The 1980s came to a messy end for Boy George, both professionally and personally. Those interested in the latter are directed to his first volume of autobiography, Take It Like A Man, for details: his own account of what happened is as comprehensive an overview as it is possible to get. This article concerns his recording career in the final two years of the decade, in which he experienced a run of bad luck.
1988 got off to a bad start almost straight away. Virgin BOY104, his fifth solo single, was scheduled for release on Monday, 1 February. Taken from the Sold album, the song chosen was Little Ghost, one that he hadn’t had a hand in writing. Just a couple of weeks before it was due out, Virgin cancelled the release. It was rumoured the song’s writer, ex-The Ants member Kevin Mooney, had asked George not to release it as it was the debut single from his new band Max and a cover so soon would jeopardize their chances of having a hit with it themselves. Produced by another former Adam Ant collaborator Marco Pirroni, the song had been out for six months already so this seems unlikely; if it was going to chart it would have done by then. Whatever the reason, Virgin refused to fund the filming of a promotional clip, so the chances of George having a hit were slim too, despite a strong lead vocal on his version. Instead, at the end of the same month, Live My Life was released in its place. A track used on the soundtrack from the obscure movie ‘Hiding Out’, it received poor reviews, minimal radio play, and brought Boy George’s career as a Top 40 act to an end, at least for the time being, when it peaked at #62. A similar chart position awaited the next single, the sample-heavy “protest” song No Clause 28, which because of its political content again struggled to get airplay.
Then there was trouble with his second solo album. Tense Nervous Headache (he was never at a loss for an arresting album title) was due on 3 October. When lead single Don’t Cry entered the chart at the unexpectedly low position of #60 in September, Virgin held the release back by a few weeks to see if sales of the single would pick up, only to withdraw the album from sale altogether on its revised release date of October 24th. In 1989, two different Boy George albums would appear using similar artwork to Tense Nervous Headache. The first used some of the same material: provisionally titled Tripping Over Mother, it included several tracks from the existing album and some new ones, including the single Don’t Take My Mind On A Trip, another minor hit single in the UK. This album was eventually released as High Hat in the US. Japan got Boyfriend, demos of which referred to it as a ‘dance album’; it featured eight recordings made contemporaneously with those on Tense Nervous Headache but shared none of the tracks from that collection.
1989 finished with a change in direction. George formed a new band, Jesus Loves You, and began writing under the pseudonym Angela Dust. The band’s debut single, After The Love, was co-written with – of all people – Jon Moss, following a brief Culture Club reunion that came to nothing. The single was released on George’s own record label More Protein, a sign he was starting to take back control of his career. (Admittedly the distributor was Virgin, so the tie wasn’t completely broken.) After The Love wasn’t a hit, but More Protein had begun to develop a reputation for issuing credible music, by George and other acts. He wasn’t finished with the music business yet, and those critics writing him off were doing so prematurely.
☛ What happened next
Jesus Loves You returned George to the Top 40 in 1991, when Bow Down Mister, a song influenced by his growing interest in the Hare Krishna movement, reached #27. Album The Martyr Mantras was also a hit, but a follow-up, provisionally titled Popularity Breeds Contempt and due in 1992, never made it to the shops. Instead, that year he had a hit as a soloist again, this time with a Pet Shop Boys-produced cover of the song The Crying Game, used as the theme song to the film of the same name.
His recording career has continued – sometimes solo, sometimes under a pseudonym, sometimes part of a group and frequently as a guest vocalists on other people’s projects. Solo albums include Cheapness And Beauty (1995), The Unrecoupable One Man Bandit (1998) and U Can Never B 2 Straight (2002). Two albums with German producer Kinky Rowland have appeared: Yum Yum (releases as The Twin in 2004) and Ordinary Alien – The Kinky Rowland Files (2010, under George’s own name). Both were heavily influenced by the dance music and electronica scenes, as George’s reputation as a club DJ – first in London, then internationally – grew considerably throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Notwithstanding his success in that field, the title of his 2013 solo album This Is What I Do reminded audiences of his day job.
Culture Club has remained an intermittent project for him over the past 25 years, with occasional full and partial reunions. Most notably, the Greatest Moments tour in 1998-1999 yielded a compilation album of the same name: a big hit and a reminder of the group’s best work. A new Culture Club album also appeared at the same time, Don’t Mind If I Do, which included the Top 10 single I Just Wanna Be Loved. Other attempts to get the group together were shorter-lived and less successful (due to illness or other setbacks), but highlights included a 20th anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2002. An attempt by the other members of the group to replace him as vocalist and tour without him in 2006-2007 ultimately failed; they original four have again put aside differences recently and are rumoured to have completed a new album together called Tribe.
Besides his recording career, and he appeared in the West End in the stage show Taboo. He launched his own unisex fashion line, B-Rude, in 2004. Two volumes of autobiography, the previously mentioned Take It Like A Man (1995) and Straight (2005) have been published. His wit, perceptive observations and ability to tell a good story have meant he remains a popular subject for magazine interviews and television chat shows. He is due to return to prime time TV in January 2016 as a judge on the BBC talent show ‘The Voice’.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Oct. 16
BOW WOW WOW (Annabella Lwin) Chihuahua (RCA RCA144)
HEAVEN 17 Penthouse And Pavement (Virgin VS455)
The JAM Absolute Beginners (Polydor POSP350)
ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK Joan Of Arc (Dindisc DIN36)
The POLICE Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (A&M AMS8174)
BROTHER BEYOND Drive On (Parlophone R6233)
Ian DURY Apples (WEA YZ437)
FUZZBOX Walking On Thin Ice (WEA YZ435)
JESUS LOVES YOU (Boy George) After The Love (More Protein PROT2)
SIMPLY RED (Mick Hucknall) You’ve Got It (WEA YZ424)
TRANSVISION VAMP (Wendy James) Born To Be Sold (MCA TVV9)