356. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas

Good Lord, we did fall hard for disco in the summer of 1974, didn’t we! It suddenly feels like I’m covering the charts of a completely different country, so quickly has the musical landscape changed.

Kung Fu Fighting, by Carl Douglas (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 15th September – 6th October 1974

‘Kung Fu Fighting’ becomes the third disco #1 in four, which means that disco was cool for precisely two songs. Because this record, for all its many good points, is not ‘cool’. It’s – let’s be honest – ridiculous. Woah-oh-ho-ho… everyone knows the intro, the slow build up, the Oriental riff… Woah-oh-ho-ho…

And then click. Disco time. Everybody was kung fu fighting… Huh!… Hah! Those kicks were fast as lightning… (There seems to be no consensus on whether it is ‘those kicks’, ‘those kids’ or ‘those cats’. I’ve always thought it was ‘kicks’ – it makes sense in a song about a martial art – so I’ll stick with it.) This was the era of the classic Hong Kong Kung Fu movie – Bruce Lee, ‘Enter the Dragon’ and all that – and the songwriters seized the zeitgeist, mixed it with the up and coming new club sound, and scored a ginormous number one hit all around the globe.

Even in 2020, it is a song that most people will know. I’m not sure lines like they were funky Chinamen from funky Chinatown… would pass the censors these days, mind, especially when coupled with the aforementioned ‘Oriental riff’. (Though the way they manage to translate the riff into disco strings is probably the best bit of the whole song.) Come verse II, we meet funky Billy Chin and little Sammy Chong… he said, ‘Here comes the Big Boss’, let’s get it on… I mean, it’s dumb, but you’ll struggle to argue that it’s not fun.

Actually, it’s a hard song to really place. It’s a little too hip to be a novelty, but it’s way too silly to be treated as a serious pop record. Let’s treat it, then, as a slice of classic cheese. Throw it on at the end of a wedding disco and watch people fly. Literally, in some cases. Meanwhile, twelve-year-old me still has a massive soft spot for the Bus Stop version, which reached #8 in the late ‘90s, and which takes the disco of the original, ups the Kung Fu sound effects, adds rapping and a manic Eurodance beat to create something… Well, let’s just call it ‘something.’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was nobody of Chinese origin involved in the making of ‘Kung Fu Fighting’. Carl Douglas was Jamaican, while producer Biddu (a disco pioneer) was British-Indian. Douglas is almost the very definition of a one-hit wonder… alas the follow-up to this – ‘Dance the Kung Fu’ – made #35 (while he was also credited on the Bus Stop version.) To his credit, he is still happy to perform the song live, more often than not in his red Shaolin monk’s uniform, and if he’s proud of his biggest hit then who am I to judge?

21 thoughts on “356. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    It’s one of those songs that movies will use to show you they are in the seventies…one of those mile markers…I try to dislike it but I just can’t…

  2. This was a fun song when I was kid. I was eight. Now, it’s like a musical version of a train-wreck. You’re horrified but, you can’t stop listening (or watching). Have mercy…

      1. I liked it as a kid, and enjoyed re-discovering it when writing the post. It was a late 90s thing, remixing old disco hits. I seem to remember a ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’, too…

      2. That’s not bad. Yes, very 90s. I did a little bit of reading on the whole thing. Though Rod was part of a writing team for the words, the song is an amalgamation of Taj Mahal from Jorge Ben (basic melody) and Put Something Down On It from Bobby Womack (the string arrangement). N-Trance just added to it. I also discovered that the rapper that is featured in this died 2013.

        I can’t quite glean the clear melody from Ben but, Womack’s piece…yeah, you can definitely hear the string arrangement:

      3. Interesting. Actually, N-Trance were a pretty big dance act throughout the 90s and early 00s. This wasn’t their biggest hit by any means. Bit unfair to compare them to the Kung Fu Fighting remix, really.

  3. It’s cheese but good-natured cheese. I was and am still in favour of anything that brings Eastern music into the mainstream (my Singapore days in 1969-71, which was a mish mash of Western pop with Indian and Chinese styles of music, and a reason why I was into the whole Kung Fu culture on TV). I don’t believe that art genres and movements should be restricted to the culture that it originated in. Otherwise, no Eastern Classical music stars, no british rock n roll, no black Country, no K-pop version of US homogenised pop, it all gets a bit silly when “cultural appropriation” is really a way of saying kids getting inspired by music they grew up with that they heard around them, regardless of source.

    Carl had a “better” (non-cheesy) record, Run Back in 1977 is very much in the then-Billy Ocean brand of British versions of 60’s Motown classics, The Four Tops especially, but nobody remembers his minor hit these days….

    1. You are right. It’s a good natured tribute and a bit of fun. It’s not as if Douglas was in yellow-face and a Fu Manchu moustache… But I’ll bet there are DJs out there today who think twice about playing it, sadly.

  4. The song makes more sense when you realize that they recorded it in the 10 minutes they had left in their studio time coming up with a B-side to the more lush disco sounding “I Want To Give You My Everything.” It’s a song that wasn’t created with a whole lot of thought but the label liked it enough to release it as the A-side. It’s a pretty ridiculous song but it’s also too fun and innocent to get really worked up about.

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