509. ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’, by Culture Club

Part two of a three-part reggae autumn, and here’s one of the eighties’ most iconic figures…

Do You Really Want to Hurt Me, by Culture Club (their 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, 17th October – 7th November 1982

When I think of the 1980s, as someone who didn’t live through it (OK, I lived through almost half of it, but you know what I mean) certain images spring to mind. Huge mobile phones, Thatcher’s hair, Maradona’s hand… And that’s before we get to pop music. Madonna’s blonde curls, Michael Jackson moonwalking, ‘Frankie Says Relax’.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the eighties has begun, thanks to a glimpse of Boy George’s long hair and beautifully sculpted eyebrows. Again. The ‘80s keep beginning. I said the same thing when we met Adam Ant, and Shakin’ Stevens, and Human League. The ‘sixties’ had a very definitive start-point: the sudden wave of Merseybeat #1s in 1963. The ‘seventies’ meanwhile actually began sometime in mid-1969, with that string of apocalyptic chart-toppers. Stretch your mind back to the fifties and it was Bill Haley who kicked all that off. The eighties, though, has been harder to pin down.

We’re here to talk about music, though, not iconography. Musically, this record isn’t announcing a new dawn. It’s nice, very gentle, reggae. The intro meanders, and the rest of the song never really picks up the pace. My attention, I’ll be honest, starts to wander. Boy George sings it beautifully, which is probably what made this song stand out at the time. That, and the fact that he looks like a girl.

Sorry, that’s obviously not a very ‘2022’ kind of thing to say. But we’re talking about forty years ago, when appearing on Top of the Pops looking like that was to become an instant national sensation. He makes Ziggy Stardust era Bowie look like Dirty Harry. The music wouldn’t have had to be anything special, it was always going to be playing a clear second fiddle. The video backs this up, with George being thrown out of a nightclub, then a swimming pool, then standing trial for simply being himself. Do you really want to hurt me, Do you really want to make me cry…? The jury of black people in blackface is presumably a comment on people acting how society demands, rather than on being true to themselves. (Completely irrelevant side note: that makes two #1s in a row with a music video featuring the artists on trial.)

I do wish I liked this more. It’s a genuine moment at the top of the charts, but I can’t really get into it. The best bit is the middle-eight, when the emotions peak: If it’s love you want from me, Then take it away… But that’s followed by an empty space where some kind of solo should be. There’s just some bass noodling, some light drumming, and an echo. It reminds me of The Police’s ‘Walking on the Moon’, which I found similarly dull.

‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ was a huge breakthrough for Culture Club. Their only previous chart hit had made #100. Following this, for two years, every single they released would make #4 or higher. Maybe my take on this record is clouded by the fact that I know their monster hit is yet to come… In a year’s time they’ll score one of the biggest chart-toppers of the decade. Maybe that’s when the eighties will officially begin? Or maybe – more likely – I won’t know when the ‘eighties’ began until it’s all over, and I can look back.

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28 thoughts on “509. ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’, by Culture Club

  1. One of those ‘there are more of us than I thought’ moments. At the time, everyone hailed this record as the biggest thing since the start of T. Rextasy, or Beatlemania, or whatever. It was more associated with style, look and image than what was in the actual grooves, the record itself, which was as you said was about as exciting as ‘Walking on the Moon’. Yawn. Let me tell you a true story…An old schoolmate of mine joined the music biz, changed his name to Riff Regan, and in 1977 he formed a band called London. Their drummer was Jon Moss, they made a few singles, an EP and LP which were released on MCA, got mixed reviews, and split up after being on the verge of making it (though they have since reformed with two new members), when Jon jumped ship to join The Damned. Five years later he helped to form Culture Club. He and Riff had remained good mates, and one day he played Riff a white label demo copy of ‘Do You Really..’ ‘Take it off, Jon,’ was his response. ‘Sorry, but it’ll never be a hit.’ (Culture Club’s first single ‘I’m Afraid of Me’, had already tanked at this point). Six weeks later, the forking record was No. 1. I would have sided with Riff! (Ah well, Gerry Marsden once told John Lennon that ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ was never going to make it….)

