Bankok Chess

  • I pal and I heard this 80’s pop song on the radio yesterday and we both remembered it, but couldn’t figure out what the hell the guy was really talking about. I thought the title was “One Night in Bankok” and the singer was Murray Head, but nothing comes up on Cd netsearches and LyricsHQ is still down. Is there a chess meet in Bankok? - MC

In the US, at least, “One Night in Bangkok” is a pretty obscure song, at least if album sales and song chart position is any indication. It’s from the Album, Chess by Tim Rice (of Jesus Christ Superstar fame), Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (both of ABBA fame). And yes, Murry Head does sing lead on this song.

However, this is not your typical party album. The London Symphony Orchestra provides most of the backing and it is a concept album about the tensions between the US and USSR as seen through an international chess tournament. Alright, time to boogie. Most critics like the songs in Chess but find the album (and play for that matter) flawed.

The Album was rereleased a few years back on CD, and is supposedly still in print. The song itself appears on a number of “Dance hit” type CD’s despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that the song was ever a hit anywhere outside of the UK. An artist named Robey released a remake version of the song in 1996.


Jim Petty
An oak tree is just a nut that stood it’s ground

      • It was played for a short time on US radio stations, but it may have been a spillover effect of UK popularity. DJ’s here only say “One Night In Bankok” by Murray Head. It certainly stood out alone at the time. They play it on “one-hit wonders” shows. - MC

*Jimpy sed: The Album was rereleased a few years back on CD, and is supposedly still in print. The song itself appears on a number of “Dance hit” type CD’s despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that the song was ever a hit anywhere outside of the UK. An artist named Robey released a remake version of the song in 1996. *

I seem to recall ONIB being quite popular when I was in college. Of course, I frequented a dance club (aka disco) back then, and it was a very dancable song, in a bump-and-grind sort of way (ala “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood).

I always liked the One Night in Bankok song. Not really sure what it meant, but then I was not sure what most song meant at the time. It had a good beat and you can dance to it.

Jeffery

I love this song! Here in the SF Bay Area we have a radio program called “10 at 10”, which is “ten great songs from one great year” played at 10:00am/pm each day. They often play this song when they do that year (I think it’s 1985). And I do remember ONIB being very popular here. I think the Max Headroom song was out at the same time. Weird stuff, but great music.

Jimpy:

Well, yeah, if you only go by album sales and chart positioning. Talk to some folk who have a passing knowledge of musical theatre, though, and you’ll discover that it’s fairly well known.

Which is actually the soundtrack to the musical, Chess. Tim Rice took a page from Andrew Lloyd Weber when he released the soundtrack before the show opened. He was looking to raise some capital to help defray production expenses.

That depends, are you listening to the Broadway version, or the London version?

Well, no, it’s not a concept album. It’s the soundtrack to the musical.

Both soundtracks are available at any record store. If they don’t have it, ask. They can order it.

Waste
Flick Lives!

One Night In Bangkok made it up to #3 in 1985. That is a major hit by any means. Robie’s version was on the chart during the same time frame but didn’t make it into the top 40.

The song itself is the American discussing the unusual venue(Bangkok) with some of the locals. These are the lyrics to the song:

  1. BANGKOK(ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK

The dirt, the history, the temples, the massage
parlours, the river and its boats, the houses
on its banks with naked children leaping in
and out of the muddy water, the Buddahs…

THE AMERICAN
Bangkok! Oriental setting
And the city don’t know what the city is getting
The creme de la creme of the chess world in a
Show with everything out Yul Brynner

Time flies - doesn’t seem a minute
Since the Tirolean spa had the chess boys in it
All change - don’t you know that when you
Play at this level there’s no ordinary venue
It’s Iceland - or the Philippines - or Hastings - or

  • or this place!

