The minute I heard the lyric —
I’m on the case, can’t be fooled
Any objection is overruled
Oh, I’m the Arbiter and I know best
— then the backup singers —
He’s impartial, don’t push him, he’s unimpressed
— I knew I’d found my theme song.
“Chess,” by ABBA songwriters Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and legendary lyricist Tim Rice, is a musical with a (groan) checkered history, arguably more successful as a 1984 concept album than it’s ever been on stage. (“One Night in Bangkok” was a #3 hit single for Murray Head in 1985 and the 1986 London production ran for almost three years, but the ham-handedly revised Broadway show lasted only two months in 1988.)
I’m part of its small but diehard group of fans because it’s smart, with themes intricately appearing and reappearing in different songs; it’s cynical, with a more bitter than sweet view of life and relationships; and it rocks. Ladies and gentlemen, from one of the cult-favorite “Chess in Concert” productions, the Arbiter’s song:
(Yes, I know YouTube also has the music video by the original album Arbiter Bjorn Skifs, but it’s so, so ’80s. And don’t get me started on some of the recent mangled stagings; “Pity the Child” is the American’s song exclusively and having Florence sing any part of it is abominably wrong.)
But why is this only number two in my countdown of personal anthems? Well, my nieces outvote me two to one, so their pick will appear presently.