×

Kung Fu Fighting: Carl Douglas' Chop-Socky Disco Hit

Music | December 7, 2020

Carl Douglas, studio portrait, doing Kung Fu poses, London, 1974 . (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Carl Douglas' 1974 #1 hit "Kung Fu Fighting" is one of the biggest-selling singles of all time, for a few reasons. It was a novelty song that caught a wave of enthusiasm for martial arts films, including Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon, which had shown in theaters the previous year. 

There's also the disco factor -- in summer 1974, disco had broken through to the pop charts when The Hues Corporation's "Rock The Boat" and George McRae's "Rock Me Gently" topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in consecutive weeks. Disco would go on to saturate the American radio airwaves (eventually prompting fierce backlash) but in late 1974, it was a hot new trend. The song has sold an estimated 11 million copies to date.

Today, it's a strand of the fabric of '70s culture, and it just might be impossible for listeners to resist the urge to break out their finest karate punches and grunts when they hear it. But "Kung Fu Fighting" was expected to be a forgotten dud by both Douglas and his producer Biddu. Instead it topped UK and US charts amplifying kung fu’s popularity into an even greater level.

Bruce Lee Ignited The Kung Fu Craze

Source: Pinterest

Between the late ‘60s and early ‘80s, Hong Kong and Hollywood blended together as karate-themed films flooded American movie theaters. The term “chopsocky” was coined to describe these films that often included exaggerated special effects, violence, and hilariously inaccurate dubbing. The movies were cheap and easy to make, by Hollywood standards, and many were released quickly over a short period of time. Beloved martial arts master and actor Bruce Lee can be credited for bringing Hong Kong action to the west with his entertainingly impressive karate skills he demonstrated on screen. In May 1973, the top three box office spots were also held by the kung-fu movies Fist of Fury (1972), Deep Thrust (1972), and Five Fingers of Death (1972).  The first of those starred Lee, as did The Way of the Dragon (1972), and Enter the Dragon (1973), and all were among the favorites of Americans and inspired a worldwide interest in martial arts. In 1972, the television series Kung Fu launched about a monk traveling through the wild west with only his karate skills to protect himself. 

'Enter The Dragon' Was Bruce Lee's Last And Biggest Movie

Source: MovieStillsDB

No film of the kung fu craze had quite the impact as Enter The Dragon, which today is still considered one of the greatest and most influential martial arts films of all time. The movie’s mainstream success inspired future kung fu television shows, video games, comic books, and the popularity of anime. Enter The Dragon crossed over to many cultures as it combined martial arts with the Blaxploitation genre that was also hot at the time. Kung fu was no longer enjoyed exclusively by Asian Americans and caucasians, but by all ethnicities. The film would be Lee’s final performance as he unexpectedly passed away a month before its release. Although Lee’s death was tragic, it sparked even greater curiosity into his life and karate in general. Americans seem to gravitate towards action and adventure, so kung fu films satisfied their need with their violence, fun, rewards of discipline, and proof that hard work and dedication pays off.

'Kung Fu Fighting' Was Intended To Be A B-Side

Source: Discogs.com

Just as the kung fu craze blended different cultures together, the story behind "Kung Fu Fighting" also involves quite a melting pot. The tune was written and recorded by Jamaican-born British singer Carl Douglas and produced by the British Indian musician Biddu. Douglas originally met with Biddu to record "I Want To Give You My Everything," a song written by Biddu and Larry Weiss that was planned to be Douglas’ new single. After spending two hours on this first track, they were left with only ten minutes to figure out a B-side. Douglas proposed a silly song he had written after watching a group of kids mock some karate moves with each other. They finished the song in two takes, and Biddu threw in numerous “huhs” and “hahs” along with a stereotypical "oriental" riff in order to fill up some time. Neither the singer nor the producer were very concerned about the song’s production since they assumed no one would pay attention to the B-side.

'Kung Fu Fighting' Is One Of The All-Time Chart Monsters

Source: Discogs.com

When "I Want To Give You My Everything"/"Kung Fu Fighting" was brought to Pye Records, Robin Blanchflower suggested they flip the A and B sides. It took a few weeks for any action to happen as radio stations weren’t playing the tune, so no one was buying it -- but its catchy beat eventually caught on to dance clubs. Soon, loud “huhs” and “hahs” were belted throughout disco parties and people sure got down to the thumping rhythm of the karate-filled song. The song capitalized on the success of the kung fu craze as one of the only funky songs about the topic. By September 1974, "Kung Fu Fighting" reached #1 on the UK singles chart, making Biddu the first Asian producer to achieve a #1 hit; in December it topped the Billboard Hot 100 and in January 1975 it went to #1 on the Billboard Soul/R&B chart. The song also went to the top of charts in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and West Germany. It's sold 11 million copies worldwide. 

'Kung Fu Fighting' Is A Simple Story

Source: Songkick

"Kung Fu Fighting" does not have any deep, lyrical meaning as it simply tells a story about so many people kung fu fighting because of the martial arts fad in entertainment. Douglas narrates as he watches the characters funky Billy Chin, little Sammy Chung, and the big boss (possibly inspired by the kung fu film The Big Boss) enter a karate fight. There isn’t a clear reason for this brawl and no winner is ever declared. It seems Douglas was merely kicking back to admire the action and take fascination in the “ancient Chinese art.” 

'Kung Fu Fighting' Lyrics

Source: Pinterest

Oh-hoh-hoh-hoah

Oh-hoh-hoh-hoah

Oh-hoh-hoh-hoah

Oh-hoh-hoh-hoah

Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting

Those kids were fast as lightning

In fact, it was a little bit frightening

But they fought with expert timing

There were funky China men from funky Chinatown

They were chopping them up

They were chopping them down

It's an ancient Chinese art

And everybody knew their part

From a feigning to a slip

And a kickin' from the hip

Everybody was Kung Fu fighting

Those kids were fast as lightning

In fact it was a little bit frightening

But they fought with expert timing

There was funky Billie Chin and little Sammy Chong

He said, here comes the big boss, let's get it on

We took the bow and made a stand

Started swaying with the hand

A sudden motion made me skip

Now we're into a brand new trip

Everybody was Kung Fu fighting

Those kids were fast as lightning

In fact it was a little bit frightening

But they did it with expert timing

Oh-hoh-hoh-hoh, ha

Oh-hoh-hoh-hoh, ha

Oh-hoh-hoh-hoh-ha

Keep on, keep on, keep on

Sure enough

Everybody was Kung Fu fighting

Those kids were fast as lightning

In fact it was a little bit frightening

Make sure you have expert timing

Kung Fu fighting, had to be fast as lightning...

Tags: Carl Douglas | Disco | Kung Fu | Kung Fu Fighting | Novelty Music | One-Hit Wonders

Like it? Share with your friends!

Share On Facebook

Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.