Sometimes, I get my “song of the day” inspiration from an event in real life. Today is one of those days. On this date (April 3) back in 1975, probably the greatest chess player who ever lived, Bobby Fischer, refused to play in a chess match against Russia’s Anatoly Karpov, who is also considered to be one of the best chess players of all-time. When Bobby Fischer refused to play a chess match with Anatoly Karpov, it gave Anatoly the title of World Champion by default, a title Anatoly would keep until 1985.
Perhaps loosely inspired by chess Grandmasters Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov (and another Russian Grandmaster, Viktor Korchnoi), the musical CHESS was born. The music for CHESS was by the male half of ABBA, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and lyrics by Tim Rice, who is best known for his work with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Before the actual musical opened in London’s West End in 1986, CHESS followed in the footsteps of other musicals, like JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and EVITA, where a musical concept album was released to spark interest and raise money for the potential of an actual musical.
From that CHESS concept album was the second chart hit for Londoner Murray Head, “One Night In Bangkok.” His first hit, “Superstar,” was from JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, and, in three different chart runs, reached No. 14 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in May / June 1971. Around the globe, it was a Top 10 hit in Australia, Canada and Germany.
“One Night In Bangkok” debuted on the Hot 100 at the end of February 1985. Just a week later, Murray Head moved from his No. 81 debut to No. 70, while another version of “One Night In Bangkok” debuted at No. 80 on the Hot 100, this one by a Canadian singer and actress, Robey. That version would only stay on the chart for 3 weeks, but did reach the Top 10 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart.
Meanwhile, Murray Head’s original version of “One Night In Bangkok” was a massive global hit, reaching No. 1 in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Holland, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland. It was also a Top 10 hit in Austria, France, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, and here in the U.S., where it spent a week at No. 3 in May 1985, and a No. 5 peak on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart.
I think “One Night In Bangkok” was my first introduction to anything related to a musical. I was always a fan of the song, especially the album version, which features a minute-long orchestral instrumental called “Bangkok.” You can hear a bit of this in the beginning of the video for “One Night In Bangkok.”
I can’t help but think about “One Night In Bangkok” when remembering a time I was co-DJing a 2001 80s Halloween party at a club in Portland, Maine, and I was playing my 12” single copy of “One Night In Bangkok” on one of the turntables, when one of my friends accidentally spilled beer on the 12” single while it was playing! I was frantic at first, but the record continued to play with no problem. However, with beer imbedded in it for nearly 15 years now, I don’t think I can play it again. Still, it’s a fun memory, and I’ll hold onto that 12” single because of it, and because it’s a fun song from the best year of my youth…