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Boy George & Culture Club

+ {Jesus Loves You}

Contemporary pop chameleon with a penchant for cross-dressing outrageously; and initially substituting sex for cups of tea (er… no doubt taken with a pinch of salt), kingpin/queenpin of CULTURE CLUB, BOY GEORGE, raised the bar toward gender-bending gay acceptance from that meteoric, jaw-dropping first appearance on Top Of The Pops, in September 1982. CULTURE CLUB’s chart-topping `Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ was not indeed about S&M, but a self-penned ode to boyfriend and band member, Jon Moss; though there were a plethora of other reasons for the press and paparazzi to hook into the indelible George.
A subsequent media frenzy, not seen since the days of the UK punk rock scene, or BAY CITY ROLLERS and The BEATLES, the androgynous BOY GEORGE had them all eating out the palm of his hand; he’d the world at his feet… and the cocaine up his nose… and the heroin in his arms; `Time (Clock Of The Heart)’ had recklessly turned into `The Crying Game’ a decade down the line; but “Lieutenant Lush” (one of his earliest nom de plumes) didn’t fold, he just rolled with the punches.
Born George Alan O’Dowd, 14 June 1961, Eltham, Kent; ironically the son of a boxing club manager, the singer-to-be became a familiar face in London’s plush post-punk/new romantic scene. The SEX PISTOLS manager MALCOLM McLAREN – about to launch his own post-“Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle” solo career) – picked the “Boy” out for a brief tenure with BOW WOW WOW (as the aforesaid “Lieutenant Lush”), before the cross-dressing gender-bender formed his own combo, In Praise Of Lemmings; alongside bassist Mikey Craig and guitarist/keyboardist John Suede. Wisely, in 1981, the trio soon opted for the moniker of CULTURE CLUB, as ex-DAMNED/ex-EDGE drummer Jon Moss was brought into the fold; the quartet was completed when Roy Hay (ex-Russian Bouquet) superseded Suede.
After demos were unceremoniously turned down by E.M.I. Records, the band almost immediately secured a contract at Richard Branson’s Virgin imprint, and proceeded to fire a couple of chart blanks in the shape of the funky `White Boy’ and the Caribbean-addled `I’m Afraid Of Me’. Much more potent was the aforementioned `Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’, a winning combination of white cod-reggae and candy-coated soul-pop that topped the charts and eventually sold millions around the world. Decked out in flowing tunics and striking make-up, the dreadlocked Boy George became an overnight sensation on the still fairly conservative MTV station; beguiling fans by sheer force of his campy charisma and a lilting, sensual vocal style that transformed the often fairly average songs/arrangements. In retrospect, it’s still surprising how big America was on CULTURE CLUB; almost putting aforesaid follow-on single, `Time (Clock Of The Heart)’, atop the chart at the tail-end of ’82, and affording a belated issue of `Do You Really…’ the same treatment. The accompanying album, KISSING TO BE CLEVER (1982) {*7}, went Top 5 (Top 20 in the States). Boy George and CULTURE CLUB were now ready to take on the globe.
The following year saw a slew of hits breach the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic: the Motown-infused `Church Of The Poison Mind’, `I’ll Tumble 4 Ya’ and the evergreen/earworm transatlantic No.1, `Karma Chameleon’. All three songs were lifted from their sophomore set, COLOUR BY NUMBERS (1983) {*8}; backing vocalist Helen Terry adding an extra dimension to their established sound. At a time when pop music was deemed fun and frivolous, the UK-only single `Victims’, the US-only `Miss Me Blind’, and the traverse `It’s A Miracle’ (like “Karma” co-penned with ex-SAILOR star Phil Pickett), made their mark across the boards.
However, after hitting such stratospheric peaks, the only way was down. As a sweetener for third album, WAKING UP WITH THE HOUSE ON FIRE (1984) {*6}, the almost whimsical and WHAM!-like `The War Song’ left a sour taste in some mouths; at least for critics who derided the sanctimonious inanity of its “anti-war” message. Although both single and parent album knocked at the door of pole position (they were already beginning to flag across the pond), a second UK-only single, `The Medal Song’, plus its US equivalent, `Mistake No.3’, both stopped short of their pertinent Top 30s.
CULTURE CLUB’s final few years were characterised by George’s worsening drug addiction; the cause of inter-band tension. Their fourth (and final?!) album, FROM LUXURY TO HEARTACHE (1986) {*4}, drew enthusiasm from only the most ardent of fans. The problems had arisen from the onset as producer Steve Levine made way for seasoned soul/R&B veteran Arif Mardin. The Top 10 album opened reasonably well with a similarly-achieving dancefloor disc `Move Away’ attempting to shore up the troublesome set. When the godamnawful bpm-addled `God Thank You Woman’ failed to reach the Top 30 in Old Blighty, and `Gusto Blusto’ hit the buffers Stateside, CULTURE CLUB looked perilously close to breaking point; in autumn ’86, Moss formed Heartbeat UK for the single, `Jump To It’.
The shit had really hit the fan(s) late that summer when George’s heroin problems had the tabloids sharpening their claws. He was easy prey; especially after being arrested for possession of cannabis. If that wasn’t bad enough, additional keyboard player Michael Rudetsky (who co-penned FLTH’s `Sexuality’ track) was found dead from a drugs overdose in George’s house only days later. Amid day-to-day tabloid scandals, CULTURE CLUB officially split the following spring; BOY GEORGE (backed by Well Red) was already pursuing a solo career.
