One Night In Bangkok, Murray Head

For 1984, I chose the song “One Night in Bangkok.” It’s a song about chess. Yes. And 80s hit song about Chess. Why? Because it was actually part of a British musical named Chess that depicted a rivalry between the US and the USSR during a tournament that takes place in Bangkok. The music was written by two ABBA members, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, and the lyrics were written by Tim Rice. Rice collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber and wrote lyrics for Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Evita. He also wrote lyrics for Disney’s Aladin and The Lion King. No wonder the lyrics for this song are so darn cool! Murray Head is an actor who had sang Superstar and had a second hit with this song, “One Night in Bangkok.”

The song starts: “Bangkok, Oriental setting/And the city don’t know that the city is getting/The crème de la crème of the chess world/In a show with everything but Yul Brynner.” Quite a cool opening! The chorus mentions that in every cloister there is god and it may be a ‘she,’ apparently it was not uncommon to have prostitutes in the cloisters that would provide a divine sexual experience. I cannot confirm this, but if true that would explain the 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/And if you’re lucky then the god’s a she/I can feel an angel sliding up to me.” In the musical Chess the main character stays focused on the game even though there are all kinds of temptations in Bangkok.

Bangkok, Oriental setting
And the city don’t know that 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 Tyrolean 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, sweet
Some are set up in the Somerset Maugham suite)
Get Thai’d! You’re talking to a tourist
Whose every move’s 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
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 better go back to your bars, your temples, your massage parlours

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

In the movie Hangover 2, Mike Tyson appears at the end to perform the song, the movie is set in Bangkok: