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Back Tracks: Culture Club

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It’s safe to say we’ve given Boy George more than enough time to realize his crime. The beleaguered singer has had more than his share of legal troubles throughout the ’90s and 2000s, and that has occasionally overshadowed the music he put out in the 1980s. This is a shame, since Culture Club was one of the better U.K. pop bands of the early ’80s.

Don’t let George’s gender-bending look fool you. Heaven knows that’s become the primary takeaway for nostalgists, but there’s a lot more underneath the eye makeup and braids. Their distinctive blue-eyed soul sound netted them a clutch of hits in both their native U.K. and America, and they’ve been anthologized on almost every kind of ‘as-seen-on-TV ’80s compilation you can imagine.

But what of their actual records? There’s not a particularly large amount of Culture Club material out there (the number grows thanks to an endless parade of dancehall producers remixing the same few hits into oblivion), so we figured it wouldn’t hurt to shed some light on George O’Dowd, Jon Moss, Mikey Craig and Roy Hay’s collective discography.

With reports circulating that the band will yet again reunite in the coming years to celebrate their 30th anniversary, there may be no better time to turn red, gold and green. After the jump, check out our Back Tracks run through the music of Culture Club.

Kissing to Be Clever (Virgin (U.K.)/Epic (U.S.), 1982 – reissued Virgin, 2003)

Kissing to Be Clever is one of those debut LPs where the band’s sound has, against all odds, already crystalized. Culture Club had a sound that was New Wave with more than a little bit of reggae and soul. But the sound was only half the equation – George and the boys had written a handful of great songs to make people dance and remember just who they were dancing to. The chugging “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” became a chart-topper in the U.K. after two singles that never passed No. 100. (In the U.S. it hit No. 2.) A non-LP single, “Time (Clock of the Heart),” followed and entered the Top 3 on both sides of the Atlantic; the U.S. got one last single, “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” a Top 10 hit as well.

In 2003, EMI/Virgin reissued the first three Culture Club LPs on CD with a handful of non-LP bonus tracks. Kissing to Be Clever got “Murder Rap Trap,” a toast-heavy track released on the B-side to “I’m Afraid of Me”; “Love is Gold (You Were Never No Good),” the 12″ B-side to “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and both “Time (Clock of the Heart)” and its instrumental B-side, “Romance Beyond the Alphabet.” Interestingly, Culture Club rarely did dance remixes, but the few from this period are hard to find on CD. This includes single remixes of the first two failed U.K. singles (“White Boy” and “I’m Afraid of Me”), a dub of “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and a remix of “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” commissioned by Epic Records for a U.S. release.

Colour by Numbers (Virgin (U.K.)/Epic (U.S.), 1983 – reissued Virgin, 2003)

As good as Kissing to Be Clever was, Colour by Numbers is probably better because the hits and the album cuts sink in that much more. The peppy “Karma Chameleon,” the soulful “Church of the Poison Mind” and dance tracks like “It’s a Miracle” and “Miss Me Blind” were all noted singles, but even tunes like “Black Money” and “Victims” (a Top 5 U.K. hit) were great pop-soul numbers, too. It’s no surprise, then, that the members of Culture Club still consider this their best work.

The 2003 remaster added five bonus cuts to the album: “Man-Shake” (first released as the B-side to “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” in some markets but found in the band’s native England on the “Church of the Poison Mind” single); “Mystery Boy,” a Japan-only single later released as a B-side (some reports say the version on this reissue is mixed differently than the original version); the non-album title track, an instrumental B-side (“Romance Revisited”) and a live version of “Melting Pot,” a song originally performed by ’60s/’70s pop group Blue Mink. Still unreleased or hard to find are a live version of Kissing to Be Clever album cut “Love Twist” (from the same show that yielded “Melting Pot”) and the U.S.-only medley mix of “It’s a Miracle” and “Miss Me Blind.”

