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‘Kissing To Be Clever’: Culture Club’s Smash Hit Debut Album

Soulful, accomplished, and bang on-trend, Boy George and company’s first LP was a transatlantic hit.

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Cover: Courtesy of Virgin Records

Culture Club’s debut Kissing To Be Clever is now regarded as one of the best British pop albums of the early 80s, yet at one stage it looked like it might not even be recorded. The band’s first two singles, “White Boy” and “I’m Afraid Of Me” both missed the charts and Virgin Records only sanctioned an album following the U.K. success of their third 45, “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?”

Amazingly, though this song is now widely accepted as Culture Club’s signature hit, frontman Boy George was less than confident that it could turn his band’s fortunes around when it was first released in the fall of 1982.

Listen to Culture Club’s Kissing To Be Clever now.

“George was really not sure about it,” producer Steve Levine recalled in a Top Of The Pops YouTube documentary. “It was a really difficult track to release. It’s a very unusual flavor. It is a reggae track, but it’s not a sort of authentic reggae track, it was our interpretation of reggae.”

Culture Club - Do You Really Want To Hurt Me

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Any lingering doubts were rapidly banished when “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?” shot to No.1 in the U.K. and almost repeated the same trick in the U.S. In fact, after just one Top Of The Pops appearance – during which Boy George effortlessly seduced the wider public with his soulful voice and androgynous image – Culture Club suddenly became the band everyone was talking about.

By this point, Virgin certainly did want a Culture Club album and Kissing To Be Clever didn’t disappoint. A confident assemblage of on-trend pop songs, it saw funky, dancefloor-friendly workouts such as “Take Control” and “White Boy” rubbing shoulders with the samba-inspired “You Know I’m Not Crazy” and the calypso-flavored “I’ll Tumble For Ya,” while the smooth, dub-inflected “Love Twist” followed “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?”s lead by taking reggae as its template.

Culture Club - I'll Tumble 4 Ya

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Taken as a whole, the accomplished, radio-friendly Kissing To Be Clever was just what Culture Club needed to build upon their initial success – and its arrival was timed to perfection. In the U.K., the band were in vogue thanks to their links with the New Romantic movement, while their music was also a perfect fit in the U.S. in 1982: a year when British contemporaries such as Duran Duran and The Human League also made numerous raids on the upper echelons of the Billboard charts. Accordingly, Kissing To Be Clever made a sizeable splash on both sides of the Atlantic, going Top 5 in the UK and making the Top 20 of the Billboard 200 on the way to moving an estimated four million copies worldwide – an incredible result considering the band’s future had been on the line barely six months earlier.

“[Success] really was kind of almost overnight for us,” Boy George said, recalling this rollercoaster period in a 2015 interview with City TV. “You know, one minute we were an unknown band that literally couldn’t get signed, but once we got on TV, it was the public more than anything that decided they liked us – and I think that’s always been the case with Culture Club.”

Listen to Culture Club’s Kissing To Be Clever now.

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