Culture Club

Culture Club are an English new wave and soul-pop band whose first two albums, Kissing to Be Clever and Colour by Numbers, spawned the 1982–83 Second British Invasion hits “Time,” “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” “Karma Chameleon,” “Church of the Poison Mind,” “It’s a Miracle,” “Miss Me Blind,” and the reggae-pop evergreen “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”

Members: Boy George (vocals), Roy Hay (guitar, electric sitar, piano, keyboards, synthesizer), Mikey Craig (bass, piano), Jon Moss (drums, percussion), Jon Suede (guitar, 1981)


Background

Culture Club formed in 1981 when bassist Mikey Craig and veteran drummer Jon Moss teamed with aspiring singer George O’Dowd, a fixture of London’s Blitz scene.

George Alan O’Dowd was born on June 14, 1961, and raised in Eltham, southeast London; the second of five children borne to Jerry O’Dowd (b. Jeremiah; 1932–2004) and Dinah (b. Christina Glynn; 1939–2023). Jerry was an English-born builder of Irish parentage. Dinah migrated from Dublin, where (in 1957) she bore George an older half-brother out of wedlock. George’s great uncle, Thomas Bryan, was among the “Forgotten 10″ IRA volunteers executed in 1921 at Mountjoy Prison for an attempted ambush in Drumcondra, Dublin, during the Irish War of Independence.

O’Dowd lip synced to Shirley Bassey records in his alone time as a child. As a tween, he took to the glam rock of David Bowie, Roxy Music, and T. Rex. In 1976, the fifteen-year-old O’Dowd sported Ziggy-like hair and mingled with Bexley village fashionistas, including Philip Salon, a figure with loose ties to the Bromley Contingent, London’s first posse of punk stylists.

By 1978, O’Dowd Vulcan-tweased his eyebrows and donned pointy quiffs and plaid, padded zoot suits. He split time between clubs in London (Billy’s, the original site of Bowie Night, hosted by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan) and Birmingham (Rum Runner, the Midlands casino with DJ’s John Mulligan and another tweased photo-fixture, Martin Degville).

In 1979, O’Dowd worked as a coat-checker at Blitz, the second Strange–Egan club on 4 Great Queen Street in Covent Garden. Blitz denizens included London’s incoming fashion designers (Darla Jane Gilroy, the Milliner Stephen Jones), DJs (Princess Julia), and musicians (house band Spandau Ballet).

In 1980, erstwhile Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman cast O’Dowd and fellow Blitz scenesters (including future Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni) in the video to Rick’s non-album synthpop single “I’m So Straight I’m a Weirdo.” By now, O’Dowd wore heavy makeup, frazzled updos, and flamboyant, androgynous attire. His best friends included DJ (and future Haysi Fantayzee singer) Jeremy Healy and Blitz regular Peter Robinson, a cross-dressing fashionista dubbed Marilyn as an ode to his Hollywood muse.

O’Dowd’s first musical activity occurred under the auspices of former Sex Pistols manager Malcom McLaren, who in 1980 assembled Bow Wow Wow, a post-punk band composed of thirteen-year-old singer Annabella Lwin and musicians from the Dirk Wears White Sox lineup of Adam & The Ants. In the nascent group, O’Dowd shared vocals with Lwin under the stagename Lieutenant Lush.

In February 1981, O’Dowd DJ’d at Planets, a Salon-run Piccadilly nightclub. One night, he was approached by Mikey Craig (b. Michael Emile Craig; February 15, 1960), a Jamaican–British bassist and reggae DJ who recognized O’Dowd from a photo in a recent issue of New Musical Express. Craig suggested they form a band. O’Dowd’s then-partner, Theatre of Hate frontman Kirk Brandon, informed George of a journeyman drummer named Jon Moss.

Moss (b. Jonathan Aubrey Moss; September 11, 1957) formed his first band, Pig Williams, as a Highgate School pupil with classmate (and future Wang Chung co-founder) Nick Feldman. After a series of menial jobs, Moss found work as a Marquee Studios sound engineer. He drummed momentarily for The Clash (between the tenures of Terry Chimes and Topper Headon) and joined London, a punk band headed by friend Riff Regan and managed by Japan (and onetime John’s Children) manager Simon Napier-Bell. London released three 1977 shortplayers and the 1978 MCA album Animal Games. (Their song “Siouxsie Sue” is not about the Banshees frontwoman.)

