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‘One Night In Bangkok’, an unlikely hit about a bygone era in Thailand

Tim Newton

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“One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain’t free”

When ‘One Night In Bangkok’ was released in 1984 it was an unlikely hit. It was the opening song from a (at the time) little-known stage pop-opera called ‘Chess’. The song made Number 1 in South Africa, West Germany, Switzerland and Australia, and Number 3 in Canada and the US. It has remained a staple of Classic 80s Hit radio ever since. Have a listen (below).

The musical was the first outing for the two ‘Bs’ in ABBA – Benny Andersson and Bjoern Ulvaeus. Their pop grooves had made ABBA one of the most famous music groups in the world between 1973 and 1982 with a string of hits including 20 singles in the Billboard Top 100 from 8 albums, etc, etc. The lyrics of the song were penned by Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Joseph and his amazing technicolour dreamcoat, Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast).

In the opening song of ‘Chess’, the American chess champion Freddie Trumper gets ready for a chess game with his Russian counterpart. He ridicules Bangkok’s ‘pleasures’ and tourist attractions – the Chao Phraya River (“muddy old river”), Wat Pho (“reclining Buddha”), and the red-light distractions. The choruses are more complimentary about Bangkok’s well-documented excesses.

Thailand’s ladyboys feature too… “You’ll find a god in every golden cloister, And if you’re lucky then the god’s a she“. And the famous Oriental Hotel (these days a little less ‘oriental’) is mentioned where girls are “set up in the Somerset Maugham suite“. But the singer says he isn’t interested… “I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine.

At the time the sarcasm of the song didn’t go down well with the Thai Mass Communications Organisation (now the NBTC) issuing a ban on the song in 1985, saying its lyrics “cause misunderstanding about Thai society and show disrespect towards Buddhism”, a line still trotted out when Instagrammers and vloggers shoot in front of Thai temples dressed in a flimsy singlets and short shorts.

37 years later the song still paints a picture of a contrasting ‘oriental’ city alive with lights (including red lights), colour, pungent smells, culture and a vivid history.

We’re not sure if the ban was ever lifted but I hear the song played on Thai stations from time to time. At the time, when Bangkok was less on the tourist map than now, the song was a lone reference point for westerners.

How does it stand up 37 years after becoming a world-wide hit? Leave your comments below..

One Night In Bangkok

Bangkok, Oriental setting
And the city don’t know that the city is getting
The creme de la creme of the chess world
In a show with everything but Yul Brynner (referring to the actor’s starring role as the King of Siam in ‘The King and I’)

Time flies, doesn’t seem a minute
Since the Tirolean 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

Songwriters: Tim Rice / Benny Goran Bror Andersson / Bjoern K. Ulvaeus

 

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 11:14 am

    Yes a great song. I liked it the first time I heard it. I had not visited Thailand at the time of release
    I like the line Can’t be careful with your company.
    All these years I thought it was “the girls aren’t free.” Only today I see it was “the pearls aren’t free.”
    And I see the Thais banned the song. They were addicted to power and control even back then.

  2. Avatar

    Ben

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 11:30 am

    I hear it every time before I go to party in Bangkok.

  3. Avatar

    Das

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 11:50 am

    Top 80s tune. Always been a favourite.

  4. Avatar

    Austin

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 12:38 pm

    Was listening to it on my balcony last night lol and then the “Pattaya” Song too as I look at that Famous Neon Sign. 2 Cassics for a Classic Country!

  5. Avatar

    Dave

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 12:51 pm

    Still relevent to todays Thailand….its human nature…and human nature doesnt change.

  6. Avatar

    richard barker

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 12:54 pm

    still being played in the Aussie country town radio station I listen to. Mostly 80’s music. Still the best music 70’s and 80’s. Still do you tube replays on boring nights. Not so much with beer these days but a little wine tops off the night.

  7. Avatar

    Jean-Bernard KAMMER

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 12:57 pm

    Hello from Switzerland. I want to know if the crossroad on the picture above is the crossroad between Sukhumvit road and soï 3 (opposite soï 4 Nana) ? It seems to me that I recognize this place because I was in Bangkok suk 4 in 1985 for my first holiday in Thaïland.

  8. Avatar

    EdwardV

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 12:59 pm

    Still love that song, play it extra whenever get close to a trip there.

  9. Avatar

    Pesamosca nicolae

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 1:19 pm

    I hoppe to visit Bangkok my first time

  10. Avatar

    Mike burston

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    Does anyone know if the flute solo is played by Greg Ham from Men at work

  11. Avatar

    Mr cynic

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 3:27 pm

    I remember hearing it many times in patpong gogo’s in 80’s although it was officially banned.i think the the ban made it even more attractive for the dj’s to play.it was often followed by maddonas rather appropriate” like a virgin” single,the crowd would sing along to the”touched for the very first time” line with the lyrics slightly modified.

