Culture Club : Greatest Hits

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All too often, the music of Culture Club takes a back seat to the spectacle that is/was their flamboyant frontman Boy George. George took a page out of the book of glam and went a few steps further than gender bending rockers David Bowie and T. Rex. In fact, George’s outfits, demeanor and attitude made the previous two look as if they weren’t so much gender bending as merely `dipping their toes in the water.’ So, of course, George got all of the attention, becoming a media darling and huge MTV superstar. But image does not stand alone. There must be something of substance behind it or else the façade will crumble. Culture Club, behind the drumming of onetime boyfriend of George, Jon Moss, the guitars of Roy Hay, and the backbone bassline of Mikey Craig, had the pop panache to back up their preening superstar, and had a longer career than most ’80s luminaries.

Culture Club has had numerous greatest hits packages with all sorts of names and track listings, but Virgin’s latest compilation, simply titled Greatest Hits is the true one and only collection. There is no better or more obvious way to start off the CD than with their first and biggest hit, “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?” Automatic detractors of ’80s pop music might forget just how good this song really is. An early story of the band claims that a DJ with a promo wondered who the wonderful female singer was. But George can also be compared with high voiced Motown artists like Smokey Robinson, ’80s British male stars like Nick Heyward, or American icons such as Prince. Their first hit song was actually a bass-heavy caribbean/Motown mix that still stands up today.

“Time (Clock of the Heart)” is easily my favorite CC song, having appeared on the American versions of the first album, Kissing to be Clever, but now, following the UK tracklist, is missing from most CD pressings. The heartfelt and earnestly sung love song ranks among the most stylish ever written. “White Boy” was akin to Madonna’s early dance club megahits like “Holiday” mixed with Duran Duran’s bass driven arena numbers. The one shortfall hit from the debut has to be “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” a repetitive and shallow mess. The band’s sophomore album found them to be getting much more pop savvy, losing some of their softened tones in favor of ’80s MTV pop flash, resulting in busier yet hollower soundscapes. It did, however, create such memorable new soul songs as “Church of the Poison Mind,” “Miss Me Blind,” “It’s a Miracle” and “Karma Chameleon,” all big hits on both sides of the Atlantic. Thankfully included here is the often overlooked, at least in the US, “Victims,” a ballad reminiscent of something by Terence Trent D’Arby. The mediocre album track “Black Money” is the last of six to be culled from Colour by Numbers.

“The War Song” is one of Culture Club’s biggest gaffes. Terribly childish, this song was supposed to be serious commentary, but instead ended up one-dimensional and ripe for parody. The album from whence it came, Waking Up With the House on Fire also ended up to be fairly subpar, despite the inclusion of “Mistake No.3.” What makes this collection near essential is the inclusion of rarity “Love is Love”, which, truth be told, is on most of the GH comps. Originally from the long forgotten cheesy computer movie Electric Dreams, “Love is Love” is one of Culture Club’s truly standout songs. I would have liked to have seen the other song from that soundtrack, “The Dream,” included also, but the former is the far superior song. Later hits “Move Away,” the Caribbean return “I Just Wanna Be Loved,” “Cold Shoulder,” and “Your Kisses are Charity” round out the CD.

Culture Club was a band at once underestimated and overhyped. While their later hits still showcased a band capable of penning good dance music, it was the band’s early days that spawned near pop brilliance in songs like “Time (Clock of the Heart)” and “Love is Love.” This is one case where one CD of hits will do rather than trying to collect every single album. In fact, the comp could have been half as long and still been pretty darn good. While the “Greatest Hits” tag is usually generous in its definition, at least in this case most every song is if not listenable, at least recognizable.

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