Thursday, February 24, 2005

1974: DOUGLAS

Carl DOUGLAS
Kung Fu Fighting (17 Aug - 1)
Dance The Kung Fu (30 Nov - 35)

Written literally in ten minutes by producer Biddu as a quickfire cash-in B-side to the projected single "I Want To Be Your Everything" and sung by a blameless Jamaican-born session singing pro and ex-engineer who in 1974 was already something of a veteran, recording amongst many other singles the Northern Soul classic (and one of Laura's favourite Northern Soul tracks) "Serving A Sentence On Life," "Kung Fu Fighting" is nonetheless one of the most disturbing number one singles there has been. I note the evident written-in-ten-minutes nature of the lyrics ("They were funky Chinamen!/From funky Chinatown!") and also the way in which the production and arrangement anticipate "Relax" by nearly a decade - those proto-"Poison Arrow" drum rolls and above all the rhythmic and frankly orgasmic grunting which runs like a Berwick Street spine down the side of the whole record.

And that's the problem. When Douglas gets to "Here comes the big boss/Let's get it on!" the analogy is clear - fighting equals fucking. Is "Kung Fu Fighting" the only explicitly pro-violence number one single there has ever been? Of course it's that purposive ambiguity which keeps us hooked and sent the thing to number one in the first place, but as a schoolboy I also recall very clearly the way in which some of my fellow pupils chanted out the song enthusiastically while punching and kicking the shit out of each other. It's a tough conundrum, and by the song's climax Douglas is positing the concept of fighting as a psychedelic liberator ("The sudden motion made me skip/Now we're into a brand new trip"). It seemed to fit in almost too closely with the dark and violent urban year which 1974 was for some of us.

For the soundalike follow-up, Douglas might himself have realised that he needed to pull back. On "Dance The Kung Fu," he pleas, "So when you feel like you wanna fight/People listen to me!/Ohhhh - don't get uptight!" And at the song's fadeout he adds another psychedelic talisman: "Peace and love, sweet as a flower/You can do this dance for hours and hours and hours!" In other words: wait! I didn't mean to say that you should beat each other up! It's a dance! It's just a bit of fun! But look at these chart positions. The forbidden sometimes wins out against the reassuring.