Society Magazine

Songs of '83: "Karma Chameleon"

Posted on the 04 December 2023 by Russellarbenfox
Songs '83:

Culture Club, with their lead singer Boy George, were already a thoroughly familiar presence on American radio by this point of 1983. Their debut album, 1982's Kissing to Be Clever, managed to land four Top Ten hit on the Billboard charts during 1983 ("Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," "Time," "I'll Tumble 4 Ya," and "Church of the Poison Mind"). Boy George's ostentatious--and for the time, comparatively outrageous--androgyny made Culture Club the poster children, and a target, for every parent and pundit who insisted upon Making Their Views Known about this dangerous "new wave" of music escaping the clubs and poisoning American middle and high schools everywhere. (Years later, in his book The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom negatively compared George's androgynous impact on popular culture to Mick Jagger's, suggesting that the former wouldn't last; given that the down-to-three-permanent-members Rolling Stones just released a new album, I suppose you could argue he was right?) 

One of the weird things about all this, in retrospect, is that Culture Club were a pretty conventional pop band, all things considered. Their reliance upon synths and other technological club beats was fairly minimal, and while they soaked up the New Romantic and post-glam rock vibe of acts like late 1970s David Bowie, they also loved American R&B and country music--they even had guitars, for heaven's sake (take that, Human League)! "Karma Chameleon," the lead single of their second album, Colour by Numbers, a goofy little tune about--appropriately enough--changeableness and adaptation, ended up being their single biggest hit in both the UK and America. 40 years ago today, it premiered on the Billboard charts--and this time, there was no Michael Jackson or The Police standing in its way, preventing from going all the way to Number One.

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