From Kent to ARIA: Carl Douglas – “Kung Fu Fighting”

Published: April 03, 2018

I must confess that this is not my idea; having recently come across Tom Breihan’s ‘The Number Ones’ column for Stereogum, and in turn, Tom Ewing’s ‘Popular’ column for Freaky Trigger, I felt inspired to approach the format from my own geographical perspective; that is, review every single to reach number 1 on the ARIA Charts/Kent Report, and assign a numerical grade from 1-10. In the interest of brevity (and some pertinence), the column shall begin from July 1974, the date in which the initial Kent Report was first published commercially, and work forwards from there. Dependent upon time constraints and general interest, publishing of these articles will, similar to Ewing and Breihan’s columns, be daily. And now…


 

R-563104-1131904524.jpegCarl Douglas – “Kung Fu Fighting”

16 December – 30 December 1974 (3 Weeks).

Perhaps the best argument against the posterity of the charts and certain song’s placement within them is that they often fete cultural moments that are decidedly one time only. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the virtue of being inane and mindless; however, when oriental riffs become lodged into critical discussions like this, it’s hard not to condescend to the source material. Which is a literary way of saying: this thing hasn’t aged well.

Having said that, it wouldn’t have aged well even if society decided that the main riff for this song is just slightly offensive retrospectively. Regardless of all of that discussion, it’s a silly, danceable disco song that maintains an accessible, driving groove. But it has also received a level of ubiquity all over the world that to contain the discussion of impact within Australia would be to ignore the fact that just about everybody in the Western world has heard this song before, and they’re also probably over it. It was a moment when vaguely overcooked and self-serious kung fu cinema dominated segments of pop culture. Consider the Wu-Tang Clan, and the sampling has aged gracefully and tastelessly; consider Carl Douglas, and it’s just another annoying novelty song that’s been remixed one too many times and appeared in one too many Jaden Smith movies.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with novelty, and there’s nothing wrong with “Kung Fu Fighting;” it’s far less insufferable than the “Macarena,” and it’s a lot more fun than “Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of…),” which deserve every critical drubbing and sour sound off they receive. If you can manage not to wince, then congratulations, you’ve found a (relatively) timeless moment in pop history. 6.

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