitely sense the legacy. We were in Studio Three, where Pink Floyd recorded Dark Side of the Moon. We brought up a lot of gear from the basement – stuff they actually used. What’s cool about Abbey Road is that they keep everything. The biggest stars today go there to record. But they also keep all the old stuff. I sang through a compressor John Lennon used. It inspires you, just being there.
On having an enormous hit with ‘The Final Countdown’
I’m kind of used to it now but at the beginning it was weird. You hear it everywhere – on sports in America, Formula One.. a lot of TV commercials, French movies.. you name it. It’s kind of flattering. We of course have a different relationship with the song. It was the written to be the beginning to our third album. We still love playing it live every night. The energy we get is so fresh from it – that’s true regardless of whether we’re playing at a thrash metal show or at a family gathering. People come together.
It’s a good thing and, honestly, we never expected it. The song is over six minutes long – we wrote it as an opener. We opened Europe shows with it in 86/87 – and it then became a big song so quickly. People started saying to us, ‘you gotta hold that song back, guys…you gotta put it at the end’. It’s been a pleasure. We are proud of it.
My life as a glam-metal icon
We did our second album, Wings of Tomorrow, in the Abba studios in Stockholm. Because we didn’t have any money we would record at night. That was the record that got us signed to Epic. They were huge: they had Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, everyone. We also had a meeting with another label, Polydor, I think. However, they had already found someone: Bon Jovi. There was a lot of excitement and it was a pretty crazy time
But ultimately we wanted it to be about the music rather than the image. Later, when I moved to Ireland, I researched a lot of songwriters.
I wanted to find out more about that side of music — I’d listen to them and go to see their shows. Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne – I did a deep dive into all of it.”