Waking Up with the House on Fire (Virgin (U.K.)/Epic (U.S.), 1984 – reissued Virgin, 2003)

Despite another batch of hits, namely the U.K. Top 5 hit “The War Song,” Waking Up with the House on Fire marked the first cracks in the foundation of Culture Club. Blame it on a number of factors: George’s tremendous overexposure and subsequent drug abuse, the rushed nature of writing and recording leading to a bunch of songs that just weren’t as good and so on. Whatever the reason, Waking Up still moved enough copies to warrant a reissue when Virgin gave the same treatment to the last two discs. Bonus tracks included two songs written for the film Electric Dreams (“Love is Love” and “The Dream”), fan favorite B-side “Don’t Go Down That Street” and a Spanish version of “The War Song.” Still in the vault include remixes of “The War Song” and “The Medal Song” and a French version of “The War Song.”

From Luxury to Heartache (Virgin (U.K.)/Epic (U.S.), 1986)

Despite as much of an effort as they could muster – a veteran producer (Arif Mardin), a new, dance-oriented sound and a drug-addicted singer were an awful combination – From Luxury to Heartache was a disappointing end to Culture Club’s golden years, and the band split up soon after. It was never even released on CD in the U.S., and most of the singles (barring lead single “Move Away”) were duds. (Second single “Gusto Blusto” didn’t even manage to chart.) Though EMI never expanded this disc with the others, most U.K. CD copies included three bonus remixes later released on 12″ singles. Remixes of “Gusto Blusto” and the non-LP title tune have yet to be released on CD.

This Time: The First Four Years (Virgin (U.K.)/Epic (U.S.), 1987)

Though Culture Club had split by now, their labels were quick to release a hits compilation. It included all the major U.K. hits alongside a few other tracks (“Love is Love,” “Black Money”). For British fans, though, this was the first CD release of the U.S. remixes to “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” and “It’s a Miracle/Miss Me Blind.”

At Worst…The Best of Boy George and Culture Club (Virgin, 1993)

You can’t keep a good frontman down, and Boy George was still making music after Culture Club collapsed. A solo album, Sold (1987) was followed by an interesting maneuver: the formation of a new band, Jesus Loves you, which combined dance and pop elements with Eastern and Indian sounds. Though much of their material was contained on singles (a 1991 album, The Martyr Mantras, was not a hit), the best of it was anthologized on At Worst…, which naturally combined George’s solo output with his great early work on the same label. (George’s best solo song, the haunting theme to the film The Crying Game (1992), also features on this set, making it a worthy purchase if for no other reason but that.)

VH-1 Storytellers/Greatest Moments (Virgin, 1998)

This two-disc set pairs another compilation (featuring the best of Culture Club and a bit of Boy George on the side) with a concert from the recently reunited quartet recorded for VH-1’s Storytellers program. The set, armed with a new single (“I Just Wanna Be Loved,” a U.K. hit), was surprisingly popular upon initial release, and remains one of the only significant live releases by the band.

Don’t Mind If I Do (Virgin, 1999)

The inevitable not-that-good comeback album, only released east of the Atlantic. For die-hards only.

Culture Club (Virgin, 2002)

This four-disc box set is a tad on the frustrating side. Yes, it includes the best of Culture Club’s material and a handful of vintage demos. But it also includes an oversized portion of Boy George tunes from the latter, more erratic half of his career, as well as a full disc’s worth of contemporary dance remixes that will test the patience of all but the most hardcore fan. If nothing else, download the demos and the stunningly raw outtake “Shirley Temple Moment,” which captures a take of “Victims” ruined by band infighting.

Greatest Hits (Virgin, 2005 – reissued 2010)

The most up-to-date compilation of just Culture Club material (including the more passable parts of Don’t Mind If I Do) features the usual hits and album tracks you’ve come to expect on CC sets, but also features, in its most recent reissue, a DVD including the band’s music videos and a live performance from the Hammersmith Odeon in 1983 that receives its premiere release on DVD. (It was released on video in the ’80s as A Kiss Across the Ocean.) Definitely something to pick up for those who dig the visual flair of Culture Club as much as the music.

