Culture Club were a British pop group that formed in the early 1980s. The band consisted of Boy George (lead vocals), Mikey Craig (bass guitar), Roy Hay (guitar and keyboards), and Jon Moss (drums and percussion). From the time of the band's first album release in 1982 to its dissolution in 1986, Culture Club had amassed hits in several countries around the world, including ten Top Forty hits in the US, most of which went Top Ten. They went on to have subsequent hits in the UK during a reunion period of 1998-2002, where they scored a #4 single and a #25 single. Culture Club have sold approximately 22 million albums worldwide.
Formation and Kissing to Be Clever: 1981-1983
In 1981, Boy George occasionally sang with the group Bow Wow Wow under the stage name "Lieutenant Lush". However, his popularity in this role caused friction with the group's actual lead singer, Annabella Lwin. After his tenure with the group, George decided to start his own band and enlisted Mikey Craig. Next came Jon Moss, and finally Roy Hay. The group recorded demos, which were paid for by EMI Records, but the label was unimpressed and decided not to sign the group. Virgin Records heard the demos and signed the group in the UK, and Epic Records released their albums in the US as Virgin did not have a major U.S. presence at the time.
Their first album, Kissing to Be Clever (UK #5, US #14) (1982), saw the release of their first single "White Boy". Although the song failed to reach the US or UK Top 100, George was still happy because "5000 people bought my song and didn't even know me." The next single "I'm Afraid of Me" also failed at radio. But it was with the release of their third single "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me", a reggae-influenced number, that the group scored one of its biggest hits. The song went to #1 in the UK in late 1982 and became an international smash, peaking at #1 in over a dozen countries (#2 US). With George's eccentric and androgynous look and long hair, the band's debut on Top of the Pops caused headlines such as "Wally of the week" and "Mr. (or is it Mrs.?) Weird" as the tabloids and magazines plastered him all over their covers. Pete Burns, lead singer of the pop/new wave band Dead or Alive would later claim he was the first to wear braids, big hats, and colourful costumes, but George would cut back with a sharp-tongued remark, "It's not who did it first, it's who did it better".
The follow-up single "Time (Clock of the Heart)", featuring George's soulful vocals over an R&B groove, became another Top 10 hit in the US (#2) and UK (#3). "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" also became a Top Ten hit in the US (#9) and in Canada. This made Culture Club the first group since The Beatles to have three Top Ten hits from a debut album in America. Kissing to Be Clever sold over two million copies in the US, and another three million worldwide at the time of its release, propelling George to international stardom.
Colour by Numbers and international acclaim: 1983-1984
The band's second album, Colour by Numbers (UK #1, US #2) was released in 1983. The first single "Church of the Poison Mind", featuring backing vocalist Helen Terry, reached the UK and US Top 10, continuing the group's success. The second single "Karma Chameleon" gave the band its biggest hit, peaking at #1 in the UK (its second chart-topper there), where it sold 1.4 million copies to become the best-selling single of 1983 in that country. It also hit #1 in the US for three weeks, and would ultimately hit #1 in sixteen countries, thus becoming one of the top twenty best-selling singles of the 1980s. The album Colour by Numbers would spawn more hits including "Miss Me Blind" (#5 US), "It's a Miracle" (#4 UK, #13 US), and "Victims" (#3 UK), and sell four million copies in the US and another five million worldwide at its time of release. With that album, Culture Club was the first group in music history to have an album certified diamond in Canada (sales of one million copies in that country). The band also won the 1984 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, where George gave a speech via satellite stating, "Thanks America, you've got style, you've got taste, and you know a good drag queen when you see one."
The group's back-up singer, Helen Terry, began work on her solo album, for which George and Hay wrote the song "Love Lies Lost". The pair also wrote "Passing Friend" for the Beach Boys' album. Culture Club was asked to write two songs for the soundtrack to the movie Electric Dreams. George and Hay wrote "The Dream" and "Love Is Love", with the latter being released as a single in Canada and Japan, the E.P "Love is Love" became a major hit in Japan. George also collaborated on the song "Electric Dreams", sung by P. P. Arnold. The song was written with Phil Pickett, who had co-written "Karma Chameleon" with the band and frequently played keyboards for the group.
Despite all this success, trouble was brewing within Culture Club. First, George was occasionally using drugs with money from his new-found fame. Second, unknown to the other band members at the time, George and Moss were romantically involved with each other. Their relationship lasted for over four years and was often turbulent, with both physical and verbal abuse. The pressure to hide the relationship from the press and the public started to take its toll on the band.
