Sunday Music – One Night In Bangkok

Posted on Sun 01/13/2013 by

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Today’s music video is One Night In Bangkok, sung here in this clip by Murray Head, and this song was the first of two big hits from the musical, Chess.

Link to Video at You Tube

This video was posted to You Tube by lineusan

Sometimes, what seems like a pretty simple pop song has a story behind it, and some even have a number of stories behind them, and the featured song for today falls into the latter category.

There have been a number of great pairings for music and lyrics over the years when it comes to Musicals. Gilbert and Sullivan, Rodgers and Hart and then Rodgers and Hammerstein would be most remembered, but in the era of the more recent modern musicals, the name close to, or more probably right at the top, would have to be Andrew Lloyd Webber. In his earlier years Lloyd Webber was like those early great musical pairings, and while Andrew wrote the music, his collaborator and lyricist was Tim Rice. This pair wrote some of the most recognised musicals of the time, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita.

Andrew Lloyd Webber then started to do musicals on his own, and while already hugely successful, that success just increased even further.

This was not the end for Tim Rice though, as he has also had a long and successful career after parting with Andrew, with a number of writers of music for this genre of Musical plays.

While Rice was with Lloyd Webber, he always wanted to write a Musical based around the Cold War. Rice was fascinated by the political machinations behind some of those famous World Chess Championships, especially the drama surrounding the legendary match ups between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in 1972 when taken in context with The Cold War.

While Rice and Lloyd Webber were enthused with the idea of doing a Musical about The Cold War, they never quite got around to writing something along these lines. When the pair did part company in 1979, Andrew went off and wrote Cats, and now Tim Rice started to think about his theme of teaming up The Cold War with a chess orientation.

Rice had no one to write the music for his lyrics, and was directed to 2 Swedish songwriters who were beginning to move into that area of songwriting for Musicals. Those 2 songwriters were Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the two men from that immensely popular band ABBA.

Chess MusicalThe result was the musical Chess. It took some years to come to fruition though, as ABBA was still that hugely successful Pop Band, finally breaking up in 1983.

As this pairing of musicians and lyricist lived in different Countries, most of the writing was done through the mail. Rice would mail off a theme, Bjorn and Benny would mail back some music on tapes, and Rice would then write the lyrics for those songs. The back and forth went like this for most of 1983 and late that year, they had a full composition of songs, enough for a double album.

As Rice had previously done with both Superstar and Evita, he made the decision to release a concept album first, to gauge the reception, and also to raise money for the proposed stage show of the full Musical. Even the recording for the album was done by mail, with Benny taping multi layered keyboard tracks and some basic additional music, then sending the tapes off to Rice who worked with The London Symphony Orchestra. The finishing work was done by Polar Studios in Sweden, where Benny and Björn used to do their recordings with ABBA.

The Concept double LP was released in 1984, and became a Worldwide smash hit, staying at or near the top of the Charts in a number of Countries. Two singles were lifted from the album. The second of these was the absolutely huge smash hit I Know Him So Well, recorded by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson, and this song was in fact a huge Number One Hit in the UK, and to this day remains the biggest selling song by a female duo in UK recording history.

The first single released from the album was today’s featured video clip, the song One Night In Bangkok, and here it is sung by British singer and dancer Murray Head, who played the lead role of ‘The American’ in the subsequent Musical stage play. The song was also a huge Worldwide hit, although not as huge as the above song released a little later. One Night In Bangkok was in the Top Five of charts in most major Countries, the really big markets for music, and made it all the way to Number One in a number of those Countries, Australia being one of them.

The song refers to the Chess match up between the two main male players, ‘The American’, and ‘The Russian’, and is sung from the perspective of one of those, ‘The American’. While Bangkok is a major destination, mainly for tourists wanting to see the many tourist destinations in Thailand, the singer’s only point of concentration is the Chess Match itself.

You may notice early in the song that Yul Brynner gets a mention, and this refers to an earlier Musical, The King And I, in which Brynner played the part of the King of Siam, the earlier name for the Country now called Thailand.

Following the huge success of the Album, the Musical Play opened in London’s West End in 1986. It was received successfully, now seemingly a difficult thing when every Musical is compared to the Monster that was Cats. It ran in London for 3 years.

The Stage Musical was virtually rewritten for an American audience and opened on Broadway in 1988, but was nowhere near as successful as it was in London. It ran in other Countries to reasonable success, and was quite popular in Sweden.

While Andrew Lloyd Webber is up there in the Pantheon of Musical composers, Tim Rice has had a long and successful career following that earlier association with Lloyd Webber and he worked with Elton John on the animated movie The Lion King, which won Rice an Academy Award, to add to his earlier 2 Oscars, for the animated movie Aladdin, and also for Evita. Tim Rice he has also won Golden Globes, Tony’s and Grammy Awards as well.

Both Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus have also gone on to further their careers in Musicals, culminating in the immensely popular Mama Mia.

So, while One Night In Bangkok may seem to be a simple pop song with an element of Rap in it, there are a number of stories surrounding the song, all of them interesting.

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