After a spell singing with Malcolm McLaren's prodigies Bow Wow Wow George caught the performance bug and formed Culture Club whose name mirrored their disparate races, religions and sexuality. After signing with Virgin, thanks to some classy demos, they released Kissing to be Clever in 1982, which was notable for slow burner 'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me' whose lilting beat was based around Jamaican lovers rock. But it was no one hit wonder. The dance floor friendly 'I'll Tumble 4 Ya' and a belatedly added 'Time (Clock of the Heart)' made stateside reviewers perk up and admit that Britain had produced a truly cosmopolitan modern soul act.
While the debut went Platinum it was immediately eclipsed by sophomore disc Colour by Numbers, again produced by Steve Levine. Culture Club hit their straps here, aided by former Sailor member, trusted old hand Phil Pickett as lyrical collaborator and melody arranger and George's ideal vocal foil, the larger than life Helen Terry. Generally acknowledged to be one of the most essential albums made in the decade the classics simply tumble out from the moment the unmistakable throb of 'Karma Chameleon' hits the air. Some would say that's not even the best track: certainly 'It's A Miracle', 'Church of the Poison Mind' and 'Miss Me Blind' are as good as anything in the band's catalogue.
The blue-eyed soul method, laced with George's totally unique vocal and writing style, encouraged the Club to take the 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' approach and 1984's amusingly titledWaking Up with the House on Fire was another strong set that was harshly treated at the time but now reveals a couple of real gems in the form of Mannequin, which utilises some nifty Beach Boys flavoured harmonies, and the subtle R&B track 'Crime Time'. The band's live star was now soaring but they took their time with the follow-up, From Luxury to Heartache, the title a possible reference to the inevitable toll that stardom brought. Despite the pressures, FLTH is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, the legendary veteran Arif Mardin produced it and secondly George's lyrics, which had hitherto been pretty carefree, now took on a darker significance. If there were problems in the camp you wouldn't have guessed it from the opener 'Move Away' and the overall danceable nature of the other songs have weathered better than was first thought making it a welcome return to the fold for a recording that had been overlooked for a while.
Boy George's solo career then ensued with plenty more lover's rock masterpieces to come but Culture Club reunited in 1998, making a well regarded compilation album plus extras - after their performance on the Storytellers series. The new single 'I Just Wanna Be Loved' proved that demand for their sound had endured and the new studio album, Don't Mind If I Do spawned another hit in 'Your Kisses Are Charity'. Right now there are further rumours of another reunion with assurances that plenty of new material is already in the can. Good news.
One of Culture Club's strengths of course is an ability to appeal to people of all ages. Theirs is a classless inclusive sound that will just as easily be whistled by a taxi driver as a High Court judge or a bunch of kids in the playground. And their mums. In other aspects George embodies an almost anti-rock and roll style, perhaps not surprising given his immersion in Latin, Motown and obscure reggae 45s.
Obviously all five original studio albums are recommended but then there are also plenty of decent compilations. Of those, This Time, The First Four Years, All The Best and Greatest Moments offer a definitive introduction, as does 2002's lovingly assembled Culture Club box set. Those with a mind to get their freak on will also check out 1991's excellent 12" Mixes Plus because that was another format that George always treated with great respect. In fact that's the thing about him and the group - they knew that pop music was a craft and not a throwaway commodity.
There's colourful stuff in their catalogue, for sure. Golden nuggets and chameleon fusions and more than a touch of spirituality. Definitely a Club worth joining.
Colour by Numbers was Culture Club's most successful album, and, undoubtedly, one of the most popular albums from the 1980s. Scoring no less than four U.S. hit singles (and five overseas), this set dominated the charts for a full year, both in the United States and in Europe. The songs were infectious, the videos were all over MTV, and the band was a media magnet. Boy George sounded as warm and soulful as ever, but one of the real stars on this set was backing vocalist Helen Terry, who really brought the house down on the album's unforgettable first single, "Church of the Poison Mind."
