In 1974, a 32-year-old Jamaican singer called Carl Douglas was hoping to release a single called I Wanna Give You My Everything. One afternoon, his label’s head of A&R announced that the single could come out as soon as it had a B-side, and asked his colleagues to sift through Douglas’s recordings for suitable candidates. He went to lunch, came back an hour later and was greeted by a defiantly absurd disco banger by the name of Kung Fu Fighting.
That executive’s response, Douglas explains today from his Hamburg home, was this: “JESUS CHRIST! This is a monster. We need a B-side for THIS. He’s going into the FUTURE!”
Carl laughs at the memory. That’s only fair: Kung Fu Fighting was released 40 years ago this month, sold 11m copies, won a Grammy, and hit No 1 on both sides of the Atlantic. Last year, the song topped the charts in China for the first time, and is one of the 50 best-selling singles of all time. It’s also the quintessential novelty single.
Except the “novelty songs” they focus on are more what I’d call “Ibiza” singles:
Those nonsense dance tunes that sometime wind up becoming ironic gay favorites.
When I hear “novelty songs” I think of Dr. Demento — domestic basements and bedrooms, not foreign beaches.