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Culture Club are an English band that were formed in 1981. The band comprised Boy George (lead vocals), Mikey Craig (bass guitar), Roy Hay (guitar and keyboards) and Jon Moss (drums and percussion). Their second album, Colour by Numbers, sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, and they had several international hits with songs such as "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me", "Time (Clock of the Heart)", "Church of the Poison Mind" and "Karma Chameleon". Boy George's androgynous style of dressing caught the attention of the public and the media.
Culture Club's music combines British new wave and American soul with Jamaican reggae and also other styles such as calypso, salsa or country.
In 1984, Culture Club won the Brit Award for Best British Group, and the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. In the UK they amassed twelve Top 40 hit singles between 1982-1999, including the number ones "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" and "Karma Chameleon", the latter being the biggest selling single of 1983, and topped the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1984. Ten of their singles reached the US Top 40, where they are associated with the Second British Invasion of British new wave groups that became popular in the United States due to the cable music channel MTV.
Formation and Kissing to Be Clever: 1981–1983
In 1981, Blitz Club regular Boy George occasionally sang with the group Bow Wow Wow under the stage name Lieutenant Lush. After his tenure with the group ended, George decided to start his own band and enlisted bassist Mikey Craig, drummer Jon Moss, and finally guitarist Roy Hay.
Realising they had an Irish transvestite as the lead singer, a black Briton on bass, an Anglo-Saxon on guitar and keyboards, and a Jewish drummer, they eventually decided to call themselves Culture Club. 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, releasing their albums in Europe, while Epic Records released their albums in the United States and much of the rest of the world since Virgin did not have a US presence at the time.
The band released two singles in May and June 1982, "White Boy" and "I'm Afraid of Me", though both failed to chart. But in September of that year, the group released their third single, "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me", a reggae-influenced number, which became one of their biggest hits. The song went to No. 1 in the UK in late 1982 and became an international smash, peaking at No. 1 in over a dozen countries (No. 2 in the US).
The band's 1982 debut on Top of the Pops created tabloid headlines, which focused on George's androgynous style of dress and sexual ambiguity. Magazines began to feature George prominently on their covers. Pete Burns, lead singer of the 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 band's debut album, Kissing to Be Clever (UK No. 5, US No. 14) was released in October 1982, and the follow-up single, "Time (Clock of the Heart)", became another Top 10 hit in the US (Number 2) and UK (Number 3). "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" also became a Top Ten hit in the US (Number 9) and in Canada. This gave Culture Club the distinction of being the first group since The Beatles to have three Top Ten hits in America from a debut album. Kissing to Be Clever sold over 1 million copies in the US, being certified platinum, and sold another two million worldwide at the time of its release.
Colour by Numbers: 1983–1984
The band's second album, Colour by Numbers (UK No. 1, US No. 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. The second single "Karma Chameleon" gave the band their biggest hit, peaking at No. 1 in the UK (the band's second chart-topper there), where it became the best selling single of 1983 and has sold 1.5 million copies there to date. It also peaked at No. 1 in the US for three consecutive weeks, and would ultimately hit No. 1 in 30 countries, thus becoming one of the top twenty best-selling singles of the 1980s, with one of the most iconic images of Boy George on the cover shot by photographer David Levine.
The album Colour by Numbers would spawn more hits including "Miss Me Blind" (#5 US), "It's a Miracle" (#4 UK, No. 13 US), and "Victims" (#3 UK), and sold four million copies in the US and another five million worldwide at its time of release. The album gave Culture Club the distinction of being the first group in music history to have an album certified diamond in Canada (for sales of one million copies in that country). The band also won the 1984 Brit Award for Best Group and the 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 wrote 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 (former member of the 1970s band Sailor) who had also co-written "Karma Chameleon" and frequently played keyboards for the group.
Despite Culture Club's commercial success, there were significant pressures within the band. George was using drugs with money from his new-found fame. George and Moss were also romantically involved with each other, which was unknown to the public and the media at the time. Their relationship lasted for over four years and was often turbulent, with alleged physical and verbal abuse. Their constant arguments and the pressure to hide the relationship from 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 their third album, Waking Up with the House on Fire (UK No. 2, US No. 26). Although Platinum in both the UK and the US, it was a commercial and critical disappointment compared to their first two albums. The album contained the hit single "The War Song", which reached number 2 in the UK, and Top 20 in the US. Other singles like "Mistake No. 3" (US No. 33) and "The Medal Song" (UK No. 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 have a quick 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 join 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 the biggest selling single of all-time in the UK and a huge international hit, raising millions for famine victims in several African nations, particularly Ethiopia.
By this time, 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 their popularity. The recording of their fourth studio album, 1986's From Luxury to Heartache (UK No. 10, US No. 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 No. 7 and US No. 12. But 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 failed to achieve the same level of success.
George and Jon Moss also no longer wanted to be around each other due to constant relationship battles and, coupled with George's drug addiction, a forthcoming American tour had to be cancelled. From Luxury to Heartache began to fade from the charts as well and the album ultimately sold one million copies worldwide, far less than their previous albums. By the summer of 1986, George admitted that he was indeed addicted to drugs. In July of that year, he was arrested by the British police for possession of heroin. The band broke up and George pursued a solo career, having several European hits and a couple of US Top 40 hits, though 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 manager at that time. George agreed to try some songs with the band again, resulting in recording sessions and producing more than a dozen songs that are still unreleased to this day. 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 proposed reunion ended up being cancelled.
