Quick guys, we need to record the B-side in two takes.
In the days when music came in vinyl discs, a B-side was a bonus; a place where artists threw in their experimental stuff. All the hits were expected to come from the A-side, which is what the studio execs usually listened to.
In 1974, Biddu Appaiah was a producer working with Carl Douglas. Biddu was a music producer from Bangalore and Carl was a Jamaican recording artist. The plan was to work on a song called “I Want To Give You My Everything” for the A-side. With little time to spare, Biddu and Carl rushed together a song for the B-side in two takes, the whole package completed in a couple of hours.
Biddu took the finished album to a studio executive, who wasn’t impressed at all. But when he heard the B-side, he changed his mind. The sides were flipped. For it held a surefire hit, surefire because of the martial arts films that were all the rage at the time, colloquially known as chop-socky films. The song was ‘Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting’.
35 years and 40 million album sales later, Biddu told a newspaper that he thought it would only sell about 20,000 units. Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting had become his greatest hit; the song was synonymous with either Biddu or Carl Douglas – and it won him the 1974 Grammy for most records sold. His song hadn’t just topped charts worldwide, though; it heralded the dawn of disco music in the West.
Biddu followed up his Grammy hit with ” Dance The Kung Fu”, a song in the movie Adalat (1976) featuring Amitabh Bachchan performing high kick dance moves in flared pants.
By the end of the 1970s, disco was already past its heydey. And so, there was just one thing remaining – to bring disco to his motherland. In 1979, while working on a film score for the movie Qurbani, Biddu ran into 15-year-old Pakistani pop singer Nazia Hassan. The subsequent collaboration – Disco Deewani (1981) – was to India and Pakistan what Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting was to Europe and the United States. Disco was back, and this time, in Asia. Nazia went on to build a career as the ‘Queen of Pop’ in Pakistan. And Biddu went on making pop stars out of thin air.
Biddu was famous in Japan even before he had exploded into fame in the West. In 1969, he produced a single written by the Bee Gees for the Japanese rock band “The Tigers” – then the most popular band in Japan. The band members didn’t speak English, and Biddu taught them to sing the lyrics phonetically. He did the same in China, Hong Kong and the Philippines – producing and composing music for local stars; bringing disco to the world.
The idea that Biddu was a “one-hit wonder” is immediately erroneous when you consider the world outside of the United States. Biddu kept his connection alive between East and West. Through the 1990s, Biddu worked on popularizing indie-pop artists like Alisha Chinai, Shaan and Sonu Nigam.
Following the events of September 11, he composed the album Diamond Sutra to spread a message of peace in a decade of war and violence. By then, his style had changed to encompass Indian elements such as Sanskrit chants and a fusionesque sound.
The India of the 21st century is a vastly different place than the one Biddu grew up in. He’s now an England-based artist, though he visits India frequently. In 2014, he was deeply disturbed by the atmosphere in Delhi and was concerned with the Government’s insensitivity in dealing with rape cases. He was blunt in his interview with the Times of India:
People are now saying that India is not a country of Gandhian philosophies anymore, it’s a place where men are running rampant, ill-treating their women…. Men in Delhi need a kick up their a**, because the way things are going, we are heading towards a precipitous cliff, and once we reach there, things will come crashing down
Biddu grew up in Bangalore; a city famous for its music scene. After studying in Bishop Cottons, he formed his first big band – the Trojans – and toured India. In 1967, he left for England with few prospects – and was cheated out of his travel money by a duplicitous travel agent. He circumvented Indian travel restrictions by boarding a ship bound to Mecca and posing as a pilgrim. Receiving his visa to go to Britain was his first real break. There, he worked as a chef in the American embassy. His music career didn’t kick off until he worked with the Japanese band. And until that fateful day in 1974, when he made the call to include a small but catchy number on the B-side of an album.
Biddu constantly kept his life interesting, even writing two novels when he wasn’t building up disco and pop artists. His life is key in any history of pop or disco, as the man who gave both its catchy beat in so many countries across the world. Somehow, he seems to have placed himself around opportunity – for while everybody was Kung-Fu fighting, Biddu Appaiah was as fast as lightning.
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