1988 Countdown #65: Europe, “Superstitious”

(New to the countdown? Catch up here.)


Sure, I know what you’re thinking: Europe had another hit? In fact, they had three others, including 1987’s “Carrie,” which apparently went all the way to #3. This relatively anemic followup marked their last appearance in the American top 40, although they were still getting a promotional push from somebody. Including the video on this year-end roundup was MTV’s way of saying they expected  success from Europe in the years to come, and this wouldn’t be, you know, their final countdown.

We open on the black-and-white image of a castle, with the wind howling and clouds blowing by. Then we cut to a line of five men, all with impressive manes of curly golden hair. They’re singing “keep on walking on that road and I’ll follow,” and it sure looks like Robert Plant’s illegitimate children that he sired during the 1968 Zeppelin tour of Scandinavia got together to form a harmony group.


More harmonizing on lyrics like “if a mirror should break / it’s easy to take,” plus the lead singer getting some close-ups. Then in unison, the band pumps their fists while leaning to their right, as if they’ve been doing a lot of aerobics classes together. As they lurch back left, here’s a big pyrotechnic explosion in the background, and we switch to color.

The music pumps up to big synth-dominated pop-metal while the camera wheels around to show them playing outside the castle. Leather jackets, amplifiers, smoke machines: it’s a smorgasbord of “rock” signifiers!

Cut to inside the castle: maybe the night got too cold for the band. That’s odd; I thought they came from the land of the ice and snow. The lead singer has jammed his hands into his pockets, which is an unusual posture for a vocalist. The inside of the castle looks a lot like the setting for the “Total Eclipse of the Heart” video, only without the spooky glowing schoolboys. There are lots of cobwebs, though.


Quick flash of a skinny person of ambiguous gender, who appears to have been painted bronze. (Freeze-framing reveals that it’s a woman with short-cropped hair in a tank-top and that the color is probably because of the light projected on her.) We’ll be seeing more of her later, I’m sure.

Back outside, with the smoke machine turned up to “puree,” the lead singer–hang on, let me look up his name. Joey Tempest! How excellent is that? Isn’t that totally a 1961 Broadway version of a rock-star name? Okay, “Joey Tempest” is clenching his fists overdramatically and I understand why the director had him put his hands in his pockets.


Back to the chorus: the director takes color footage of a long tracking shot down a long hallway in the castle, with the camera careening from side to side, and superimposes the band members over it in black and white, one at a time. Not a bad visual gimmick, but the dude who’s bare-chested except for the leather jacket really needs to put a shirt on. Joey Tempest clenches his fists, points his fingers at the camera like guns, and does a Bob Fosse move that suggests he’s about to bust out some jazz hands. He’s not as over-the-top as Billy Squier or Cy Curnin (of the Fixx), but he’s definitely bucking for a place in the Over-Handsy Lead Singer Hall of Fame.

More pyro, more hero shots of the band, backlit by white shafts of light from the windows behind them. A quick glimpse of Gender-Ambiguous Girl, peering over a ledge, wondering if it’s safe to come out when the synthesizer hook is so mighty. (This song, by the way, is utterly generic Euro-metal cheese, but it is reasonably catchy, and the band’s insane exuberance helps sell it.) Then a short guitar solo, and then somebody turns on the wind machine! More specifically, somebody turns on the wind machine in front of a huge pile of scrap paper, because suddenly debris is flying everywhere! And yet, Joey Tempest heroically sings on.


We hit the chorus one more time, and this time Tempest sings from the castle’s turret. Clearly somebody said, “hey, you’ve rented a castle with a turret, might as well use it.” Meanwhile, Gender-Ambiguous Girl’s hand snakes across a wall of flaking paint. Maybe she’s suffering from lead poisoning and has spent her entire life in the dark recesses of this castle, only emerging when Sweden’s fourth-most-popular-ever recording act comes to shoot a video?