In 1998, George and Jon Moss put their differences aside and the band reunited to do a reunion tour, kicking off with a performance on VH1 Storytellers. George said about the reunion, "Culture Club's reunion couldn't have come at a better time for rock", adding that, "It's a nostalgia trip, there's no way of avoiding that". The tour was a major success. A compilation album, Greatest Moments, 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 No. 4. However, their new-found success was short-lived and their fifth studio album, Don't Mind If I Do, released in 1999 peaked at No. 64 in the UK. It included minor UK hits in "Your Kisses Are Charity" (UK No. 25) and "Cold Shoulder" (UK No. 43).
The band went on to tour, then reunited again for a 20th anniversary concert in 2002 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. 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, as Boy 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." After watching a video on MySpace, Boy George described the singer who replaced him as "terrible" and "dreadful". George said: "I wanted to like it but I couldn't. They're my songs, they're my heart, they're my life." A proposed tour for December 2006 in the UK did not take place. In 2007, drummer Jon Moss stated that the project was shelved.
In late 2011, Boy George was part of a three-man Culture Club band that performed two live concerts, in Dubai and Sydney, the latter being a New Year's Eve concert, although drummer Jon Moss did not appear due to a back injury. In October 2013, Boy George announced that Culture Club would reunite again in 2014.
On May 20, 2014, it was announced on several Boy George pages on Facebook, as well as the official Culture Club site on the same social network, that the band is back together. A new picture of the 4 members was also posted, along with the list of the 11 concert dates through the U.K.. Alison Moyet will be a special guest on the concerts.
According to the sales tickets service, prior to these live dates Culture Club will be going into the studio to record new material, with producer Youth, who has previously worked with Paul McCartney, The Verve, and Embrace among others, for a new album to be released in early 2015.
Awards, nominations, honours
In February 1984, Culture Club won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist (recognising accomplishments by musicians from the year 1983). They were nominated the same year for the Grammy Award for Pop Vocal by Group or Duo but the English rock band The Police won the award. At the 1984 Brit Awards the band won two awards: Best British Group, and Best British Single ("Karma Chameleon"). In 1984, the band were also nominated for a Canadian Juno Award for International Album of the Year.
In January 1985, Culture Club were nominated for an American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Band/Duo/Group Video Artist, and in September 1985, they were nominated for two MTV Video Music Awards for Best Special Effects and Best Art Direction for their video "It's a Miracle". In 1987, they received another nomination for an American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Band/Duo/Group Video Artist.
Considered as one of the 500 most influential rock songs, "Time (Clock of the Heart)" has been included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 500 songs that shaped rock and roll.
Culture Club are a British pop band, whose sound combines British new wave and American soul with Jamaican reggae and also other styles as calypso, salsa or country.
Philadelphia Daily News described Culture Club as a hot new rock act, while William K Knoedelseder Jr from Los Angeles Times said about the group, "Boy George of Culture Club, a rock group MTV helped make popular", adding that, "There's some debate in the record industry about MTV's ability to directly increase record sales across the board but there's no doubt that the channel has been responsible for exposing such rock artists as Def Leppard, Duran Duran and Men at Work to a national audience..."
In the 1980s, Boy George said about the music style of his band Culture Club, "We play rock 'n' roll and I love rock 'n' roll music but I don't like the lifestyle. I don't like people tipping beer over their heads.... I just hate rock 'n' roll in that way. It's disgusting and boring. I look at what we're doing as very intelligent".
When Culture Club won the 1984 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, Philadelphia Inquirer said about the band, "Among the other major winners were the English rock band Culture Club (Best New Artist), hard-rock vocalist Pat Benatar (Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female) and the English rock trio The Police (Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group)".
Stephen Holden, music critic for The New York Times, said in his article Rock: British Culture Club, that the popular quartet, "Culture Club blends soul, rock, funk, reggae and salsa into a music that programmatically reconciles white, black and Latin styles", adding that, "Mr. O'Dowd made the group's best songs – the Motown-flavoured Do You Really Want to Hurt Me and the Latin-inflected dance tune I'll Tumble 4 Ya – shine like jewels".
Star-News considered Culture Club as a 'new rock' band of the 1980s, the newspaper said, "Now you see the more rhythm-oriented, 'new rock of the 80s,' like Culture Club and the Eurythmics, fitting in more easily with urban contemporary formats".
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, senior editor for Allmusic, described specifically Culture Club as a new wave band and generically as the most successful pop/rock group in America and England during the 1980s, adding that, "By 1986, the group had broken up, leaving behind several singles that rank as classics of the new wave era".
The music of the English pop band Culture Club, is basically a combination of new wave and soul, is described by Boy George himself as he says, "The aim is to be creatively fluid to make everything we do a little different. We want to be a bridge between white rock and black soul", adding that, "I want Culture Club to represent all peoples and minorities".
The pop band, also described as pop/rock, was part of the second British rock invasion of the 1980s in the United States as R. Serge Denisoff and William L. Schurk said in their book Tarnished gold: the record industry revisited, "Here comes the rock and roll of 1984. The invaders were a mixed bunch led by Culture Club, whose sound has been described as 'recycled Smokey Robinson' or 'torchy American schmaltz and classic Motown'", adding that, "Boy George's drag-queen appearance made the group a natural for the visual demands of cable television".
In her book Magazines for children: a guide for parents, teachers, and librarians, author Selma K. Richardson said that Culture Club's music is soft rock that contains, "enough soul and new wave elements to cover almost all audiences".
Boy George - vocals, harmonica
Roy Hay - guitar, keyboards, piano, backing vocals
Mikey Craig - bass guitar, keytar, backing vocals
Jon Moss - drums, percussion, electronic drums, steel drum, congas, backing vocals