One night in Bangkok…

So I figured I’d take another spin through the Amazon MP3 store while I was half-listening to a review of the last Supreme Court term by a panel on C-SPAN.

When I switched over to the Soundtracks section at Amazon, I was amazed to find that the number one song in Soundtracks was “One Night in Bangkok,” a song that originally appeared in the 1980’s in the broadway musical Chess. And I can tell you why it’s number 1 right now.

Back in the 1980’s I was growing up in, well, several towns, but at the time One Night in Bangkok hit the Top 40, I was living in Raleigh, NC. I listened almost religiously to the local “Morning Zoo” show, which at the time was something of an innovation in morning radio. I even taped the morning show and for years maintained a collection of perhaps 25 cassettes of bits and songs from the “Zoo.”

One Night in Bangkok hit its zenith of popularity that year — I think it was 1985 or so. Aside from being played repeatedly on the radio, the local Zoo team took the song and rewrote the lyrics to make it Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill-specific, with references to local towns and culture. Back then the Research Triangle Park (RTP) was just starting to boom, pulling in a mass of educated workers from the north into this historically less-educated area. The influx of Yankees was bulking up the economy while transforming the culture. The Zoo players were part of that experience — they were marketing to the northerners who found themselves in the land of “Y’all.” Making fun of local southern culture was de rigeur, as has been the tradition of northerners for years.

Anyway… The rewritten Bangkok song was a hit and was played even more than the original from Chess. Until it burned out, of course. I consider the Bangkok song in either format to be a real cultural touchstone for me.

As I’ve collected music over the years, I’ve wanted to get a copy of the original One Night in Bangkok song. While in college, you could get the entire show — Chess — on CD, but it was extraordinarily expensive. It cost about double what any other two-disc set cost at that time. I wanted the song, but I wasn’t going to spend $40+ for just a single track.

Years passed and the Chess album price didn’t decline much, and for a while it was even out of print. The Bangkok song never made it into 1980’s compilations, I’m sure due to licensing and royalty issues. When iTunes came about, I looked for the song when I thought of it, never found it, and just gave up.

Us 1980’s nerds never forget, however. Turns out the song was released in CD compilation form back in 2000, but wasn’t put online until recently. With the opening of the Amazon MP3 store, the song was made available as a single track in 256Kb un-DRM’ed glory. It is chopped up a little from the original — there are some lines missing — but the bulk of it is there. iTunes has it now, too, but at 128Kb.

So… All that pent-up collectors’ demand has been released, and now a track from an obscure 1980’s broadway show is available to a listening public that came of age in the 1980’s and now has the requisite disposable income to buy up memories from the past.

The (moronic) music companies may yet wise up. They need to open their catalogs completely and offer everything up via easy-to-use and fairly-priced online mechanisms. Honest people will be honest — you have to give them a chance. It’s well worth $0.89 to me to buy a piece of my musical history. And apparently a lot of other folks agree.

By the way… it appears that tracks in the Amazon store are not all encoded the same way. The last songs I bought were encoded in Variable Bit Rate format. But the Bangkok track is straight up MP3 at 256Kb. So the catalog at Amazon is apparently not monolithic.