I was a little bit off the beaten track, stuck – as I believe they call it – In Country in Vietnam. Very friendly people whose food was excellent and all their radios ran of batteries, which were easily stolen. In my time their the only music I heard was bird-song, and that is only because the buggers flew away when I tried to catch them. “Blackbird singing in the dead of night” = “Blackbird dead” in my book.
After consulting my Wonder Book Atlas I planned a route across Laos to Thailand and then to hopefully hit India somewhere along the line. Luckily people in communist countries are always pleased to pick up hitch-hikers, especially attractive Western female ones, so I had no end of drivers taking me through the breathtaking countryside. I thought we might have to stop in Laos, which would have caused me a problem as I don’t know any songs about Laos. Clearly I know lots of Laosy songs, but that’s not a joke that really works in print so I was pleased to see he was just stopping off at an Esso to put a tiger in our tank and move on.
Things unfortunately got a little bit stuck when it turned out that he had actually put a tiger in our tank and the engine did not strictly run of tigers. Though by then it was late night and we had reached Bangkok.
ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK – Murray Head
Okay. ABBA. I hate ‘em. But I do know that they wrote their own lyrics as well as their own music. Which might explain the sub-literate doggeral which rocks up in Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! or Waterloo (“I was defeated you won the war”). But if you did want to write a West End music, surely they would be better off sticking with themselves, than splitting the fee with a man whose day job is writing lists about records and looking like a waxwork of Jeremy Bentham? Indeed, they clearly would be as the hateful musical “Mamma Mia” has outrun “Chess” by about five times.
A MUSICAL ABOUT CHESS GRANDMASTERS!
Okay, a musical about trains is a stupid idea too. So is one about Jesus. So is one about the Phantom Of The Opera. All musicals are stupid. So since Tim Rice writes ‘em he is stupid. But if there was a genus of stupidity which was more crystalised stupidity than the rest, man alive, Chess would be it. And if there was a subcatagory of stupidity within Chess, some sort of quintessential essence of stupidity boiled down into one moment: Stupiditus Stupiditus Stupid - if you will : well One Night In Bangkok would be it.
Murray Head is some sort of actor come singer. We won’t dwell to much on his miserable career except to note that his delivery is even worse that David Essex (and I should know, I’ve suffered through an Essex version of Bangkok). Instead look at the carnivalesque atmosphere attempted to be evoked in ONIB. Showgirls, dirty sex, everything basically except Yul Brynner. Its a tall order. And the song flops hugely. Its more the Tolpuddle Summer Fete that some extraordinary carnival of Chess.
A CARNIVAL OF CHESS! WHAT WERE THEY THINKING.
One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster? One night in Bangkok and the songs a stinker more like. Consider how Rice came up with this line, to convey how the CARNIVAL OF CHESS travels the world :
“It’s Iceland — or the Philippines — or Hastings — or –
or this place!”
I won’t even get to the Somerset Maugham line… Rest assured than this song manages to simultaneously not be about Chess, Bangkok or anything except tedious white boy talkie rap and showgirl catawauling. Stupiditus Stupiditus Stupid