This album also featured the band's biggest (and only number one) hit, the irresistibly catchy "Karma Chameleon," its more rock & roll Top Five follow-up "Miss Me Blind," and the fourth single (and big club hit), "It's a Miracle" (which also featured Helen Terry's unmistakable belting). Also here are "Victims," a big, dark, deep, and bombastic power ballad that was a huge hit overseas but never released in the U.S., and other soulful favorites such as "Black Money" and "That's the Way (I'm Only Trying to Help You)," where Boy George truly flexed his vocal muscles.
In the 1980s music was, in many cases, flamboyant, fun, sexy, soulful, colorful, androgynous, and carefree, and this album captured that spirit perfectly. A must for any collector of 1980s music, and the artistic and commercial pinnacle of a band that still attracted new fans years later.
Words - Jose Promis.
Connected to the New Romantic movement of the early '80s, but with a far more pop approach than some of their peers, Culture Club racked up platinum sales and Top Ten hits worldwide for a brief, brightly burning time. While the group quickly disintegrated from the inside out, smash hits like "Karma Chameleon" and "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" have become emblematic of '80s culture and nostalgia for the decade.
Essential's lengthy 16 tracks include these and many of Culture Club's other officially issued singles, which works both for and against it's overall quality. While the inclusion of non-album hit and new wave classic "Time (Clock of the Heart)" is a highlight, all three half-baked singles from the group's waning third album, 1984's Waking Up with the House on Fire, break up the momentum of the collection. Remixes of failed early singles "I'm Afraid of Me" and "White Boy" could have been left off as well. Even with the amount of inferior material, the strength of Culture Club's ubiquitous smash hits as well as lesser singles like "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" makes Essential a more than adequate '80s dance party staple.
Words - Fred Thomas
Culture Club's first album in 13 years doesn't disappoint on any level, and proves why they were one of the biggest bands of the 1980s. In fact, it's easily their most solid, mature, and focused album. They effortlessly blend together all the musical elements that made them a pop phenomenon, ranging from rock, soul, dance, and reggae to come up with a near perfect pop album. Boy George's vocals are as smoky, torchy ,and seductive as ever, and the band sounds tight and completely in tune with one another. Light reggae influences abound on this set, from the first single "I Just Wanna Be Loved," to the catchy, radio-ready "Maybe I'm a Fool" and the European hit "Your Kisses Are Charity" (which, on the single, featured vocals by Dolly Parton).
The album also has its share of soulful, melancholy ballads, including the closer, "Less Than Perfect," which harks back to their Colour by Numbers Euro-hit "Victims," and the masterfully dark "Cold Shoulder," which ranks among the band's best. Then there's the retro-rock of "Sign Language," the irresistible, Latin-tinged dance song "Black Comedy," and their inspired take on the David Bowie classic "Starman."
Not only is this a great album from start to finish, it is chock-full of songs which could be easily destined for hit single status. It is truly a mystery why this album was not released in the U.S., given the band's lasting popularity and Boy George's continuous media presence. This set would have easily been a hit, especially during the late-'90s/early-2000s craze for '80s music. A solid, satisfying album through and through.
Words - Jose Promis.
10 tracks released in 2009 which capture Culture Club in concert in 1982 – recorded for the BBC at The Lyceum in London.
Highlights include ‘I’ll Tumble 4 Ya’, ‘Do you Really Want to Hurt Me’ and ‘Church of the Poison Mind’.
Culture Club Collect – 12" Mixes Plus is the name of a remix collection, first released in 1991 by Virgin for the VIP Series, compiling 14 among remixed tracks by British band Culture Club, the original versions of which were recorded for their first four albums (1982–1986) plus a couple of their stand-out tracks, some B-sides as well as the P. W. Botha 12" Remix of lead singer Boy George’s solo British and European Number One "Everything I Own" (and that's what the plus in the title of the compilation actually refers to). Many tracks in fact remix and extend the edit versions of the songs from the various original albums.
For their fourth album, From Luxury to Heartache, Culture Club jettisoned producer Steve Levine in favor of pop/R&B veteran Arif Mardin, seeking to reverse the commercial decline they had suffered with their third album. When the danceable leadoff track, "Move Away," rose into the singles chart, that seemed like a good decision, and the rest of the album followed through with a pronounced drum sound and a relentless beat.
