Memories of the ’80s – Culture Club

By Waheeda Harris

March 10, 2011

A mix of new wave Brit pop with soul, and a dash of Caribbean rhythms added up to the creation of a band that also had one of the most memorable lead singers of the decade – Culture Club.

The distinctly noticeable Boy George  (aka George O’Dowd) started singing with the band Bow Wow Wow in 1981 but soon wanted his own band.

With musician Mikey Craig, the two formed Culture Club. Adding in Jon Moss and Roy Hay, the band’s demo wasn’t loved by EMI who held initial interest in this new musical group but Virgin Records was all over it, signing the band in 1981.

In spring 1982 their first album was released, Kissing to be Clever, which made a limited impact on the music charts. But the third single, released several months later in September was the kickstart Culture Club needed to start on the path to stardom.

Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?, a reggae-influenced pop single took off, hitting number one on the British and US charts. With a strong video presence on MTV and MuchMusic, the band’s success was confirmed with the teen populace, with the song charting at #1 in 12 different countries.

Boy George’s androgynous look, his braids, outfits and makeup was a point of discussion for the media – and another layer of curiosity in what the band was all about.

With the success of singles Time and I’ll Tumble For Ya, the band became the first since The Beatles to have three number one hits in the US on a debut album.

In 1983 came the release of the second album Colour by Numbers and number one single Karma Chameleon. With initial sales of four million worldwide, this album was the first certified as a diamond seller in Canada and blockbuster numbers in the US and across Europe and Asia.

But with success came some problems including drug use by Boy George and keeping a lid on his secret relationship with fellow band member Jon Moss.

In 1984 the band released its third album, Waking Up with the House on Fire didn’t do as well as previous albums, but the band still was in the spotlight, with Boy George participating in Bob Geldof’s Band Aid project. But the lead singer was in trouble with a cocaine and heroin addiction and keeping it together for performances.

With the battles of a private relationship and drug addiction, Boy George’s behaviour led to the cancellation of a US tour and the lack of commitment to the music. By the summer of 1986, the band broke up, with Boy George trying to become a solo act, but soon his drug use was the spotlight, after an arrest for drug possession.

I was a fan of these songs – mainly because of the catchy tunes – I didn’t really think all that much of Boy George’s persona or sexuality, other than it was different and as a teenager it seemed cool to be so distinct.

Although there presence was for a mere five years, the Culture Club singles are forever associated with the sound of the 1980s.