Leave it to the 1980s to spawn a world wide hit that comes from a rock-musical about two chess Grandmasters playing in the Thai capital of Bangkok, written by ABBA and Tim Rice (famous for being Elton John’s and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s lyricist). But “One Night in Bangkok,” is both catchy, exotic, and very witty (if not at time offensive).
There is really little to say about this song: It is the musical scene were an American TV analyst (played by Murray Head, a successful British stage and television actor whose brother is also well known for play Giles on the Joss Whedon series Buffy the Vampire Slayer), discusses his love for the intellectual purity of chess, and his disdain for the exotic, Asian capital. Thailand is the wrong place for the cerebral pursuits he is here to observe, and nothing sums this up better than the line “I’d let you watch/ I would invite you/ but the Queens we use would not excite you.” Playful, insulting, and a not-so-tongue-in-cheek sexual reference to gay-male prostitutes, he is basically saying what thrills you is but the opposite of what thrills him.
This song makes the list simply because, as a junior high kid, I knew every word, but understand maybe half of what it said or implied. It was not until I was in college that I even knew the song came from a musical, and I really didn’t bother to learn more than that. I love playing it now to friends my age, and pointing out it is about the game of chess, and a put-down to Thai culture. Ultimately the Thailand Mass Communication Organization banned the song, saying it perpetuated a misunderstanding about Thailand and disrespected Buddhism.
The video for the song is a horrible 1980s video: And of course it would be.