Monday, January 18, 2010

Worth Another Listen - Chess (1984)

In 1984, the concept album for the musical Chess was released. The musical had lyrics by Tim Rice, and music by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, formerly of ABBA. Prior to the first production ever being mounted, Murray Head, Tommy Körberg, Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson sang the leads, all big names on the stage, both London's West End and Broadway. The musical was a story about the cold war, depicted by the struggle between American and Russian chess champions. It features the KGB, love affairs, broke hearts, and evil capitalists, who could ask for more? Well, how about hit songs before the theater is even rented?

It starts with Murray Head and One Night In Bangkok. As unlikely as it sounds, and far ahead of it's time, the song from the stage musical features rapping and Eastern-flavored music, and is written by a Brit and two Swedes. And it topped the charts worldwide, including scoring #3 on the charts in the US and Canada.

The ladies were not about to be overshadowed, and for one month held the number one spot on the UK charts with I Know Him So Well. I still is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest selling single by a female duo.

The song is sung by the wife and the mistress of the Russian champion, both ladies contemplating their relationship with the man.

Interestingly enough, despite the success of these singles, and success on London's West End run for three years, the Broadway production went through extensive reworking that still only got them 2 months and some mixed reviews. There are still rumors floating around that Chess will be returning to Broadway with Josh Groban in the lead. If that happens, I will so be there!


  1. If Josh is to appear on Broadway in CHESS the place will be sold out in no time by Grobies worldwide - so there's no fear you would be the only one attending. Jerusha xx

  2. Howard, Chess is an interesting play, that never did seem to find the right audience. Murray Head's video of "One Night In Bangkok" always stands out in my mind when people are talking about great music vids. How could someone not like "I Know Him So Well"? What a perfect song for a duet. Howard thanks for highlighting Chess!

  3. Just stopping by from the Mistress's blog to say I just love this post and blog! I forgot about Chess. What a great play And I just love the vocals of Elaine Paige! What a treasure trove you have here!

  4. Anon, I figured I would be fighting for a ticket!

    Kyle, it is quite interesting, and I love the version of 'I Know Him So Well' by John Barrowman and Daniel Boys.

    Pearly Gates, thanks for stopping by, and the kind words. Elaine Paige is one of the great voices of the theater.

  5. Vishwanathan Anand is World Chess Champion again ! The way Vishy beat Veselin Topalov with Black pieces speaks volumes of his brilliance. Playing on his opponent's home ground in a seemingly hostile environment, Anand held his nerves, the mind-champion that he is.After Vishy was acknowledged as a prodigy, the interest in Chess in India, and particularly in the south, has been growing at a tremendous rate. We now even have national tournaments for age categories as low as Under-5 !



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