  12. Avatar

    David Pilkington

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 3:34 pm

    A great song that really does get to the bottom (ha-ha) of the Bangkok night scene. I guess we did need something like this to lighten the mood and brighten the Covid gloom.
    Cheers, Tim.

  13. Avatar

    Jared

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 3:57 pm

    The lyrics aren’t very flattering of the Thais, so I can see why it might be controversial. “So you better go back to your bars, your temples, your massage parlours”…in other words, they are simpletons who would not appreciate the game of chess

  14. Avatar

    Nick

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 5:10 pm

    I didn’t think much of the song when it was in the UK charts all those years ago. Since then I’ve been to Bangkok many times and it sound great when played at full blast in the bars.

  15. Avatar

    Mr cynic

    Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 11:08 pm

    There is a very interesting version of it on youtube filmed on the roof of a bangkok building,well worth seeking out.

  16. Avatar

    James Pate

    Friday, April 30, 2021 at 7:19 am

    Nice little story. Please follow it up with “Tom, Tom, Where You Go Last Night?”

  17. Avatar

    Social Observer

    Friday, April 30, 2021 at 7:52 am

    Mr Cynic is refering to a video with the title “One Night In Bangkok – FULL HD – REMIX DJ R&B” posted by “ONLY FOR FRIENDS & FANS OF THE LEGENDARY DISC CLUBS OF THE 80ties” which features some very talented and energetic “Coyote Girls” dancing to the music.

  18. Avatar

    Andrew Whyte

    Friday, April 30, 2021 at 8:38 am

    Guessing in the 1980’s hanging out in Bangkok was a lot more affordable for Western wash ups than it it now. Same can be said for Pattaya, Koh Samui and a lot of Thailand.

  19. Avatar

    Andrew Whyte

    Friday, April 30, 2021 at 8:44 am

    These days Bangkok is a cosmopolitan city with a price tag to match. Washing up in Bangkok and just hanging out is an increasingly out of reach novelty of a bygone age.

  20. Avatar

    Martin C

    Friday, April 30, 2021 at 5:43 pm

    I think Tim Rice’s experience of Bangkok was limited to the Oriental hotel. The video is crass, particularly with the boxer having his boots on. The biggest shame of all is that there’s no reference to Thai Chess, a fascinating living fossil of what Chess used to be before it migrated from India via Persia to Europe. Said all that, it is a cracking tune, no surprise to its longevity.

  21. Avatar

    Mr cynic

    Friday, April 30, 2021 at 10:56 pm

    @james,the original non pc video of carabao’s excellent”welcome to Thailand” song is on utube,there are also a few good live versions of it there also.

  22. Avatar

    MARK GOODYEAR

    Saturday, May 1, 2021 at 8:33 pm

    even the King and I is still banned!!! fwckin’ thai idiots!!!!

  23. Avatar

    Gianni

    Saturday, May 1, 2021 at 9:21 pm

    Is on my alarm Clock, I wake up everyday with this song…

  24. Avatar

    Gerry

    Sunday, May 2, 2021 at 6:51 pm

    After the first time I’ve karaoked the song many a time by request and much lao tuan at weddings in the wife’s and my rural area. Always a great hit. Or so I tell myself. Our neighbors don’t understand a word (other than “Bangkok”) but they seem to enjoy the show.

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Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 450 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now the General Manager and writer for The Thaiger. He's reported for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue.

Politics

Deputy PM declares Thammanat Prompow controversy finished

Neill Fronde

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PHOTO: Thailand's Deputy Agriculture Minister Prompao talks to reporters after a government cabinet meeting in Bangkok (via Reuters)

Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam says that the debate is over regarding Thammanat Prompow, the controversial Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives and influential Palang Pracharath Party ‘fixer’.

The Constitutional court has already ruled that he is qualified to hold office under Thai law and will keep his position, though a huge backlash followed the ruling, and the public wondered how his 1993 heroin trafficking conviction in Australia. Then using the name ‘Manat Bophlom’, he was convicted of conspiring to import a traffic able amount of heroin, serving 4 years of a 6 year sentence.

According to Wikipedia, Thammanat parliamentary declaration of assets in August 2019 listed “2 wives, 7 children, and a net worth of about $42 million, including a Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Tesla, and Mercedes-Benz along with 12 Hermès and 13 Chanel handbags, luxury watches, and Thai Buddha amulets.”

