Culture Club's 10 Best Songs: Critic's Picks

Culture Club
Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Culture Club

No one quite knew what to make of Boy George when Culture Club emerged from London during 1981. While there were plenty of poofy-looking New Romantics populating the post-punk world, the idea of a genuine he-she frontman was still a bit novel and, truth be told, not entirely comfortable. The New York Dolls, it seems, did not exactly make the world safe for that kind of look.

But once people got an earful of the melodic and soulful brand of pop George and his bandmates were putting out, especially the hit parade they racked up between 1982-84, sound won out over sight, and the group was embraced from the music to the thick mascara on the singer's eyelids. Culture Club ranked right up there with the biggest of the early MTV era, with six Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and a trio of platinum or better albums.

Sadly, the reign did not last long as Culture Club succumbed to internal divisiveness and to George's substance issues. The good news, however, is that the troupe regrouped in 2011, and while we're still waiting for a new album Culture Club has shown itself to be more potent live than ever -- and you know that nobody would revel in a second coming more than Boy George himself. Meanwhile, let's recall some past glories...

10. Culture Club - "Karma Chameleon"

There's an air of schtick around the signature track from Culture Club's second album, Colour By Numbers, but in a winning way. It's buoyant, breezy demeanor defines a segment of early '80s pop, and even if it's worn out its welcome you'll find the chorus stuck in your head from the mere mention of the title. Fun fact: That harmonica part was played by Judd Lander, who was part of the '60s Merseybeat group the Hideaways.

9. Culture Club - "It's A Miracle"

The fifth and final single from Colour By Numbers was another of the group's modern Motown homages, unapologetically happy and even family friendly. A case study in why "ditty" doesn't have to be a dirty word.

8. Culture Club - "Mistake No. 3"

This slow-burning, sultry and often overlooked entry in the Culture Club song canon is an understated but still impactful heartbreak paean and features one of George's most soulful vocals. Keep the Kleenex handy when this one is on.

7. Culture Club - "White Boy"

Culture Club didn't make the charts but did offer a harbinger of what was to come with its inaugural single from June of 1982. A bit of socio-political treatise mixed with the melodicism here to indicate that the group was more than just, well, kissing to be clever.

6. Culture Club - "I'll Tumble 4 Ya"

Pure joy from the first Caribbean-flavored drum roll through two and a half minutes of effervescent delight. This Culture Club song made them the first band since the Beatles to notch three Top 10 hits from a debut album in the U.S., and Frank Zappa lampooned it -- which means Culture Club did something right here.

5. Culture Club - "Move Away"

Culture Club was on the wane when this track launched for its fourth album From Luxury To Heartache. While the band was laboring at this point "Move Away" retained the easy groove of its best previous work, with Arif Mardin in the co-producer's seat to give the group a final gem for its first incarnation.

4. Culture Club - "Time (Clock Of The Heart)"

Following "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me," "Time" took a step towards cementing Culture Club as more than a fluke with a strong visual gimmick. Soulful, melodic and thoughtful, it boasts a simple genuineness that sounds as fresh and emotionally resident today as it did 35 years ago.

3. Culture Club - "Miss Me Blind"

Culture Club's final Top 10 U.S. hit is distinguished by a lyric that makes reference to the group's debut album, Kissing To Be Clever, with backing vocals by R&B stalwart Jermaine Stewart. There's a tinge of dark underpinning, but it never gets in the way of the song’s fluffy fun.

2. Culture Club - "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me"

The Culture Club song that put both the band and George on the map is still a lush pop masterpiece with a lightly rolling reggae flavor and a heartstring-tugging delivery of lyrics George has said were about every man he'd dated to that point -- including bandmate Jon Moss. It deservedly sits on the list of virtually every poll of the '80s greatest songs, and it could hold its own in any decade of the pop music era, before and since its release.

1. Culture Club - "Church Of the Poison Mind"

Fabulous as "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" is, this is Culture Club's at its upbeat, Motown-saluting best, a poppy barn-burner that has more cajones than anything else in the group's catalog. Helen Terry's muscular backing vocals offer a welcome counterpoint to George's feathery leads, while the rest of the band shows that it can kick into a higher gear when the occasion calls for it.