The group's flamboyance was played down in an attempt to redefine Culture Club as dancefloor favorites. But previously the group had enjoyed a broad-based pop appeal, and by focusing on one part of their constituency, they ultimately sacrificed the rest. What's more, to make this kind of music, you didn't need a group; all you needed was a lead singer and some synthesizers. No wonder Boy George went solo before the year was out.
Words - William Ruhlmann.
Released more than two years after Waking Up With the House on Fire derailed Culture Club's hit-making ways, This Time gathers the songs of one of the most successful pop bands of the '80s. All the U.S. hits are included (save for "Mistake No. 3," which is understandable). From the buoyant "Karma Chameleon" and the Motown-inspired "Church of the Poison Mind" to the breezy "Time (Clock of the Heart" and the new wave torch song "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," listening to This Time is like being in 1983 again.
Additionally, the collection includes non-album tracks like 12" mixes of "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" and "Miss Me Blind/It's a Miracle" and the lovely ballad "Love Is Love." For casual fans, This Time is all the Culture Club a listener would want, but 1993's At Worst...The Best of Boy George and Culture Club, which also adds several Boy George solo hits, would be recommended for those with more interest.
Words - Tom Demalon.
The career of Boy George and Culture Club had been on a steady upward climb for two years by the fall of 1984, culminating, as it turned out, with the transatlantic number one success of "Karma Chameleon" and the Colour by Numbers album, which eventually sold four million copies in the U.S. alone. The group had every reason to expect that its third album, Waking Up with the House on Fire, would enjoy similar success, but it was not to be. The leadoff single, "The War Song," with its chorus, "War, war is stupid/And people are stupid/And love means nothing/In some strange quarters," put off many fans, and though it neared the top of the charts in the U.K., it was less successful in the U.S., while the differing follow-up singles, "The Medal Song" in Britain and "Mistake, No. 3" in America, barely made the Top 40.
"The War Song" certainly was mistake number one as far as the U.S. was concerned, but the problem may have been less the music on Waking Up, which was typically frothy and propulsive, than the passing of a fad. When Culture Club arrived in the winter of 1982-1983, they were, in essence, a novelty act -- the joke was that they had such an "outrageous" image ("silly" would have been a better word) through the clothes and makeup of their lead singer, yet made such conventionally pretty pop music.
But novelty has a limited shelf life, and by late 1984, Boy George, in his new flaming red hair and dollar-sign drop earrings on the album cover, had been sideswiped in the image department by Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna, who had upped the ante, especially in terms of sexiness, an area in which he simply couldn't compete, at least among heterosexuals. So, while it's true that Waking Up didn't contain any song as catchy as "Karma Chameleon," the album's real failure was one of timing.
Words - William Ruhlmann.
There have been plenty of Culture Club collections over the years, but 2005's Greatest Hits is the first since 1993's At Worst...The Best of Boy George and Culture Club to be assembled with any thought or care. The rest have been cheap budget-line collections, but they did all serve up the big hits -- "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," "Time (Clock of the Heart)," "I'll Tumble 4 Ya," "Church of the Poison Mind," "Karma Chameleon," "Miss Me Blind," "It's a Miracle" -- even if sometimes that's all they served up.
Greatest Hits digs deeper (even if it doesn't include the Boy George solo hits on At Worst; it also doesn't have the Malcolm McLaren intro that mars the beginning of "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" on that disc), but the question for most listeners will be: do I need to dig deeper than the biggest hits? Most listeners will be happy with that aforementioned seven and find any disc that runs ten songs longer, as this does, to be kind of tiresome, even if it includes the gloriously silly "The War Song," which is the goofiest protest single ever.
That said, those who do want a good 17-song cross-section of the band's entire career will be very happy with this, since it has all the singles in good sound -- even if it's unlikely that most listeners will listen to this much past track eight or ten (the latter is "Black Money," one of the rare first-rate Culture Club album tracks).
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine.