Led by one of the most flamboyant and charismatic stars of the decade, Culture Club enjoyed a string of Top Ten hits in the UK and US in the first half of the 1980s.
George O'Dowd had briefly been a member of Malcolm McLaren protégés Bow Wow Wow, at which time he was known as Lieutenant Lush; but he soon changed his stage name to Boy George and formed Culture Club in 1981 with bassist Mikey Craig, guitarist Roy Hay and ex-Damned1 drummer Jon Moss. Despite George and Jon's punk connections, the band's sound was a mixture of pop and reggae, a combination which attracted the interest of Virgin Records in 1982.
The band's first two singles, 'White Boy' and 'I'm Afraid of Me', both failed to chart, but the breakthrough came in September 1982, with the release of 'Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?' This single gave them their first Top 40 entry and secured them an appearance on the BBC's flagship pop music show Top of the Pops. The sight of George in heavy make-up and distinctly non-masculine clothing outraged the narrow-minded, but delighted the country's young record buyers. While the tabloid press rushed out stories of the 'Is it a boy or a girl?' variety, the single rocketed to number one in the charts. In its wake, the band's debut album Kissing to be Clever reached the Top Five, and the follow-up single 'Time (Clock of the Heart)' reached number three.
By early 1983 the band's videos were receiving regular airplay on MTV in the US, where a similar media frenzy swept the singles and album into the American top five. Later that year, the band's best remembered single 'Karma Chameleon' reached number one on both sides of the Atlantic, closely followed by the band's second album, Colour by Numbers. They continued to pull hit singles from Colour by Numbers throughout 1984 until the release of their third album, Waking Up with the House on Fire.
This third album was not as well received as previous releases. Despite reaching number two in the UK chart, the album's first single, 'The War Song', was derided for its simplistic lyrics ('War, war is stupid, and people are stupid'), and its follow-up, 'The Medal Song', peaked at a lowly number 32.
The band stayed silent for over a year until the release of their fourth album, From Luxury to Heartache, in 1986. The album scraped to number ten and spawned only one Top Ten hit single, 'Move Away', but their commercial decline was not George's main worry. His secret romance with Jon had ended bitterly, and after a series of bizarre public appearances in the summer of 1986 sparked rumours, he admitted being addicted to heroin. To make matters even worse, one of George's friends, musician Michael Rudetski, was found dead in George's home in July, having taken an overdose of the same drug.
Remarkably, George fought back strongly and returned to number one only nine months later with his first solo single, 'Everything I Own'. The comeback was short lived, however, and subsequent singles and his debut solo album Sold were less successful. Although no official announcement was made, Culture Club would not work together again for over a decade.
DJ-ing and the Return of Culture Club
George continued to pursue a solo career, and became a respected club DJ, also scoring club hits such as 'After The Love' and 'Generations of Love' under the name Jesus Loves You. In 1992 he teamed up with the Pet Shop Boys to record the theme for the film The Crying Game, which saw George back in the UK and US charts for the first time in five years.
In 1998, a resurgence in the popularity of '80s music prompted the band to tentatively reform. They toured the UK and US with other '80s acts such as the Human League, ABC and Howard Jones; they recorded a TV special for the music channel VH-1; and they recorded their first new single for over a decade, 'I Just Wanna Be Loved'. The success of the single (a number four hit in the UK) and compilation album Greatest Moments persuaded the band to write and record a fifth album, 1999's Don't Mind if I Do.
Although clearly not as popular as they were in their heyday, the band retains a large following throughout the world.