Waking Up with the House on Fire, From Luxury to Heartache and decline: 1984-1986
In 1984, the group released its third album, Waking Up with the House on Fire (UK #2, US #26). It was a commercial and critical disappointment compared to their first two releases. "Waking Up..." sold up two million copies worldwide upon its release, selling shy of one million copies in America, certified platinum. The album had one hit single in "The War Song", which went top ten and top twenty in the UK and US, respectively. Other singles like "Mistake No. 3" (US #33) and "The Medal Song" (UK #32) would become modest hits. George later stated he felt the album experienced a lukewarm reception because of half-hearted material he felt they released due to pressure from Virgin and Epic to quickly release a follow-up to Colour By Numbers. According to him, the band had just come off an exhausting world tour in 1984 and, as a result, the fatigue ended up coming off on the album.
At the end of 1984, Boy George was recruited by Bob Geldof to attend the Band Aid recording, consisting of mostly internationally-known UK and Irish recording stars. George was in New York City when Geldof called him, but managed to catch the final Concorde of the day to London and was the last singer to record a lead vocal track for the song "Do They Know It's Christmas". The song would become an international hit, raising millions for famine victims in Africa.
George had been abusing drugs for several years and by 1986 he became seriously addicted to cocaine, which then evolved into a heroin addiction. As a result, the band continued to lose its place musically. The recording of their fourth studio album, 1986's From Luxury to Heartache (UK #10, US #32) dragged on for so long that producer Arif Mardin had to abandon the sessions due to prior commitments and leave it to engineer Lew Hahn to record the final vocals. Songs like "Gusto Blusto" and "Reasons" took days for the addicted singer to finish. Nevertheless, the first single "Move Away" became a hit, peaking at UK #7 and US #12, and the album seemed capable of returning Culture Club back to hit-making status. However, George and Jon could no longer be around each other due to constant relationship battles and, coupled with George's drug problem, a forthcoming American tour had to be cancelled. By the time of the release of the second single "God Thank You Woman", news of George's drug addiction began to circulate in British and American tabloids, which were denied by the singer, and the second single stalled on the charts. From Luxury to Heartache began to fade from the charts as well and the album ultimately sold about one million copies worldwide. By the summer of 1986, George admitted that he was indeed addicted to drugs. In July, he was arrested by the British police for possession of cannabis. The band broke up and George pursued a solo career with several European hits and a couple of US Top 40 hits. George would continue to struggle with his drug addiction for several years.
The band first tried to reunite in 1989 after many requests from Tony Gordon, the group's former manager and Boy George's current manager at that time. Boy George agreed to try some songs with the band again, resulting in recording sessions that went quite well and producing more than a dozen songs that are still unreleased to this day. Boy George, however, was more excited about his future projects like his record label, More Protein, and his dance-oriented music he was looking to release. The reunion would end up being cancelled.
In 1998, George and Jon put their differences aside and the band actually reunited to do a reunion tour, kicking off with a performance on VH1 Storytellers. The tour was a major success. A compilation album based around the Storytellers performance was released, and went platinum in UK, which included new songs such as "I Just Wanna Be Loved", which hit UK #4. Their 1999 studio album Don't Mind If I Do peaked at #64 in the UK. It included moderate UK hits in "Your Kisses Are Charity" (UK #25) and "Cold Shoulder" (UK #43).
The band went on to tour, then reunited again for a 20th anniversary concert in 2002 at the Royal Albert Hall. This performance was released on DVD the following year. Culture Club then became inactive again, largely due to Boy George's successful DJ career.
In 2006, two original members of Culture Club (Craig and Moss), tried to launch a new tour with another lead singer. (George and Roy Hay had declined to tour). Early that year, the band's record company placed an ad for a lead singer to "...take part in a 2007 World Tour and TV Series." The new singer, Sam Butcher was selected because of his own personality, "not a Boy George lookalike." George expressed his displeasure in the press, even though Culture Club's MySpace page says otherwise. . A tour was announced for December 2006 in the UK, but was postponed to give the new line-up time to finish recording their album. Without official press statements, in 2007, band manager Tony Gordon, said that the project was "on hold," while drummer Jon Moss stated that the project was shelved.
Awards, nominations, honours
Culture Club won a Grammy in 1984 as the best new band of 1983, and were nominated the same year for the Pop Vocal Group Grammy, a Canadian Juno Award for International Album of the Year and for an American Music award for Favourite Group Video Artist - Pop/Rock. In 1985, they were up for an MTV Video award for Best Art Direction and Best Special Effects for It's a Miracle, and in 1986, they received another American Music nomination for Favourite Group Video Artist - Pop/Rock. In 2009, Karma Chameleon was chosen as the quintessential song of the 1980s by video site Ryeberg.