There’s a longish, proficient, but not very good guitar solo: deedle-deedle-dee. The director rotates through his settings, the band lurches around, the guitarist plays as he leans forward and walks down a hallway. When it finishes, Joey Tempest regains control of the situation by rolling his fingers to invite you to come towards him. Is there a technical term for this? Finger cascade? He holds up his hands with all fingers up, and then brings down his pinkies, his ring fingers, his middle fingers, etc., only quickly. He is now officially a member of the OHLSHOF.

Inside the castle, the band gets in a tight formation and walks around together, like they’re the Jets or the Scooby Gang. Gender-Ambiguous Girl is walking down the hall, and is being filmed in a way to emphasize her breasts, making her gender substantially less ambiguous. I can’t figure out if they’ve painted her or smeared mud on her or if she just dropped by on her way to filming a fetish video for extra-jaded Swedes.


We close with Tempest giving his all: thrusting his hips and flailing his arms around. And of course, another explosion. Actually, it looks like the same explosion we started the video with–it’s a sad turn of events when the record label restricts a metal band’s pyro budget. We are left to consider whether the band coming down against superstition is a reflection of their rational Swedish upbringing.

“Superstitious” hit #31 on the Billboard charts. You can watch it here.

posted 8 October 2009 in 1988 and tagged , , . 8 comments

8 Comments on 1988 Countdown #65: Europe, “Superstitious”

  1. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    It is of course true that the larger the geographic landmass, the worse the band, meaning that the only band worse than Europe is Asia. Boston and Chicago are both better than Kansas.

  2. Gavin Says:

    America: also a bad band.

    I was thinking of that maxim, but didn’t know who coined it! Do you know?

  3. Chris M. Says:

    Including the video on this year-end roundup was MTV’s way of saying they expected success from Europe in the years to come, and this wouldn’t be, you know, their final countdown.

    This is also a window into MTV’s ’80s branding. While 1988 was the year Yo! MTV Raps debuted, as late as this, MTV still positioned itself as fundamentally a rawk station that happened to play pop. In MTV’s parallel universe, a middling hit by Europe that couldn’t even squeak into the U.S. Top 30 and barely made the rock top 10 (#31 pop, #9 AOR, to be exact) was still a sizable “hit.”

    It’s why this whole MTV countdown is lousy with hair-metal (I believe metal videos take most of the top three on this list). Yes, ’88 was an exceedingly strong year for the genre, but acts like George Michael and Tiffany were actually bigger on the pop and even album charts — but you’d never know that if all your music knowledge in ’88 came from MTV.

  4. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    America: also a bad band.

    I like America all right, so I think of their name as more of an ideal than as a physical locale. If they had called themselves North America, they would have been horrible.

    As for who coined it, are you sure it wasn’t me? I wrote about it on my blog two years ago.

  5. Gavin Says:

    It probably was you! I knew I had read it somewhere, and I lumped it in with George Plimpton’s small ball theory of sportswriting (the smaller the ball, the better the writing).

    There apparently has never been a band named Australia.

  6. azul120 Says:

    As you’ll see, George Michael did leave a mark on this year’s chart, and was one of MTV’s biggest acts at the time.

    It is odd how a minor song from Europe actually made the list at this level, especially given the stuff it eclipsed. Not to mention that “Kiss Me Deadly” by Lita Ford, a big crossover hit that reached #12 on the Hot 100 chart, was nowhere to be seen on MTV’s year end list, and neither were White Lion’s “Wait” (#8) nor Erasure’s “Chains of Love” (#12), the latter evidently one of MTV’s bigger Buzz Bin videos.

  7. Gavin Says:

    I’m pretty sure “Kiss Me Deadly” shows up on this countdown, actually.

  8. azul120 Says:

    It doesn’t. The complete list was posted online here:

    * spoiler alert *


    I PM’d the poster, and he was gracious enough to indulge my request for the top 100 of ’89 list as well.

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