Monday, November 20, 2017

"One Night in Bangkok" by Murray Head

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2228
Date:  02/23/1985
Debut:  81
Peak:  3
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Pop, Dance, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  English actor/singer Murray Head began writing songs as a kid and in the mid-60s tried to get a music career started. He recorded several singles for various labels, but nothing came from them. Then in 1969, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice hired Head to sing on the concept album for their rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Performing as Judas Iscariot, Head would sing what would be considered the opera's signature track "Superstar." The song was issued as a single prior to the album's release and it peaked at a low #74. Then nearly a year later as the show was being prepped for Broadway with Head in the Iscariot role, the song recharted for a minor three weeks, dropped off the chart, and then returned for a final run that would find the single peaking at #14. Following the song's success, Head tried to get a solo career going. He recorded seven album for five labels, but chart success eluded him. Then in 1983, Head was once again tapped to perform on another musical concept album that was co-written by Tim Rice (along with ABBA members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson). Called Chess, the musical concept album had Head performing the pop/dance song "One Night in Bangkok." The tune was released as a single and it caught on in a big way hitting the Top 10's of many countries including the US (#5 Dance/#35 AC/#89 R&B). Later in '86, the stage version of the musical hit London's West End with Head performing in the cast. It would make it to Broadway in '88, but with a different cast. Head would continue to record albums over the years, but he remained off the charts. He would have a bit more success acting on stage, in TV shows, and in films.

ReduxReview:  I believe this song has the distinction of being the last song from a stage musical to hit the Pop chart that was performed by an original cast member. Some cover tunes from shows have reached the chart, but none by the originating artist. Even Hamilton with all of its success has not produced a charting single. I remember this concept album being talked up, especially since it involved half of ABBA, so when this single came out and got on the chart, it was quite the deal. What made the musical a bit different was that many of the songs were modern pop oriented and could function on their own outside of the show. This one in particular was certainly set up to be a potential hit when you consider the hooky chorus, the rap, and the driving dance beat. It got an extra boost from the odd lyrics and strange touches within the arrangement. It made for a bizarre hit that folks loved or hated. I thought it was a lot of fun and it made me buy the Chess album. It's now one of those relics from the decade that still gets some airplay and induces some chuckles and sing-a-longs. I prefer the song with its "Bangkok" orchestral opening left intact. (BTW - my favorite song from Chess was the wonderfully urgent "Nobody's Side" by the great Elaine Paige.)

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) Head's younger brother, Anthony, became a successful actor as well. Although he has been in several stage productions, TV shows, and films, he is most likely best known to US audiences as the character Rupert Giles on the hit TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  2) Although this song was credited solely to Head, he only performs the rap portion of the song. The chorus was sung by Swedish singer Anders Glenmark. Glenmark became a highly successful songwriter/producer in Sweden working with many artists including solo work from ABBA's Frida.  3) This song was only able to make it to #12 in the UK. However, a duet from the Chess album, "I Know Him So Well" by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson, reached #1 for four weeks. It was issued in the US, but failed to chart. Whitney Houston recorded the song as a duet with her mother Cissy for Whitney's second album in 1987. The track was released as a single in a minor few countries (not the US) the following year. The best it did was #14 in the Netherlands.


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