It says a lot that I remember my first exposure to the group Culture Club. Tellingly, it had nothing to do with the music press or radio… or even MTV. It was in the pages of the frothing tabloid rag The Weekly World News, that I first encountered the phenomenon of Boy George. Leave it to that astounding publication to get their panties into a wad regarding Boy George long before the rest of the US media even had a clue as to what they would be in for! I thought that they would be also-rans that I may have never actually heard with a attention-seeking missile as a lead singer. Effiminate lead singers were a dime a dozen in the Post-Punk era, so I didn’t sweat the details. I cocked an eyebrow and moved on with my life.
Strangely enough, some months later, I actually came to hear the band in the least likely place possible. In my collegiate art classes, it was common to listen to music while working. In early 1982, the station we listened to a lot was WLOQ-FM, Orlando’s mellow “jazz” station that actually offended the least amount of ears. Five years later, and they would be playing many of the NWOBJP artists I was into at the time, but in 1982 there was still a helluva lot of Bob James and that ilk. So when the atmospheric lover’s rock of “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” got substantial airings on this station in early 1982, it caught my ear in the right way and I liked it. At the time, I didn’t know who it was since WLOQ was very light on the DJ chatter. I eventually found out it was the same band I’d read about many months earlier in the WWN and was slightly amazed.
I liked “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” and was shocked that this was the product of the band with the effeminate lead singer causing the tabloid outrage in the UK. It took several months more, but eventually the song managed to cross over to the pop charts in a big way, paving the way for Culture Club to compete with Duran Duran for the mantle of best-selling British New Wave act for a couple of years as we lurched towards the mid-80s. I found it ironic that MTV were among the last to add Culture Club to their playlists given that the band put themselves across so visually. MTV were apparently troubled by actors appearing in ironic blackface in the band’s video and truncated it to eliminate the offending images until a Top Of The Pops lipsync clip was substituted instead! Phew! A breathless nation moves onward!
I eventually bought a used LP copy of “Kissing To Be Clever” to get the song that I liked but the rest of the album was no Maserati. The material other than DYRWTHM was horn-cluttered pop music with mediocre production and repetitive structures. Watered down New Wave on its last legs, and worlds away from the haunting first sing I’d chanced to hear. But I was in the minority. Against all odds, Boy George charmed the entire world, apart from old fuddy duddies who took offense at Nancy boys sashaying around in [gulp] makeup! They were peeling hit singles off of that waxing like c-notes off a Mafia Don’s roll! “Time [Clock Of The Heart]!” “I’ll Tumble For You!” By 1983, you couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing Boy George chatting with some talking head.
That year I was perusing the import bins and saw the “new” Culture Club single; “Church Of The Poison Mind.” What a great title! “I’ll gamble a stamp!” I bought it and was rewarded with a quasi-Motown Stevie Wonder-esque number that was ennobled by great backing vocals by Helen Terry. Better still, the B-side was all hers! “Man Shake” featuring her on lead vocals was a killer cut, so the 7″ is in my Record Cell to this day!
Unfortunately, the rest of the “Colour By Numbers” singles that I’d heard [they were inescapable on the radio or MTV] were more tepid blandness, with a special note of distaste to be given to the repugnantly popular “Karma Chameleon!” This is one of my all time worst “must not hear” songs. Popular “New Wave” tracks that have long since worn out their welcomes by torrential overplaying. Infinitely worse in this case since the song was the furthest thing from a favorite in the first place. The resulting quasi-hoedown number was possibly even worse than The Eagles for my ears, and that’s saying a lot.
Having deftly sidestepped the traditional pitfall of the sophomore jinx, the band blithely consolidated their position of world dominance. Only to run smack into a brick wall of disdain for their third album. The leadoff single “The War Song” was no better or worse than anything I’d heard from them before, thought the chorus lyrics were particularly maladroit for this band; never ones to give Noël Coward cause for worry. Nevertheless, a metaphoric line in the sand had been crossed and the millions of fans they had accrued began to desert them in droves. Tours were cancelled. That sort of thing. Can’t say I was moved too much one way or another. Fifteen years later, I bought a used CD of “Kissing To Be Clever” to hear that one song again and see if maybe I was too harsh on their debut album. [I sometimes do this – usually to my chagrin] I wasn’t and now I have a copy of it on CD that I still need to unload.
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