Songs About Asia

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Songs about Asia can be profoundly moving and dynamic – such as Billy Joel’s classic “Goodnight Saigon.” This timeless classic conveys the fear, sacrifice, and brotherhood of soldiers during Vietnam.

KHA’s “Stop the Hatred,” an upbeat Asian American song designed to build unity within Asian American, Pacific Islander (AAPI), and Indian communities amid increasing xenophobia, is another powerful piece.

David Bowie – China Girl

Given today’s world, where everything is scrutinized to an extraordinary degree, and any possible offending word or phrase is brought into sharp focus, many songs that weren’t considered controversial decades ago would likely be looked upon differently now – such as David Bowie’s China Girl who may play into some racial stereotypes.

Bowie famously covered this song written by Iggy Pop and first featured it as a single on his 1977 album The Idiot as part of his Let’s Dance album in 1997. Nile Rodgers produced that version and added his signature oriental guitar riff, which would become one of its signature features.

Lyrically, the lyrics depict a Caucasian man falling for a woman of Chinese heritage and hoping that their love will transform her life for the better. Unfortunately, however, the narrator in this song may have made some insensitive remarks that could have been perceived as offensive in different circumstances.

Brian De Palma directed a music video for this song called China Girl, which featured New Zealand-born actress Geeling Ng (now commonly referred to by her anglicized name of Ching) as China Girl, and she later declared it to be one of her happiest experiences ever. They began an off-screen romance that eventually blossomed, and he often performed the song live during his shows.

No matter the controversy around its lyrics or message in the video, there’s no denying this song features beautiful and catchy music. Additionally, in today’s more politically correct world, it might be considered subversive to mock Southeast Asian stereotypes like this song does, yet it serves as an excellent example of artists pushing boundaries to stand up against injustices.

Murray Head – One Night In Bangkok

If you’re into 80s music and YouTube, chances are you have come across One Night in Bangkok. The song became a hit when it debuted as part of Chess in 1985 – composed by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus from ABBA with Tim Rice as its writer – depicting an international chess tournament between the US and Russia, set against Bangkok as its backdrop.

Bangkok’s nightlife inspired the song’s music and blends traditional Thai with 80s synth-pop elements to produce its unique sound that has since become a classic. Additionally, its lyrics explore how nightlife in Bangkok contrasts with chess play; both aspects make this piece quite captivating.

The original rendition of “Massage Parlors in Bangkok,” performed by British actor Murray Head and Swedish singer Anders Glenmark, was very well received around the world, reaching #3 in both Canada and the US. The title is an indirect reference to an informal massage parlor, while the chorus references orientalist stereotypes of Bangkok being filled with prostitutes.

One Night in Bangkok is an outstanding example of Orientalism – which refers to the incorporation of Middle Eastern and Asian cultural aspects into Western views of rationality and progressivism. The song opens with Middle Eastern-sounding strings even though Bangkok lies far away.

This song serves as a compelling critique of Western culture, with its protagonist feeling disillusioned after experiencing Bangkok. Despite his attempts at finding comfort through chess, he ultimately fails and returns home. At the conclusion of this song, he vows never to return and claims that Bangkok is too decadent for mental severe pursuits such as chess; yet, at the same time, it is also intended as commentary about Westerners being unable to fully grasp or appreciate Asian cultures and practices, a common thread running throughout many Western songs about Asia.

Kyu Sakamoto – Sukiyaki

Kyu Sakamoto achieved something no other Asian performer had managed before or since: reaching the top of American charts during the summer of 1963, singing entirely in Japanese (except for its English title) for 14 weeks on Ue o Muite Arukou (“I Love You”). Before being overtaken by 13-year-old Stevie Wonder’s song of summer, “Singin’ in the Rain,” not long before their arrival! No Beatles yet existed!

Pye Records of Britain first released Sakamoto’s Ue o Muite Arukou as Sukiyaki when it came over to America due to radio DJs finding the title more accessible to pronounce and remember than its original. Ishizaka Noriichiro may have taken great delight in how well this title served his goal of portraying Japan as an approachable ally after World War II had ended.

Three months after the initial release of Sukiyaki, Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen recorded a Dixieland jazz version that became an instantaneous hit in Britain, reaching number 10 on its second week on sale. Dave Dexter Jr, a Capitol Records executive who had heard Kenny Ball’s recording, suggested changing its title to Sukiyaki because it would be easier for Americans to pronounce than its original title.

No matter the truth of its creation or otherwise, however, Sukiyaki by Rokusuke Ei and Hachidai Nakamura were still popular worldwide due to its music by Rokusuke Ei and Hachidai Nakamura; Hiroshi Yamazaki and Takashi Miyamoto’s orchestral arrangement featuring pentatonic major scale and hiccup-laden enunciation was an established element in Japanese folk music; Hiroshi Yamazaki and Miyamoto had also established this signature pentatonic major scale within Japanese folk music which in turn made Sukiyaki an international success, with Sakamoto winning hearts everywhere; even Japanese audiences couldn’t resist its charm; This song served as the background music in 1983 film Forbidden Colours directed by Yukio Mishima; also German trance group Watergate released a remix called Heart of Asia which became immensely popular throughout Europe; both versions were highly successful worldwide!

Kim Wilde – Cambodia

Kim Wilde grew up consuming classic pop music such as The Stranglers and Skids. She sang in church choirs, played Mary in her primary school musical nativity play, and learned piano – giving her an early headstart towards pursuing a career in music.

In 1981, she released her debut album and went on to enjoy an immensely successful career. Cambodia was her fourth single and featured an emotionally stirring new wave song about an Air Force wife sent to Thailand for work who is unaware that soon afterward, her husband will be sent on an involuntary mission and may never return home again.

Musically, it is a synth-driven number with Oriental-sounding percussion and lyrics about war’s hardships and losses, setting itself apart from her earlier works with its darker sound that she found herself gravitating toward as opposed to the new wave sound she had explored in her first three albums. It became a hit in France and Sweden before charting at #2 in Germany and Switzerland and later appearing on her 1982 album Select.

Kim’s voice is gentle and expressive, not harsh or throaty like some of the other female stars of her time. She narrates her song with feeling, showing sympathy for its characters while simultaneously depicting its effects and those associated with conflict.

Since its initial release in 1981, this song has been covered by various artists, such as Swedish band Enigmatic in 1996, German melodic death metal band Hearse in 2004, Yugoslav-German electronic music DJ Luke Mornay in 2010, and Dutch electronic dance producer Marco V in 2009. Kim Wilde included it in nearly all her concerts since her initial tour; her 2015 ‘Here Come The Aliens’ world tour featured it prominently. Cherry Pop also released four remixes: Matt Pop Extended version, Matt Pop Instrumental mix by Luke Mornay Urbantronik Mix, and Luke Mornay Urbantronik Instrumental versions by Cherry Pop.