    • Nice story… There must have been so many occasions in pop music history where a huge smash hit has almost not been released. Pretty sure Quincy Jones was dead against ‘Billie Jean’… Also, I had no idea that Jon Moss was also in The Damned. That’s a bit of a shift from them to Culture Club. Apparently too, ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ was written by Boy George about Moss, as they were an item at the time.

  2. This was a strange song and Boy George was an odd bird. My age group struggled with his gender-bending stuff. I’m from a state that was heavily religious (Southern Baptist…Bible Belt). The girls just ignored the fact that he was, indeed, a man and decided to dress like him. The boys were freaked and immersed themselves in rock…Foreigner, Van Halen, Journey, Styx, The Police, Cheap Trick, Def Leppard…

    I remember waking up at like 3am and hearing this song, half asleep (clock radio). The “mosh, mosh, mosh…” sound is eerie in the wee hours of the morning. 🥴😵😖😴

    • lol…I immersed myself in the Beatles, Stones, Who, The Repalcements, Kinks, and the Van I liked was Van Morrison. Hey I did like one modern band in that bunch!

    • It is funny: most ‘macho’ rock stars of the ’80s probably used more hairspray and make-up than Boy George… I assume he wasn’t actually ‘out’ at the time though, as that would have been a career-killer.

      • Honestly, we American Gen-Xers didn’t know what to think. The girls were more into BG (and Madonna) and kind of side-stepped the gender issue. The dudes I went HS with just totally ignored BG, particularly in my religious state. The UK has always been more relaxed in acceptance towards gender & race.

        I also had classmates coming to school in trashbags because of A Flock of Seagulls.

        I agree that the hair bands wore more face paint than BG did but, the gender-bending made the boys uncomfortable. Considering his name, he was “out”…but, we teens were in cognitive dissonance. I can’t speak for the adults back then.

  3. The image he had helped him to get noticed but I think it defined him more than the music. The Motown sounding songs are not bad.

  4. There’s a weird contrast between the soft reggae like feel of “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” and Boy George’s confrontational and androgynous image. You’d imagine an act that looks like Culture Club would make more challenging music in line with their image and personas but instead were inoffensive enough to get this song to #8 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart along with its #2 Hot 100 peak behind “Billie Jean.”

    • Yes, that’s true. But then again, they probably wouldn’t have had the success – the chart success, at least – that they did. And Boy George wouldn’t have been broadcast to living rooms around the world, terrifying parents and intriguing the youngsters…

      • If you look closely though, the people in blackface are black themselves. It’s some kind of statement about conforming to what people expect of you, I think

      • Didn’t catch that before but still it would definitely get people’s attention today. Aside from that, it is fun to see Boy George hanging around in past decade settings and seeing how everyone is shocked at the sight of him mainly because of the thought of someone like Boy George existing in the ‘30s and ‘50s since his style is considered very much a part of the ‘80s.

  5. Boy George was a sensation in the UK. After appearing on top of the pops the talk next day was all about “is he a boy or a girl”. It was a major cultural shift as only comedy drag acts had done stuff before that. George was out, appeared on chat shows as pushed up a non threatening image – when asked about sex he famously said hed rather have a cup of tea. How British! Course it was 2 years away from drug revelations and the end of Culture Club in 86, but he appealed across the board from little kids to mothers. My mum loved Culture Club songs.

    I love this track, its white reggae soul and the appeal of georges vocals shouldnt be underestimated. So its not exciting? Not supposed to be. Not every record has to be exciting, this one is emotional. I bought it, it topped my charts, and i pretty much loved much of what he did in any guise. You want exciting? Try Church of the poison mind. Or miss me blind for a blinding guitar solo. Or victims for lush heartbreak. Great stuff!

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