Five classic songs from Tim Rice's musical Chess
February 16, 2022 18:48
UPDATED: 26 November 2020
Have you seen The Queen's Gambit on Netflix? Then you'll love Chess by Tim Rice, Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus' musical. We revisit the original album recording to bring you five of our favourite songs from the musical (and a couple of brilliantly '80s music videos).
The show tells the story of a chess tournament in Italy, and a love triangle that develops between two of the players and one of their assistants. The original album features the voices of Murray Head, Elaine Paige, Tommy Körberg, Björn Skifs and Barbara Dickson when it was released in 1984.
The opening track of the album, it begins with the townspeople of the northern Italian town singing with the mayor about their love for their hometown as they prepare for the world chess championships. Beginning with classical swirling strings and an operatic chorus, the song is flipped on its head with the arrival of the American, as Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus' ABBA influence can be heard with a thumping disco beat. The American, Frederick Trumper, is performed on the album by Murray Head, and sings of being the best there is, but wanting to put on a show, before the townspeople of Merano (Meranoeans?) return to end this belter of an opening.
"One Night in Bangkok"
Also performed by Trumper, this song has an epic, oriental opening section complete with electric guitars and a marching drum beat, before stripping back into a funk-pop song with lyrics comparing the Thai capital to a game of, you guessed it, chess. When writing the musical, Ulvaeus would write dummy lyrics to emphasise the beats in the music he had written. Rice admitted some of these were "embarrassingly good", and 'One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble' is one of the most well-known examples of this.
(For some reason, former world heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson covered the song for the release of The Hangover II, if you fancy something a bit different...)
"I Know Him So Well"
Elaine Paige played the role of Florence on the concept album, Trumper's 'second', which in the chess world is the used to refer to an assistant who helps a player prepare. In this duet, Florence admit that Anatoly, Trumper's chess rival who she has fallen for, should return to his wife Svetlana (Barbra Dickson) and their children. The recording of this song was at number one in the UK singles Chart for four weeks, and remains in the Guinness Book of Records for biggest selling chart single by a female duo. It has also been covered many times by the likes of mother-daughter duo Cissy and Whitney Houston, Idina Menzel and Kerry Ellis and, for some reason, Peter Kay and Susan Boyle.
Russian chess played Anatoly sings this song after questions are raised by the press about his nationality, but he responds by telling them his country is always with him regardless of where he is ("My land's only borders lie around my heart"). It provides a big ending to the first act, complete with a national anthem-style guitar solo middle eight section and huge vocals closing the final verse. This, too, has been covered many times by some of the great voices of our time, including Michael Ball, Colm Wilkinson, Josh Groban and Jason Manford.
This instrumental track is the soundtrack of the tournament, and it's pretty much more exciting than you ever a board game could sound. Starting out with a nod to the Classical era, the song builds with an electric harpsichord-style instrument playing a melody over pulsating strings, before coming to a crescendo as the game's intensity reaches another level. While it may not be a standout track on the album, it does accompany some vital points of the show.
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