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?