How the other side of the world sings about Bangkok

By Patipat Kittichokwattana

Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, is a place that many musicians expressed their impressed moments into lyrics and melodies. Certainly, Thai people can find a lot of Thai songs that sing how beautiful Bangkok is, for example “Krungtep Ratri” by Suntraporn, and “Krungtep Muangthong” by Santi Duangsawang that captured the beauty and heavenly landscape. But many see Bangkok from the other side, for instance “Oh Ho Bangkok” by Poompaung Daungchan and “Sawasdee Bangok” by Aoy Achara describing the civilized city but heartless and untrusted people.

The songs composed by outsiders who see of Bangkok from different perspectives are so interesting. It’s good to know how Thai and Western people differently see the same thing, for example, Western people give priority to women than men, unlike Thai culture that women have to serve men, and unlike Western people, it’s common for Thai people to say never mind or “Mai Pen Rai” and left a dispute issue unresolved. Accordingly, I gathered some interesting song about Bangkok by entering the word “Bangkok song” to google search and further discuss on how they sing about Bangkok.

Google search results shown the first and famous Bangkok song is “One Night in Bangkok”, 1984, by British singer Murray Head and composed by Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. It was a part of an original theme song in musical theatre “Chess”. This song was categorized as new wave genre by its notable synthesizer and electronic sound. The rap verses described dark side, sex, and sin of Bangkok night life while the choruses stressed on cautious of man’s guilty. Later, Thai government banned this song since it conveys misunderstanding about Thai society and disrespect toward Buddhism.

“A Passage to Bangkok” in the album’s title “2112” by Rush, a progressive rockband from Canada, released in 1976. The song filled with heavy rock guitar riff incorporated with a few oriental tone variations. Bangkok supposed to be one destinations of the journey that included Columbia, Jamaica, Morocco, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Nepal. Although lyrics didn’t directly show exact words, but between the lines expressed the hippy culture and drugs addict particularly marijuana. Bangkok was named in this song because border area between Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos, known as golden triangle, the biggest place of opium and heroin production. But it was in the past.

One of my favorite songs, the Canadian indie rock band “Destroyer” released their tenth studio album “Poison Season” in 2015 with a song name “Bangkok”. The song begins in a slow pace with piano as a core instrument and string section in background. The lyrics seem to be poetic and abstract form and Bangkok is symbolized to convey something in composer’s mind which might be his past guilty, as someone said. The song changes to a more active groove in the second verse. Then comes the solo that trumpet and guitar duel in jazzy mood supported by soft brass section which results in perfect combination. It’s interesting to note that Dan Bejar, composer, had never visited Bangkok before he wrote this song.

Interestingly, rather than English, Bangkok song also found in another language and it surprisingly reached the top chart and gained massive commercial success in the country. “Roma-Bangkok” is a single of Baby K., Italian rapper, that released in 2015. This song comes from the second studio album “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”. It’s styling in electro pop with medium tempo and up beat dance throughout the song. Lyrics was written in Italian but with a little help from google translate we can understand what Bangkok means in this song. It says no matter how far they are, she will fly from Milan, Hong Kong, London, Rome, and Bangkok to be there with her lover. In fact, all the places named in this song were the places she’d ever lived in her lifetime.

There are much more Bangkok songs than I could gather elaborately. Though some see the bright side, some see the dark side of Bangkok, whether good or bad, music still beautiful thing in this world. Without music, life would be a mistake (Friedrich Nietzsche).

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Patipat Kittichokwattana, a PaddyNews writer