In January 1978, Moss deputized Damned drummer Rat Scabies in the weeks before their first breakup. Later that year, Moss and second Damned guitarist Lu Edmonds joined the Belvederes, the backing band of London-based American singer Jane Air (aka Jane Ashley). After the 1979 Virgin release Jane Aire and The Belvederes, Ashley married Boomtown Rats bassist Pete Briquette and left the music scene. Concurrently, Moss drummed (as ‘Terry 1 & 2’) on the post-White Sox Ants single “Car Trouble” (b/w “Kick!”).

Moss, Edmonds, and the two remaining Belvederes — keyboardist Gavin Povey and ex-Jade Warrior bassist Glyn Havard — constituted The Edge, which cut three 1978–79 singles and the 1980 post-punk album Square 1, released on the short-lived indie label Hurricane Records. (Havard boarded Yachts in place of Martin Dempsey, who enlisted in Pink Military.)

In December 1980, Moss drummed in the final lineup of punk rockers The Nips, which (despite a recent Paul Weller-produced demo) folded after a show at London’s Music Machine. (Their frontman, Shane MacGowan, resurfaced months later in Pogue Mahone, which morphed into The Pogues.)

Moss rehearsed with Craig, O’Dowd, and guitarist Johnny Suede (a Brandon associate) under the tentative name Praise of Lemmings. In late 1981, Suede cleared for Essex hairdresser Roy Ernest Hay (b. August 12, 1961), who played piano from age five and later took up guitar, inspired by Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brothers, Led Zeppelin, and Steely Dan.

A friend of O’Dowd’s, aspiring singer Andi McElligott, recommended the bandname Sex Gang Children, a phrase in the Bow Wow Wow song “Mile High Club” that derived (via McLaren) from a William Burroughs novel. Despite O’Dowd’s amusement, Moss (intent on reaching new heights with this band) vetoed the name (which McElligott used for his subsequent goth-rock band).

Moss suggested the name Culture Club, a reference to the band’s diverse composition: a cross-dressing Irish singer (O’Dowd), a black British bassist (Craig), a blond English guitarist (Hay), and a Jewish drummer (Moss). O’Dowd adopted the stage-name Boy George to prevent confusion about his gender.

Culture Club recorded their early setlist originals (“The Mask,” “The Eyes of Medusa,” “I’m An Animal,” “Don’t Be So Dishonest,” “Sharp Operator”) for an EMI-financed demo that landed them a deal with Virgin Records.


First Two Singles

On April 30, 1982, Culture Club released their debut single: “White Boy” backed with “Love Twist (Featuring Captain Crucial).”

A. “White Boy”
B. “Love Twist (Featuring Captain Crucial)” The Virgin press sheet identified Captain Crucial as a fourteen year old white Rasta (Amos Pizzey; b. 1967).

As with subsequent material, both songs are both group-written numbers produced by Steve Levine, a onetime member of the disco duo Dance People, whose 1979 album Fly Away features input by members of the seventies cabaret glam-pop band Sailor. Levine also worked on 1982 titles by China Crisis, Endgames, Gary Moore, Honey Bane, and The Mood. Sailor multi-instrumentalist Phil Pickett became a Culture Club fifth wheel.

“White Boy” and the subsequent four singles feature visuals by designer Jik Graham and pics by I-D photographer Jik Graham. For the photoshoot, George consulted London fashion designer Sue Clowes of the Foundry, a Ganton Street clothing shop.> She dressed the band in tapered, wide-jointed garb emblazoned with color-splashed, pan-ethnic doodles. George wears head-wrapped dreads and blunt pen-drawn eyebrows in the “White Boy” pics but softens his look on subsequent sleeves.

On July 2, Culture Club released their second single: “I’m Afraid of Me” backed with “Murder Rap Trap.”

A. “I’m Afraid of Me”
B. “Murder Rap Trap”

1 Sep 1982
A: Do You Really Want To Hurt Me
Culture Club Featuring Pappa Weasel
B: Do You Really Want To Hurt Me (Dub Version)


Kissing to Be Clever

Culture Club released their debut album, Kissing to Be Clever, on October 8, 1982, on Virgin.

