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Top 8 Culture Club Songs of the '80s

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As one of the most recognizable if short-lived superstar acts of the early '80s, Culture Club released some remarkably consistent soul-inflected pop that has stood the test of time. Led outlandishly by the stylishly androgynous Boy George, the band released two classic albums and racked up a number of deserving hit singles worldwide. Here's a chronological look at the best tunes from that impressive list. In the case of this group, chart performance provided an accurate reflection of song quality, as the group's uneven later work lacks the spark of its best-known early tracks.

1. "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Virgin Records

A few music fans in the U.K. in 1982 may have been aware of the Boy George phenomenon, but most folks, especially in America, squarely remember being introduced to Culture Club strictly through this great song and its flashy androgynous frontman. It happens to be one of the most memorable and permanent tunes of the early '80s, built on a lovely, haunting melody and a plaintive vocal performance from George. The group's blend of R&B and pop sounded unlike anything else the new wave era had produced thus far, and that had as much to do with the song's status as international chart-topper as any reactive pop culture fascination. For a real treat, check out the Violent Femmes' excellent cover of this tune, a truly weighty version of a classic.

2. "Time (Clock of the Heart)"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Virgin Records

For all his post-Culture Club antics over the years, Boy George immediately presented himself as a fresh and gifted songwriter and vocalist during the band's breakout years of 1982-1983. This track, another Top 10 international hit, anchored the American version of the group's smash debut, Kissing to Be Clever, and makes a more than solid case for the position that so-called disposable music of the early '80s was sometimes too easily dismissed as such. This tune functions effectively as sweeping entertainment even if its glossy orchestration occasionally feels excessive. Luckily, George and Co. keep the hooks coming in a flurry of romantic pop that was perfect for radio. Still, it couldn't have hurt that George's look commanded attention.

3. "I'll Tumble 4 Ya"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Virgin Records
I was once on a university summer paint crew with a pair of colleagues who were surprise devotees of this track. And while it would be easy to dismiss their affection for the tune as an ironic form of novelty, there really is much to enjoy here. From the joyful introductory horn section to the infectious if silly chorus, the song generates sunny goodwill all the way around. Hence all the tumbling. Still, the centerpiece of this Top 10 North American hit (it didn't quite catch on in the group's homeland, interestingly) undoubtedly stands as the fantastic verse melody that provides the listener with the sound and feel of some kind of island paradise. Danceable perhaps to a fault, this is '80s music at its optimistic peak.

4. "Church of the Poison Mind"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Virgin Records

As the first single from Culture Club's sophomore release, Colour By Numbers, this tune performed quite well on the charts internationally, even though the massive if somewhat puzzling success of the next single, "Karma Chameleon," left it an overshadowed dark horse from the group's catalogue. Built on a bouncy Motown beat and a gifted, soulful lead vocal performance, this song follows the pattern in many ways of a namesake pop revivalist, George Michael, who was on the rise at just about the same time. Perhaps 1983 was the Year of Culture Club for a number of reasons only marginally related to music, but it's hard to deny the accessibility and songcraft displayed quite consistently to this point by Boy George and the rest of the quartet.

5. "Karma Chameleon"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Virgin Records

Only because of its frothy, ultimately forgettable chorus did I even consider briefly leaving this tune off the list, but once again I have to admit that Culture Club's prominent place on the international pop charts was largely earned. "I'm a man without conviction, I'm a man who doesn't know," sings George, riding the crest of a pure, uncanny sense of melody in the song's transcendent bridge. An image-centered act with a cross-dressing lead singer could scarcely avoid some backlash from its mainstream audience, but unfortunately one of the primary things I remember about this song is how some classmates enjoyed distorting its lyrics to besmirch George regarding his mysterious sexuality. It's not hard to say who wins on cleverness there.

6. "Victims"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Virgin Records
As an American pop music listener of the early '80s, I completely missed out on the pleasures of this lovely piano ballad. A significant European hit - even reaching No. 3 in the U.K. - this track offers yet another quite different angle on the band's versatile sound. George's vocal takes center stage, but the melody's sense of depth all but proves that the songwriting and musical talent of this sometimes-dismissed band really deserved some serious acknowledgment. The great thing about Culture Club's work, particularly on its solid first two albums, is that there were few selections that could be characterized as throwaway tracks. Though some may still be reluctant to admit it, Culture Club remains one of the most important early-'80s acts.

7. "Miss Me Blind"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Virgin Records
I don't see myself rushing to purchase a Culture Club retrospective after revisiting the group's catalogue for this list, but I'm certainly surprised to find myself appreciative of almost every one of the band's well-known tunes. Maybe I wasn't paying much attention as a pre-teen or had yet to embark on the evolution of my musical taste, but I truly expected to dredge up far more complaints about Culture Club's legacy a quarter-century later than I have so far. Artistically speaking, this particular hit, a Top 5 American smash that maintained the group's momentum stateside, demonstrates that among its contemporaries, Culture Club was focused and consistent in churning out pop confections with far more substance than most of us realized.

8. "It's a Miracle"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Virgin Records
By the time this 1984 single made its significant mark on the pop charts, Culture Club's peppy sound could have easily begun to suffer from a certain sameness in presentation. On the other hand, it's always important for musicians to understand what they do best, and there's no doubt that horn-inflected, celebratory pop ditties had clearly become the group's specialty. Though 1984 was certainly the year that Culture Club's massive popularity would begin to wane, this track showed little evidence of a corresponding dip in song quality. Despite a tumultuous personal life that would only grow stranger, George had a real knack for writing thoughtful lyrics that complemented the group's melodic embrace of various pop music styles.
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