Original Cast Recording

Chess [Original Cast Recording]

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Chess was the concept album written by Tim Rice and composed by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and it was something you might have expected from the lyricist who brought you Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita and the musical team that wrote the songs and made up the male half of ABBA. That is to say, it had a meaty scenario and lots of catchy, eclectic pop music. But unlike Rice's earlier concept albums, this one was not based on an existing story to provide the lyricist with a plot. Instead, he drew upon existing U.S. and U.S.S.R. tensions as seen through an international chess tournament. But Rice's plot was convoluted, shot through with what seemed to be his real, more personal concerns -- the negative effects of success and celebrity and the pain of divorce. In fact, the work was more interesting when such matters were being explored than when Rice was going on about international relations, and his most effective songs were the sad romantic ballads like "Heaven Help My Heart" and "I Know Him So Well" (which became a number one hit in the U.K.). Andersson and Ulvaeus were typically tuneful, even if their score was so eclectic it lacked unity. The album's other hit single, "One Night in Bangkok," sounded like M's "Pop Muzik," and in turn may have helped inspire Miss Saigon. "Nobody's Side," a vocal showcase for Elaine Paige, kept threatening to turn into an ABBA song, and you wished it would. Elsewhere, the team drew on everyone from Debussy to Pete Townshend, and from Richard Rodgers to Alfred Newman, the Hollywood movie composer. Chess was mounted successfully in the West End in 1986 but unsuccessfully on Broadway in 1988. In subsequent productions, Rice has revised the story, but Chess remained a deeply flawed work with some excellent songs and performances.

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