A1. “White Boy (Dance Mix)” (4:40)
A2. “You Know I’m Not Crazy” (3:35)
A3. “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” (2:34)
A4. “Take Control” (3:11)
A5. “Love Twist” (4:23)
B1. “Boy, Boy (I’m the Boy)” (3:51)
B2. “I’m Afraid of Me (Remix)” (3:17)
B3. “White Boys Can’t Control It” (4:27)
B4. “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” (3:36)

Studio Red Bus Studios, London

Boy George – vocals
Michael Craig – bass
Roy Hay – guitar, piano, keyboards, sitar, electric sitar
Jon Moss – percussion, drums

Additional musicians
Keith Miller – Synclavier
Terry Bailey – trumpet
Colin Campsie – background vocals
Nicky Payne – flute, harmonica, saxophone
Denise Spooner – background vocals
Helen Terry – backing vocals
Phil Pickett – keyboards, background vocals
Trevor Bastow – strings arrangement

Production
Steve Levine – producer, engineer
Gordon Milne – assistant engineer, mixing
Jon Moss – mixing, drum programming
Keith Miller – Synclavier programming
Jik Graham – cover design, logo, typography
Andy Phillips – photography
Mark Lebon – photography
Jackie Ball – artwork
Nick Egan – logo

“Time (Clock of the Heart)” / “White Boys Can’t Control It”
Released: 19 November 1982 (UK)
29 March 1983 (US)
“I’ll Tumble 4 Ya”
Released: June 1983 (US)

13 December 1982 Epic (US)


“Church of the Poison Mind” / “Man Shake”
Released: 1 April 1983 (UK)
October 1983 (US)
“Karma Chameleon” / “That’s the Way”
Released: 5 September 1983 (UK), December 1983 (US)


Colour by Numbers

Culture Club released their second album, Colour by Numbers, on October 10, 1983, on Virgin and Epic.

A1. “Karma Chameleon” (4:11)
A2. “It’s a Miracle” (3:25)
A3. “Black Money” (5:19)
A4. “Changing Every Day” (3:18)
A5. “That’s the Way (I’m Only Trying to Help You)” (2:46)
B1. “Church of the Poison Mind” (3:29)
B2. “Miss Me Blind” (4:31)
B3. “Mister Man” (3:36)
B4. “Stormkeeper” (2:47)
B5. “Victims” (4:56)

Red Bus Studios and CBS Studios, London

Boy George – lead and backing vocals
Roy Hay – guitars, piano, electric sitar, backing vocals
Mike Craig – bass guitar, backing vocals
Jon Moss – drums, backing vocals

Additional musicians
Judd Lander – harmonica
Phil Pickett – Hammond organ, synthesizers
Steve Grainger – saxophone
Patrick Seymour – flute
Graham Broad – percussion
Jermaine Stewart – backing vocals
Terry Bailey – trumpet
Helen Terry – backing vocals

“Victims”
Released: 28 November 1983 (UK)

“Miss Me Blind”
Released: 14 February 1984 (US)
“It’s a Miracle”
Released: April 1984 (UK), May 1984 (US)


Waking Up with the House on Fire

Culture Club released their third album, Waking Up with the House on Fire, on October 22, 1984, on Virgin and Epic.

1. “Dangerous Man” (4:14)
2. “The War Song” (4:13)
3. “Unfortunate Thing” (3:08)
4. “Crime Time” (2:59)
5. “Mistake No. 3” (4:36)
6. “The Dive” (3:47)
7. “The Medal Song” (4:15)
8. “Don’t Talk About It” (3:17)
9. “Mannequin” (2:53)
10. “Hello Goodbye” (3:25)

Studio Red Bus Studios, London
Producer Steve Levine
Gordon Milne – engineer
Peter Lees – assistant engineer

Ray Allington – hair stylist
Kim Bowen – stylist
Stevie Hughes – photography, makeup
Connie Jude – cover and rear sleeve illustration

“The War Song”
Released: 24 September 1984
“The Medal Song”
Released: 19 November 1984 (UK, Japan, Europe)
“Mistake No. 3”
Released: 9 December 1984 (US, Canada, Australia, Africa)


From Luxury to Heartache

Culture Club released their fourth album, From Luxury to Heartache, on April 1, 1986, on Virgin and Epic.


Discography:


Sources:

1 thought on “Culture Club

  1. Original draft (March 2018):
    Culture Club are an English pop band that was primarily active as a recording unit during the early–mid 1980s. The band achieved world renown with a string of hits in the pop/rock and blue-eyed soul veins.

    The band was founded by clubgoer/aspiring singer George O’Dowd following a brief stint with Bow Wow Wow, with whom he performed under the alias Lieutenant Lush. Moss had drummed for the bands London and The Edge in addition to brief stints with The Damned and Adam & the Ants. With Craig and eventually Hay in the fold, the band settled on the name Culture Club to reflect the cultural, national, and religious diversity of the members. To avoid confusion over his androgynous style of dress, O’Dowd adopted the stage-name Boy George.

