Song written by Ricky and Marty Wilde.
Musically and lyrically, 'Cambodia' showed a change in direction for the Wildes from the New Wave feel of her debut album. The song was mainly synth-driven, with oriental-sounding percussion. The lyrics, telling the story of a Thailand-based RAF wife whose husband mysteriously disappears after flying out to Cambodia and never returns, are inspired by some of the tragedies that occurred in South Vietnam.
In writing the lyrics, Marty Wilde imagined an American pilot flying in a F-4 Phantom II and getting shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
This track was the fourth single by Kim Wilde in 1981, ending a very successful year for Kim. It was a number one hit in France (where more than one million copies were sold), Sweden and Switzerland, while peaking at number 2 in Germany and the Netherlands.
In 1982, 'Cambodia' appeared as the tenth track of the album Select.
A more up-tempo, instrumental version of the song was included on the album as Reprise, with the exception of Japan, where the Reprise track was deleted in favour of the song Bitter Is Better.
In the UK, the single was only released on 7" format. However, in Germany a 12" single was also made and distributed around Europe. This 12" single contained no special versions, it contained the same tracks as the 7" single.
See also this page in the discography.
'Cambodia' was remixed in 2006 by Paul Oakenfold, included as a bonus track on the album Never Say Never.
In 2018, a live version recorded during the UK live tour was included in the deluxe edition of Here Come the Aliens.
In 2019, a live recording from Paris was included in the album Aliens Live.
In 2020, Cherry Pop released four remixes: the Matt Pop Extended version, the Matt Pop instrumental, Luke Mornay Urbantronik mix and the Luke Mornay Urbantronik Instrumental.
'Cambodia' was performed live on almost every concert she has done since her Debut Tour. Notable exceptions were the Here & Now Christmas Party in 2002, the Here & Now Greatest Hits Tour in 2003, the Christmas concerts at Knebworth House in 2014, live dates in December 2015, the Here Come the aliens tour and during the Return of the Aliens Tour.
'Cambodia' has been covered by Apoptygma Berzerk, Archon, Base Unique, Brutto, April Crimson, Chinese Theatre, Malik Djoudi, Enigmatic, Hearse, Icecode, Kim, Kurz, Letris, Liba, Libra, My Enemy, Nobody, Nolem, Post Life Disorder, Pulsedriver, Richard Romance Synthesizer Section, Roma Amor, Second Version, Six Pack, Lynn Sweet, the Top of the Poppers and Vorwerk.
There is also a Finnish translation of "Cambodia', which is called 'Matka Tuntemattomaan', performed by Satu Pentikäinen in 1982.
A Croatian version entitled Način Života was released by Armada Rijeka in 2008.
A Czech version entitled 'At Život Má Svuj Dej' was released by Jiřina Urbanová in 1984.
A German version entitled 'Verloren in der Einsamkeit' was released by German singer Jacqueline in 2010.
Marty Wilde about 'Cambodia'
This is my favourite track on the whole album. One day, Ricky and I heard a track with two bass notes repeating one after the other and we both thought this would be a great introduction to a song. Ricky did a demo at RAK Studios and had added these kind of Oriental percussion sounds to it. It sounded to me as though it had to be something Oriental and I asked one of Kim's friends who was listening to the demo had anyone else ever written a song called 'Cambodia'. She said that there was a similar title recorded by the Dead Kennedys (Holiday in Cambodia - ed.) and at first I was a bit concerned because I wanted the song to be original and fresh.
However, I thought the subject matter so good and so strong that I went ahead anyway and although I didn't want to turn the song into a political essay, I tried in my own way to show what I believe that most people felt about South Vietnam and the terrible tragedies that occurred there. When we originally wrote the song I imagined an American pilot flying in a MacDonnell Phantom and getting shot down by a SAM air missile. On the 'Reprise' originally there was going to be the sound of jet engines followed by the sound of a rocket blowing the Phantom up, but in the meantime we'd had the sleeve of Kim's single 'Cambodia' and on the back of the sleeve, as probably most of you know, there was a cartoon which featured helicopters, so we had to change the sound to helicopters which saddened me a great deal because I would like to have extended the song and I could have tried to influence Ricky to put a few more frilly and exciting synth sounds on to that Reprise. Those of you that saw Kim's show will know that we used the Reprise to open up the show and I must confess sometimes when I stood watching the show I used to get a particular kick out of it. (1)
Kim about 'Cambodia'
My father wrote the lyrics months ago. It was meant for inclusion on my second album. But we thought it was so good, that we released it as a single. It's about a wife of an American pilot, who ends up being killed in the Cambodian war. The lyric was originally written in the first person. But while I could really identify with the woman in question, I have changed it, so that I now sing it in third person. (2)
'Cambodia' is a mysterious love story, like Casablanca. Flying off into the night to never return. One wonders what happened to the guy. It's like that Gene Pitney song, '24 Hours From Tulsa' where you tend to think, who is that woman who stopped him going back to his wife, which isn't a particularly profound thing to think about but you can't help wondering. It's very haunting. (3)
It's a song that leaves you with various questions. A song which you don't know what it's about or what's happening in it. You get a certain idea, but you just don't know. And a song like that tries a lot to make the mystery bigger. That's Cambodia to me. It's open to all kinds of interpretations. Like most of our songs, really. That's why I don't like talking about it. It's irrelevant. (4)
[Marty] was recording at RAK Records, Mickie Most's record label in Charlbert Street, our first label, Sting was playing in the next studio doing some work and came in and said, you know - I wasn't there that day so I missed this, but I got told about it - he wandered in and said 'would you like me to put some bass down on the track', which he did, and then apparently my dad didn't like it very much and then Rick said 'I think it was better simpler, the way we did it', so - I can't believe I'm saying this - (...) they were probably right, you know, just because he is quite astonishing doesn't mean that he got it right that day on that song. (5)
Highest chart positions
Germany: 2 (26 weeks)
Ireland: 15 (8 weeks)
Netherlands: 2 (12 weeks)
South Africa: 2
Sweden: 1 (22 weeks)
Switzerland: 1 (11 weeks)
United Kingdom: 12 (12 weeks)
(1) Kim Wilde Fanclub Magazine May 1983
(2) At December 17 she presents her new song 'Cambodia' in Musikladen: Kim Wilde, Bravo (Germany), 16 December 1981
(3) Born to be Wilde, ZigZag (UK), February 1982
(4) Kim Wilde: Paul Evers’s bubblegum picture, Muziekkrant Oor (Netherlands), 7 April 1982
(5) Life of Brian... Mannix that is, Episode 19, Kim Wilde, 5 October 2021