CHORUS
One night n Bangkok and the world’s your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain’t free
You’ll find a god in every golden cloister
And if you’re lucky then the god’s a she
I can feel an angel sliding up to me

THE AMERICAN
One town’s very like another
When your head’s down over your pieces, brother

CHORUS
It’s a drag, it’s a bore, it’s really such a pity
To be looking at the board not looking at the city

THE AMERICAN
Whaddya mean? You’ve seen one crowded, polluted, stinking town -

CHORUS
Tea, girls - warm and sweet - warm, sweet
Some are set up in the Somerset Maugham suite

THE AMERICAN
Get Thai’d! You’re talking to a tourist
Whose every move’s among the purest
I get my sicks above the waistline, sunshine

CHORUS
One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can’t be too careful with your company
I can feel the devil walking next to me

THE AMERICAN
Siam’s gonna be the witness
To the ultimate test of cerebral fitness
This grips me more than would a
Muddy old river or recling Buddah

And thank God I’m only watching the game
-controlling it

I don’t see you guys rating
The kind of mate I’m contemplating
I’d let you watch I would invite you
But the queens we use would not excite you

So you’d better go back to your bars, your temples, your massage parlours -

CHORUS
One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain’t free
You’ll find a god in every golden cloister
A little flesh a little history
I can feel an angel sliding up to me

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can’t be too careful with your company
I can feel the devil walking next to me

Bedrock! Prehistoric city
But the city don’t know what the city is getting
The creme de la creme of the Stone Age
in a show with everything but Louis Leakey.

Time flies! Doesn’t seem a minute
since the Slate and Gravel Quarry had a glacier in it.
Got fire? Doncha know that when you
Evolvin’ at this level it’s no ordinary venue

One night in Bedrock and you’re in the series
Halfway between real life and the TV
One night in Bedrock and your soul soon wearies
Hanna-Barbera everywhere you see.
I can feel the Rubbles walking next to me.

original work by me from 1984

I can’t believe I remembered this thing :slight_smile:


Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!

The musical Chess is about an American chess player who is, as the play opens, the reigning world champion. He’s explicitly described as being like Bobby Fischer or John McEnroe, brilliant at what he does but also somewhat of a prima donna who has trouble getting along with anybody. He travels the world with his girlfriend, a English model who was born in Hungary.

The first championship series in the play happens at a city in the Italian Alps (hence the reference in the song to “the Tirolean spa”). He’s playing against a Russian challenger who’s somewhat older and certainly more mature than him. As he has problems in the first few games of the series, he gives his girlfried a lot of grief. She goes crying to the Russian challenger, who not only beats the American, but steals his girlfriend. The Russian wins the tournament, leaves his wife, and defects to the U.K.

The next championship is held in Bangkok. The Russian (now living in England), is playing against a younger Russian challenger who’s described as a total chess machine. The young Russian can’t be distracted by women or politics because he’s so totally concentrated on chess that he doesn’t notice anything else.

The American is attending the chess match in Bangkok not because he’s playing, but because he’s reporting on it for a newspaper or TV network or some such. He sings the song “One Night in Bangkok” about his reactions to seeing Bangkok for the first time. He sees the prostitutes (which Bangkok is famous for) and claims that he isn’t tempted by them. When he says that the tournament is “a show with everything but Yul Brynner”, he’s talking about Yul Brynner’s role as the King in The King and I, which is set in Thailand. When he talks about “Iceland - or the Philippines - or Hastings”, he’s describing the settings of other chess tournaments. “Iceland” is a reference to the place of the 1972 Fischer/Spassky meeting. “Hastings” refers to the annual chess tournament in Hastings in England. I’m not sure about the Philippines reference. Oh, and as to the mention of “Siam” later in the song, that’s an old name for Thailand.

It’s been almost twelve years since I saw Chess, so I hope I’ve remember the plot correctly.

If anybody wants a copy of the plot summary as told in the book acompanying the CD set I would be happy to email you a copy as it is too long to post on the board. Email me if you want it.