Boy George’s career as a solo artist got off to the best start possible. His debut single, a cover of Everything I Own, went to #1, and of course he was delighted. But as he said in his autobiography Take It Like A Man, he believed this success “was really a national sympathy vote.” People had missed him while he had been out of the charts (for the whole of 1985, and for the second half of 1986), and this achievement could be taken as a ‘welcome back’ and a request for more.Smash Hits made it ‘Single of the Fortnight’ and described it, or perhaps George himself, as “rising like a phoenix out of the bargain bins.” But it was the first and last time a solo single from George would make the Top 10. “I thought Everything I Own had set me up for a renaissance, but my second solo single Keep Me In Mind was Z-listed at Radio 1. Why? When I’d just been #1,” George said. In fact, it was A-listed for four weeks at Radio 1, just as its predecessor had been – although there were fewer spins for Keep Me In Mind during its time on the A-list, with 61 audited plays compared to Everything I Own’s 76. (It certainly fared better than the first – and only – single from George’s Culture Club band mate Jon Moss’s new group, Heartbeat UK: their single, out at the same time as Keep Me In Mind, wasn’t even C-listed at Radio 1.) George thought Keep Me In Mind was one of the best songs he had recorded since leaving Culture Club, but not all the reviews were positive. Smash Hits: “The first time this popped up on the radio I thought a) that it was sung by a not-very-famous black soulstress and b) that it was a pretty bland song. The knowledge that it is by Boy George doesn’t alter the fact that it is a bland song, and the only point in its favour is his sweet, honey-toned voice.”
“Virgin said it was the wrong record, so I got on with shooting another video for the right record, Sold, which they said would be a smash,” George wrote. The title track of his first solo album, “Sold was an antiapartheid rant. The video was shot by Russell Mulcahy and was back to the extravagant days of Culture Club; hundreds of extras, simulated race riots, and burning cars. Our Afrikaner cameraman got very upset when we exploded a dummy head of President P. W. Botha. He called me a bastard and was sacked on the spot. I was pleased with myself and felt like a real militant.” Reviewing the single for Smash Hits, Wet Wet Wet were not impressed: “Oh my God, he’s blown it, blown it! He used to have so much class and with this he’s just thrown it away…” They did concede though that “he sounds good singing it,” and “it’ll be a hit.” Unfortunately, sales-wise it did only slightly better than Keep Me In Mind.
Sold the album received 7½ out of 10 from Smash Hits when it was reviewed in June 1987: “If you’re expecting lots of quiet, tasteful middle-of-the-road ballads like Boy George’s last two singles you’d be very mistaken. There are a few ballads – mostly rather good – but there are also some very odd fish indeed. For more than half of side 2 George sings in a cheeky low gravelly voice over songs which either sound like old Motown stompers (Just Ain’t Enough) or ‘60s group T. Rex (Next Time). Almost as odd is the title track, on which George half-talks, half-sings. It’s ostensibly about South Africa but by the end, when George is saying “I’m not a factory about to be shut down”, it sounds as if it’s more about him and his recent troubles than anything else (in fact there seem to be references to both that and Jon Moss all over the place). Not a brilliant album – there are too many songs that are simply average – but many many times better than the last two Culture Club LPs.”
The ‘troubles’ the review referred to were far from over. George was struggling in his rehabilitation from drug use, suffering badly from withdrawal from heroin. His appearance changed dramatically, and now the make-up wasn’t to enhance his features but to cover up his gauntness. He claimed at the time that the severe weight loss was down to a healthier diet, but he simply didn’t look well. And of course, he wasn’t well: “I should have been looking at six months in a clinic and then a long holiday,” he later said about the year following his departure from Culture Club. But at the time he felt he had to keep busy – and that meant work. The album review above was typical of the critical response: praise where it was due (mostly for his singing: he was in very fine voice on some tracks, and although there were mixed results on some others, his vocal experimentation was brave and he confidently handled a number of different techniques), but reserved about the overall outcome (reviewers were being careful not to kick him when he was down). Even the national press granted him a temporary reprieve. In the week following Everything I Own’s two weeks at #1, his courtroom ordeals came to an end, with the issuing of a two-year conditional discharge for possessing two grams of hash. With the threat of more serious charges being made against him coming to nothing, the press coverage for a short time in the spring of 1987 was overwhelmingly positive and focussed on George’s successful “comeback”. Nevertheless, even with the offer of copy approval, George refused interviews in this period with titles who had treated him shabbily over the past two years. This was evidence that he was starting to take some control back over his life, but there were still more challenges to come in the two remaining years of the 1980s.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Jul. 6
The UNDERTONES Julie Ocean (Ardeck ARD59)
HOT GOSSIP (Sinitta) Break Me Into Little Pieces (Fanfare HG1)
ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN (Ian McCulloch) Seven Seas (Korova KOW35)
NEIL (Nigel Planer) Hole In My Shoe (WEA YZ10)
BEASTIE BOYS She’s On It (Def Jam BEAST2)
BOY GEORGE Sold (Virgin BOY102)
MADONNA Who’s That Girl? (Sire W8341)
SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES (Siouxsie Sioux) Song From The Edge Of The World (Wonderland SHE13)