Thursday, July 28, 2016

Throwing Back to 1983: Culture Club

Culture Club got so popular so fast that I needed to rouse myself from my summer of 2016 languor and actually do research. Billboard charts show that, yes, these guys were the first band since the Beatles to chart with 4 songs at once. No wonder it's all a blur.

"Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" was the first charting single off Culture Club's debut album Kissing to be Clever (1982), then they followed quickly with Colour By Numbers and more hit singles. Every hit had a video.

I'm certain that what pulled me into Culture Club's incredibly infectious blend of new wave and blue-eyed soul was the second album, Colour by Numbers, and that my Boy George obsession began with the video for "Church of the Poison Mind."

In the earlier "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" video Boy George was doing his trademark kicky/sway dance moves, but he was a bit stiff and his expression remained stony throughout.

In "Church of the Poison Mind" Boy George lets fly his endearing personality. His eyes are sparkling, he's smiling, he's singing with his hands, his cheeky wit is popping off the screen. The uptempo pop/soul tunesmithery is accompanied by the band members running away from Japanese paparazzi, down streets and through alleys, and finally escaping through a door in a brick wall into an airplane, which Roy Hay and Jon Moss pilot to New York.

Not only that, but "Church of the Poison Mind" also prominently features Helen Terry. Helen was the shit. Her gospel vocals soar, murmur or sidle alongside, around and over Boy George's velvety croon. That lady sends that whole record over the top. When Helen sings, ain't nobody sitting down.

Culture Club shot off like a firecracker and burned out just as fast. Waking Up With The House On Fire (1984) offered few gems, the standout track being "Mistake No. 3." I'd suggest that maybe they should have spent more time with the material instead of rushing a third release so quickly, but I don't think it would have helped. Boy George was reportedly leading an ill-advised, excessive lifestyle and the band couldn't survive the tumult. They broke up in 1986 and things looked pretty dire for Boy George. But happy ending -- he does bounce back with some respectable solo projects, famously sang the title tune for The Crying Game, and today a new, once again slim and happy-looking Boy George is back performing for the people.

I played my Colour By Numbers album until it warped, then I got the cassette, then the CD, and now I just stream it. Colour By Numbers has traveled with me for three decades across the great digital divide.  It's other big hits were "Karma Chameleon" of course, and "Miss Me Blind," but if you have never heard "Black Money," "Stormkeeper" or "Victims" then you really need to get Colour By Numbers. "Victims" brilliantly ends the record, as well as any argument against Culture Club being anything but pure genius.

(This essay was part of a "Throwback Thursday" series requested by a friend. A bunch of us did it. You're supposed to post, and write about, one "top favorite" video from the 1980s every Thursday.)