    Initial Triumphs

    Securing a deal with Virgin Records, Culture Club tested waters during the summer of 1982 with the clean, percussive funk-pop of “White Boy” and the tropical steelpan flavors of “I’m Afraid of Me” before breaking globally with the slow, sensitive lovers rock of “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” Impressed beyond expectations, the label greenlighted the band’s first album, Kissing to Be Clever.

    Augmented by studio horns and tuned/untuned percussion, Culture Club exercise their cross-cultural musical eclecticism across the nine tracks that comprise the LP. Exoticism is invoked in the harmony-laden, safari-spiced “You Know I’m Not Crazy” and in the quirky Caribbean tap dance “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya.” The latter — with its circus-trumpet intro, curvlinear bass-steered verses and dizzying far-chorded middle — consolidated the band’s transatlantic conquest.

    With maximum clarity afforded by producer Steve Levine, Culture Club exhibit instrumental and vocal mastery in “White Boys Can’t Control It,” where open chords and echoey backing vocals are driven along by slapped bass and strummed guitar amid flares of brass and harmonica. Elsewhere, the synth-bass shakedown “Take Control” rides a sonic subway of sheet-metal percussion. The rattling cymbals and windy, circular chordal pattern of “Love Twist” surrounds an enraptured vocal delivery, bisected with a toast from Captain Crucial.

    For the 1982 holiday season, Culture Club gifted listeners with “Time (Clock of the Heart).” With its shimmering Philly strings and glockenspiel/Coral sitar theme, the poignant ballad became a global smash.

    World Domination

    With the world at its knees, Culture Club made their grandest statement with Colour by Numbers — a lavish tour de force on which the band are embellished with a vast plethora of instruments, multi-layered vocals, and production treatments. The album is named in ode to the band’s colorful dress sense, as displayed on the cover courtesy of famed fashion photographer Jaime Morgan.

    Sounding off this set is the flying French harp and perky tambourine/kick-drum beat of “Church of the Poison Mind,” where belter Helen Terry pulls the chorus out to sea each time George croons the title. Kaleidoscopic detail is afforded to the next track “It’s a Miracle”, on which buoyant tuned-percussion frames a string of alternating verses in semi-through-composed form. As a song of contrasts, the wind-tunnel sustain that engulfs the genius line “dreams are made of emotions” are contrasted by Terry’s soulful wails over the trebly middle-eight bassline.

    Lyrically, George conveys meaning through metaphor amidst the myriad musical features, such as with the alarming brass and muted reggae verses of “Mr. Man,” where George faces down a belligerent character with an emphatic chorus. Elsewhere, the galloping bass and vocally layered buildup of “Karma Chameleon” shine light on the woes of deception.

    Eclecticism and virtuosity are displayed across numerous tracks, such as on the sleek jazz-pop of “Changing Every Day,” which ascends with a fluid sax solo courtesy of Steve Grainger. On the harmony-rich, minor-chorded funk of “Miss Me Blind,” Hay unleashes a fiery fuzzed-out solo amid an army of percussion.

    Classicism is masterfully harnessed on the album’s closing track. Ushered by plunging Steinway keys, the ivory filigree of “Victims” weaves around line after line of romantic symbolism. Once the emotional effects have taken hold, cannonball toms signal a flow of strings and choral vocals that rise and crest across miles of symphony-swept valleys.

    Decline and Dissolution

    Worn by the global rush of touring and promotional obligations, Culture Club were somewhat fatigued by the time of their next round of recording sessions. Consequently, Waking Up With the House on Fire (1984) shows the strain.

    On the upside, the chime en-swirled slow-dance “Mistake No. 3” brings the ’70s soul ballad into a contemporary sonic framework, while the serviceable soul-funk of “Don’t Talk About It” gives vent to an expressive E-bow guitar solo. Meanwhile, the earnest declarations of the angular anti-march “The War Song” are lilted with backing vocals from Clare Torry, whose “Great Gig In the Sky”-style wails can be heard over chants across the monochordal middle.

    Had Culture Club been allowed to include their contributions to the 1984 Electric Dreams soundtrack — the mournful, minor-chorded “Love Is Love” and the sparse, vocally impassioned “The Dream” — the band could have had a stronger third album. The effects-laden, foreign-language sojourn “Don’t Go Down That Street” — a concurrent b-side — could have added further nuance and solidity.

    Beset with inner-conflicts, Culture Club imploded upon the release of their strained fourth album From Luxury to Heartache in 1986. Rebounding from personal woes, George launched a semi-successful solo career the following year and subsequently parlayed into DJing work. From the late-’90s onward, the band has sporadically regrouped both with and without its classic lineup.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *