Episode 83–Kung Fu Fighting

NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.

Hi! and welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, a weekly show that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.

My name is Claude Call, and I’m still on the road, so forgive any weird background noises. 

Remember to check out the website, How Good It Is Dot Com, and the Twitter, and the Instagram, and of course the Facebook page, which can be found over at Facebook dot com, slash, (ow) How Good It Is Pod.

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Here’s a fun trivia question for ye: many of you know that the song “I’d Like to Teach The World to Sing” began its life in 1971 as a television commercial for Coca-Cola. But believe it or not, it wasn’t the first song to start out that way. Only a year earlier, another song, originally written as a commercial jingle advertising a bank, became a hit single for a different musical act. What was the song and who turned it into a Top Five hit? 

As usual, I’ll have that answer at the end of the program. 

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In the early 1970s there was a genre of film that became quite popular, and it started with a movie called Five Fingers of Death, and when that one was successful, another one called Enter the Dragon was released, starring Bruce Lee. The films were called “chopsocky”, and they involved kung fu or other martial arts. The films were primarily made in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and usually featured some rather weird story lines, funky special effects or sound effects, and lots of violence. It’s also the source of a lot of jokes about movies being poorly dubbed into English. “Chopsocky” was a term coined by Variety Magazine as a kind of shorthand for the films, combining the phrase “chop suey” with “sock,” as in the old-fashioned definition meaning a punch. So, while it might be viewed as…kind of an offensive term nowadays, the magazine used it for martial arts films in general without the intent to add any negative connotations to them. 

Also around that time, you may recall, was the rise of disco music, and of course many artists were looking to get in on the action there. One of them was a guy by the name of Carlton George Douglas, who was born in Jamaica but grew up in the UK. Carl, as he was commonly known, was a session singer for the British label Pye Records, and he was recording a song called “I Want to Give You My Everything”, which was written by Brooklyn-based songwriter Larry Weiss.

[I WANT TO GIVE YOU MY EVERYTHING]

 “I Want to Give You My Everything” was produced by a British-Indian musician named Biddu Appaiah, who usually went by just Biddu. Biddu had hired Douglas to record the song, but–and how many times have we heard some version of this?–he realized that he didn’t have anything for the B side of the record. So Biddu asked Douglas if he had any lyrics kicking around. As it turned out, Douglas did have a few songs. One of them was inspired by his seeing a couple of kids in London doing some kung fu moves. Biddu chose that set of lyrics, and he quickly worked out a melody for it. But he didn’t really put a ton of effort into it.

Also as it turned out, Biddu didn’t book a lot of time in the studio for recording the lyrics, and it took over two hours to record “I Want to Give You My Everything”. After taking a break, they had very little time to record the B side, so they just kind of banged it out, two takes in just under the ten minutes they had remaining. 

[KUNG FU FIGHTING]

Biddu said in a 2004 interview that the song wasn’t meant to be a hit. Nobody in the studio took it seriously. Biddu said that because it was the B side, he went really over the top with the “HUH” and the “HAH” and the chopping sounds, because who cares? It’s the B side!

What he didn’t count on, though, was that when he played the recording of “I Want to Give You My Everything” to Robin Blanchflower at Pye Records, Blanchflower asked to hear the rest of the reel, which had “Kung Fu Fighting” on it. And it was Blanchflower who insisted that the song be released as the A Side.

Originally, this was thought to be a mistake, because when the record was first released in the UK in July of 1974, it got practically no airplay on the radio, and it sold very poorly. But it started to catch on in the dance clubs, and after more than a month of just sitting there, it entered the UK Singles Chart at Number 47 on August 17, making it to the top slot over there by September 21, where it spent three weeks. Shortly after that, it was released in the United States, where it went almost straight to the top of the Hot 100 on December 7 and stayed there for an additional week. And so far as I can tell, all of this makes Carl Douglas the first Jamaican-born singer to have a Number One hit in the US. 

There have been a few covers of the song, but there are really just two that are worth mentioning. The first is from 1998, and was recorded by British dance act Bus Stop, and if you thought the Chinese Riff was over the top in the original version, try this on for size: 

[BUS STOP]

There’s a little bit of remix, and obviously some sampling of Carl Douglas, enough that he gets partial credit on the record, and some rap verses thrown in for good measure. This version actually made it into the Top Ten in the UK and Number One in New Zealand, but it doesn’t appear to have charted anywhere in the US. 

[CEELO GREEN]

The other one is from 2008 and was recorded by Cee-Lo Green with an assist from Jack Black, and it was used in the soundtrack to the Dreamworks computer-animated film Kung Fu Panda. So far as I know, this one wasn’t released as a single. 

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And now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you about the first hit song that started out as a commercial jingle. As I noted, most people think that it’s “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” but in fact that song was beaten out by about a year by a different tune. 

[CROCKER]

Roger Nichols and Paul Williams wrote a song that was originally used in an ad for Crocker National Bank in Southern California. The ad agency wanted the bank to appeal to younger people, so they used the song, which made no direct reference to the bank, under footage of a young couple getting married and just starting out. The commercial was pretty popular, but the problem was that it worked too well, because it was attracting so many young customers, many of whom were looking for loans and had no collateral. So Crocker stopped using the ad campaign, although they did franchise it out to other banks to use in their ads. 

[CARPENTERS]

But Richard Carpenter thought he recognized Paul Williams’ singing voice, and since they both worked at A&M Records, he approached Williams and asked if the song was only one minute long, or if there was more. Williams said, “Of course, there’s more!” and then he and Nichols raced back to write the rest of the song. 

The Carpenters included the song on their second album, Close to You, and released it as their third single in mid-September. By the end of October, it had peaked at Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100, and stayed there for three weeks, blocked out by the Jackson Five’s “I’ll Be There” and then by the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You.” 

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Next time around, we’re going to find out How Good It Is, when we’re going to the Chapel of Love. 

Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you next time.