Although his first effort, a tame cod-reggae cover of KEN BOOTHE’s `Everything I Own’, topped the chart that March, successive singles (i.e. `Keep Me In Mind’, `Sold’ and `To Be Reborn’) met with diminishing returns. Parent album, SOLD (1987) {*6} – penned with legend LAMONT DOZIER – barely scraped into the Top 30.
As subsequent singles such as `Live My Life’, protest song `No Clause 28’ (concerning fresh Tory legislation used to ban homosexual literature), `Don’t Cry’ and `Don’t Take My Mind On A Trip’, all flopped miserably, each were solely the cause of both “Tense Nervous Headache” and “Boyfriend” albums to be shelved. In the confusing aftermath of the singer’s dissatisfaction with all the mixes/re-mixes, the canned songs finally made it on to BOY GEORGE’s belatedly-dispatched sophomore set, HIGH HAT {*4}, in March ‘89.
Virgin Records had kept faith with George throughout these troubling times; and even went as far as to furnish the man with his own label, More Protein. This deal functioned as a platform for his new project, JESUS LOVES YOU; a project that catered for a (re-)birth of the singer’s new-found interest in the Hare Krishna movement. Surprisingly, perhaps, some of his most interesting compositions surfaced during this period; not least `After The Love’ (co-authored with Jon Moss), the joyous `Bow Down Mister’ and the acid-house influenced `Generations Of Love’; the latter pair (from accompanying set, THE MARTYR MANTRAS {*5}) gave George a rare glimpse inside a rave-friendly Top 40.
Having finally come to terms with his drug addiction, BOY GEORGE became increasingly focused on DJing; making a name for himself on the burgeoning UK club scene. Save for a genius one-off Top 30 cover of DAVE BERRY’s `The Crying Game’ (featured in the OST to the brilliant Brit film of the same name), and a credit on P.M. DAWN’s `More Than Likely’ hit in ‘92 and ’93 respectively, it would be the mid-90s before the faded star released another solo album; not withstanding his remixed Top 30 mini-set, `The Devil In Sister George EP’, in February ‘94.
Virgin Records were once again at the helm for the largely-ignored potpourri of pop/rock, CHEAPNESS & BEAUTY (1995) {*7}. For many pundits an exciting return to form for the Boy, the record opened with a truly thunderous hit re-vamps of IGGY POP’s `Funtime’, followed by Iggy & BOWIE’s obscurio `Satan’s Butterfly Ball’. Other curiosities unveiled a folk song/minor hit, `Same Thing In Reverse’, and a nostalgic-tinged ballad `Il Adore’ as its anchor piece.
Over the course of the next few years, BOY GEORGE once again concentrated on his turntables, and made his name as a top draw for many of the “superclubs”, whilst signing a lucrative deal with Ministry Of Sound by spring ‘96. A year on, his long drawn-out court battle with former “buddy” Kirk Brandon (ex-THEATRE OF HATE) came to a conclusion when the judge dismissed the SPEAR OF DESTINY man’s objections to George’s published comments regarding their former relationship.
It was inevitable that George and his former CULTURE CLUB bandmates would make up; the lure of the lucre tempting the original group to re-form in the summer of 1998 for massive sell-out concerts in Monte Carlo and America. In the process, a BOY GEORGE album (“The Unrecoupable One Man Bandit”) was shelved around the same time, although it belatedly surfaced on an independent in September ’99. A fresh CULTURE CLUB single, `I Just Wanna Be Loved’, duly hit the Top 5; a feat that prompted Virgin to re-package their greatest hits in lieu of a commercial flop album, DON’T MIND IF I DO {*6}, that November. But for a cover of BOWIE’s `Starman’ (twinned as a single with `Cold Shoulder’) and a few other outsider inserts (including a Top 30 duet with DOLLY PARTON on Euro hit, `Your Kisses Are Charity’), there was much to pore over for fans of all ages. Incidentally, and elsewhere, George also covered JIMMY RUFFIN’s `What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ and GEORGE HARRISON’s `My Sweet Lord’.
Post-millennium, BOY GEORGE was determined not to fade from the limelight; though the re-mixture presentation of old & new for U CAN NEVER B2 STRAIGHT (2002) {*6} was underwhelming and misleading in an attempt to promote “Taboo”, a musical in which he starred as performance artist, Leigh Bowery, and not himself. A plethora of DJ/dance singles hit the decks thereafter; a compilation of sorts, ORDINARY ALIEN – THE KINKY ROLAND FILES {*6}, finally saw light of day late in 2010 (January 2011 in the UK).
Inevitably, the BOY GEORGE bandwagon was given a proper boost with the release of a bona fide “new” set of songs. THIS IS WHAT I DO (2013) {*6} catapulted the man back into the Top 40, as he undertook a promotional tour with support from The Featherz. Suddenly, the almost forgotten one was back under the spotlight, crooning classic pop (`King Of Everything’) or reggae-beat mantras (`Live Your Life’), and a cover of YOKO ONO’s `Death Of Samantha’.
CULTURE CLUB’s over-hyped hiatus was over by 2014, and the original members reunited for a well-documented warts ‘n’ all film on tour; a digital single `More Than Silence’ was released in order to promote a Youth-produced album, “Tribes”, though this, like many other BG solo sets of the past, didn’t materialize. The thought that maybe the public were not quite ready to assimilate fresh songs by the ‘Club, therefore a star-studded LIVE AT WEMBLEY WORLD TOUR 2016 {*7} made the Xmas lists the following year.
Duly billed as BOY GEORGE & CULTURE CLUB, the band’s 2018 comeback was underway with LIFE {*7}. Anyone expecting a pure pop album would be shocked when mystic man George and Co concocted a fluid potpourri of Motown, Northern soul, Brill-building, funk, disco, reggae and gospel. Although there were no “Karmas” or “Poisons”, the near-Top 10 record boasted slick AOR by way of `God & Love’, `Human Zoo’, `Bad Blood’, `Resting Bitch Face’ and the aforesaid `More Than Silence’.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Nov2018

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