Thai law says that no one who has been convicted of an indictable offence is eligible to hold public office, but the new decision seems to imply that anything that happens outside of Thailand’s border does not qualify. A legal expert, the Deputy PM says that this ruling is not in opposition to the rules about convicts holding office.

He says that a conviction by Australia’s New South Wales Court is not legally binding in Thailand and therefore does not disqualify Thammanat. Only a jail sentence from a Thai court would be considered a roadblock to a candidate being confirmed to hold government office.

Thai immigration law, however, determines that convictions in home countries will bar people from entry into Thailand. The decision also calls into question the legitimacy of the Australian/Thailand extradition treaty which saw Thammanat deported back to Thailand after serving 4 years of his 6 year sentence.

But the Council of State had declared that someone in jail for 2 years cannot hold office within 5 years of release, regardless of whether the jailing was in Thailand or in another country. The 4 year jail term Thammanat served in Australia ended in 1997 so the 5-year grace period has already passed.

The Deputy PM says that this ruling by the Constitutional Court does set a new precedent for future issues of possible MP candidates that may have been in trouble with the law outside of Thailand. But he stopped short of supporting Thammanat’s prior conduct unconditionally, declining to comment.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission has been under pressure to investigate Thammanat and whether his conduct has been ethical. The Deputy PM said that the Constitutional Court ruling does not whitewash any other issues Thammanat may face.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

 

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

BMA admits Covid virus spreading fast in Bangkok, speeds up testing and jabs

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Stock photo via Flickr

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration says it is speeding up mass Covid-19 testing and inoculations in communities hit strongly by the virus, after admitting the virus is spreading fast in Thailand’s capital.

The city clerk says the administration, along with the Public Health Ministry and other agencies, are speeding up the collection of nasal swabs for Covid-19 tests, with a plan to test 3,000 people in high-risk groups per day. Those people deemed to be at an increased risk of the virus have been clustered by districts, with testing units in each of the 6 districts…

Laksi district, 70 Pansa Min Buri park in Min Buri district, Huai Khwang stadium in Huai Khwang district, under the Rama III expressway in Yannawa district, a public park under Rama VIII bridge in Bang Phlad district and The Mall Bangkae shopping centre in Bang Kae district.

The virus has been found in densely populated, low-income areas such as the Klong Toey community in Klong Toey district, Bon Kai community in Pathumwan district and Ban Khing community and The Mall Bangkae in Bang Kae district. In an effort to help those residents stay at home to prevent the possible spreading of the coronavirus, community-level organisations are teaming up to provide food, water, and supplements to those in the areas.

But stay at home orders are a problem for many as starvation is more frightening than the virus and 90% of residents in the slum communities still need to leave for work each day to keep food on the table. The daily average income for those in the slums is around 120 to 150 baht. The CCSA yesterday declared that is is focusing on containing major Covid clusters in 3 key Bangkok communities – the Klong Toey ‘slums’, Bon Kai in Pathumwan and Ban Khing in the Bang Kae district, on the west side of the Chao Phraya.

Today’s nationwide Covid update includes compiling the regional totals from yesterday, with a total of 27 new Covid-related deaths and 2,044 new Covid-19 infections over the past 24 hours. The numbers continue a statistically consistent rise in the number of Covid infections over the past 2 weeks.

Meanwhile, talking about Phuket’s plans to open in July, the Tourism and Sports Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, said yesterday that the number of new cases on the island must reach zero before the government can contemplate the ‘Sandbox’ plan for no-quarantine travel.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

 

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Friday Covid UPDATE: 27 more deaths, 2,044 new infections

Tanutam Thawan

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By

The Friday report, compiling the regional totals from Thursday, indicates that has been 27 new Covid-related deaths and 2,044 new Covid-19 infections in the past 24 hours. The numbers continue a statistically consistent rise in the number of Covid infections over the past 2 weeks.

The CCSA yesterday declared that is is focusing on containing major Covid clusters in 3 key Bangkok communities – the Klong Toey ‘slums’, Bon Kai in Pathumwan and Ban Khing in the Bang Kae district, on the west side of the Chao Phraya.

Meanwhile, talking about Phuket’s plans to open in July, the Tourism and Sports Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, said yesterday that the number of new cases on the island must reach zero before the government can contemplate the ‘Sandbox’ plan for no-quarantine travel.

He also disclosed that the government are planning to set a levy of 300 baht to be collected from foreign tourists starting from January 2020 “to set up a tourism fund for emergency use”. Speaking to Bangkok Post…

“Once the spread is under control, the government will resume travel bubble discussions with Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laos and Malaysia.”

 

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