Written by Mike Duquette

October 18, 2010 at 15:43

8 Responses

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  1. I guess if the group needs the money, they can reunite, but I wouldn’t expect great music. Boy George, now portly, and as bald as Kojak, has been through decades of substance abuse that will have(inevitably) taken a toll on his voice.

    Phil Cohen

    October 18, 2010 at 15:49

    • You apparently have ignored George’s several excellent single releases over the past few years… His public life has indeed been a shambles, but his current music is bettered only by the first 2 Culture Club albums.


      October 18, 2010 at 20:09

  2. There is a 12-inch/b-side collection that was issued 2 separate times that you skip over here… There was also a strange “best of” released in France in 2005 which featured 5 new remixes and a few unusual choices. Also, Japan issued a “The Greatest” which features 5 original SINGLE versions/edits plus a few years later their own version of “Greatest Moments” which also had 5 new remixes tagged onto the end of its program. There were German, French and Japanese versions of “The War Song” in addition to the Spanish, none of which have ever been on CD; “Don’t Go Down That Street” was released as a single in Japan which has a unique edit; “Mystery Boy” in its original Japanese single version has a different bridge section and was issued on an early, early Japanese version of “Kissing To Be Clever”. The b-side “From Luxury To Heartache” has 2 versions, “Gusto Blusto” has a Dance Mix and a Rock Mix. Also, the original 7-inch b-side version of “Love Twist” [not the later live version] is a completely different mix than what ended up being the album version. There are a few further details to their discography, but what’s gone missing in the CD era could easily be remedied by EMI doing one of those “Singles” boxes like they did for Blondie, Duran Duran, et cetera…


    October 18, 2010 at 20:17

  3. “There were German, French and Japanese versions of “The War Song” in addition to the Spanish, none of which have ever been on CD”

    If these are anything like the Spanish version, which is just the chorus sung in Spanish but the rest of the song is exactly the same as the English language version, only completists and mega-hardcore fans will want them. If George had sung the entire songs in these different languages (in the tradition of The Beatles’ “Sie Liebt Dich” and “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand”), I’d be much more interested.

    Gary Dunaier

    October 18, 2010 at 23:02

    • That’s exactly the case and you’re absolutely right! =) They’d be much smarter to put its “Shriek Mix” on CD which incorporates those 2 lines in all of the languages in one place and is much better than the “Ultimate Dance Mix” …


      October 19, 2010 at 06:29

  4. I find Boy George a bit reprehensible personally, but you can’t deny how good those first two Culture Club albums were. I finally located “Sold” on CD a couple of months ago and was pleasantly surprised by that as well. George appears on the new Mark Ronson CD. His cut is one of the better ones, but there’s definitely been some vocal deterioration.


    October 19, 2010 at 16:46

  5. […] my friend Mike’s Back Tracks column on Culture Club on his website The Second Disc got me thinking about how it’s a shame that Boy George will probably be remembered more for […]

  6. I love Culture Club. I think they have been unfairly ignored by critics and the music industry. I think that Waking Up and Luxury to Heartache are two very underappreciated albums even by a lot of their own fans. The records were commercial flops but there’s actually some great stuff on there.
    Their only record I don’t like is Don’t mind If I Do. It has a totally different sound from their earlier stuff. I don’t know if this is true but I read a rumor that George wasn’t getting along with the other members of CC and so a lot of the songs on there were actually written and the instrument playing done more by George’s solo band and not by the members of CC, which to me could explain why it sounds so wrong.
    I look forward to them reuniting and I hope on the new album, George will let the other members of CC contribute to the music like they did on the first four records and I think it will be good.

    CC fan for life

    December 11, 2011 at 11:43

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