"Kung Fu Fighting" was rated number 100 in VH1's 100 Greatest one-hit wonders, and number 1 in the UK Channel 4's Top 10 One Hit Wonders list in 2000, the same channel's 50 Greatest One Hit Wonders poll in 2006 and Bring Back ... the one-hit Wonders, for which Carl Douglas performed the song in a live concert.
The song was originally meant to be a B-side to "I Want to Give You My Everything" (written by Brooklynsongwriter Larry Weiss, and sung by Carl Douglas). The producer Biddu originally hired Douglas to sing "I Want to Give You My Everything" but needed something to record for the B-side, and asked Douglas if he had any lyrics they could use. Douglas showed several, out of which Biddu chose the one that would later be called "Kung Fu Fighting" and worked out a melody for it without taking it too seriously.
After having spent over two hours recording the A-side and then taking a break, "Kung Fu Fighting" was recorded quickly in the last ten minutes of studio time, in only two takes, due to a three-hour time constraint for the entire session. According to Biddu, "Kung Fu Fighting was the B-side so I went over the top on the 'huhs' and the 'hahs' and the chopping sounds. It was a B-side: who was going to listen?" After hearing both songs, Robin Blanchflower of Pye Records insisted that "Kung Fu Fighting" be the A-side instead.
Following its release, the song didn't receive any radio airplay for the first five weeks and it initially sold poorly, but the song began gaining popularity in dance clubs, eventually entering the UK Singles Chart at number 42 on 17 August 1974 and reaching the top on 21 September, after which it would remain at the top for three weeks. It was then released in the United States, where it was equally successful, topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The single would eventually go on to sell eleven million records worldwide.
British dance act Bus Stop reached number eight on the U.K. charts with their 1998 remix single of "Kung Fu Fighting", which sampled the original vocals by Carl Douglas and added rap verses. In Australia, the single received a gold certification from the ARIA.
In 2004, the German record label Echo Beach released an album entitled Kung Fu Fighting Remixes (Dub Drenched Soundscapes) that featured remixes of the track by 16 different artists including Adrian Sherwood, Dreadzone and Pole.
The song was used as the title song in the German version of the TV series Kung Fu. It has been used in many films and television shows since 1990 where there is a light-hearted spirit to the martial arts, including:
The song was also featured in the Seventies episode of The Supersizers Go... on BBC Two. The episode was aired on 10 June 2008, and featured Sue Perkins and Giles Coren sitting down to eat an average 1970s dinner in a period living room, watching the music video for "Kung Fu Fighting."