“One Night in Bangkok” – video, back story and lyrics

One of my favorite music videos is “One Night in Bangkok” by Murray Head. The title might raise eyebrows, but it’s not what you think. It is a tale about a world chess tournament in Bangkok and the speaker’s opinion about the location and what goes on outside of the tournament. I am fond of music that tells a story, and this video does it well. (If there are any problems with the video here, just leave a comment and I will do my best to fix it.)

HISTORY / BACK STORY:
The song was originally sung by the British actor and pop-dance singer Murray Head (verses) and Swedish singer and songwriter Anders Glenmark (choruses) on the 1984 concept album for the musical “Chess.” Its music was composed by former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn K. Ulvaeus, and its lyrics were written by Tim Rice and Ulvaeus.

In the musical for which it was written, it is sung by the former American champion, who lost the previous year to the Russian. He is now in Bangkok as a TV commentator on (some say the referee for) the tournament between the defending Russian champion and a new Russian contender.

Tim Rice was interviewed about “Chess” and they asked about the location. He replied that he had noticed that other major world competitions were held in either the great capitols of the world or big cultural centers, while world chess tournaments seemed to be set in fairly unfashionable places or, at least on first glance, slightly odd places for events of such importance.

His aim was to contrast highbrow intellectual chess culture with the distinctly lowbrow attractions of Bangkok. Thus the American actor mocks those who only come to Bangkok for the sexploitative nightlife and other mundane attractions, looking down on what goes on, for he is there for the beauty of the game. This is shown by at least one double-entendre about Chess compared to the Bangkok nightlife -“I would invite you, but the queens we use would not excite you.” After all, it does seem a rather unusual place to have such a tournament if you understand that, at the time, chess was seen as a metaphor for the Cold War superpower struggle.

LYRICS:
Bangkok, Oriental setting,
and the city don’t know what the city is getting –
the crème de la crème of the chess world,
in a show with everything but 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!

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,
and if you’re lucky then the god’s a “she.”
I can feel an angel sliding up to me.

One town’s very like another
when your head’s down over your pieces, brother.

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!

Whaddya mean?!
Ya seen one crowded, polluted, stinking town…

Tea girls, warm and sweet, (warm, sweet)
some are set up in the Somerset Maugham Suite.

“Get Thai’d!” You’re talking to a tourist
whose every moves are among the purest.
I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine!

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.

Siam’s gonna be the witness
to the ultimate test of cerebral fitness.
This grips me more than would
a muddy old river or reclining Buddha!

But 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 parlors…

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.

========

For anyone who is interested, here is a link to the Musical: Chess, the original recording (audio, not videos, and has more storyline). A different production from the next link.)

This link is to a playlist which is just the music (the Broadway version is different than the original): Chess – Original Broadway Cast

And finally, here is a link to a review of the musical: AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann

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