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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